Can Earth sustain the rising demand for its resources?

“Our planet urgently needs to deal with its resource stresses by developing integrated solutions that can be turned into innovative improvements and business opportunities,” says Allard Castelein, Vice President of Environment of Shell.

Drilling for natural gas in the North Sea off the coast of The Netherlands Photo: IUCN Photo Library © Catherine Gras

The UN estimates that the world will be home to nine billion people by 2050. Two billion people are expected to climb from poverty to the middle class. Currently 50% of the globe’s population lives in cities; by 2050 this will have increased to 75%, which equates to one new city of 1.3 million people every week for the next 40 years.

With these dramatic changes expected, the world will demand 30% more water, 40% more energy and 50% more food by 2030, compared to today.

In a workshop session organised by Shell at the 2012 IUCN World Conservation Congress, Castelein and representatives from Dow Chemical, the Earthwatch Institute, Rio Tinto and IUCN discussed the impact Earth’s growing population and prosperity will have on the global demand for energy, water and food.

For energy companies like Shell, the food-energy-water “stress nexus” and the challenges it presents are highly relevant. Shell believes that energy supply and demand cannot be viewed in isolation. For example, while biofuels could be a solution for reducing CO2 emissions in the transportation sector, it could also have negative effects on food and water supplies, as well as social and environmental impact if not managed responsibly.

Castelein recognizes that facing these challenges is not a job for just one company, organization or government. Instead, everyone has a role to play and innovation and collaboration need to be promoted between private and public entities to develop structural, sustainable solutions.

Mark Weick, Director of Sustainability Programs and Enterprise Risk Management for Dow Chemical, agrees with Castelein that cooperation among sectors is necessary since no one sector or company has the answers. He and Dow Chemical also see a need to understand the value of ecosystems and their services to support efforts to restore and protect them.

Francis Vorhies, a Contributor to Forbes, who chaired the workshop, came away with four words: “Do, Learn, Share – Together.” In his blog at, Vorhies wrote that “the panel members agreed that we will need increased multi-stakeholder collaboration to discover new approaches to making prosperity sustainable.”

It is only through collaboration between government, business and civil society that we can actually work through the challenges,” says Castelein. “Big companies can help encourage the global cooperation needed across public and private sectors and across industries.”

Read Vorhies’ full blog post on the workshop at

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