Resource Scarcity, Fair Shares and Development

Publication date: 20 July 2011
Author: Alex Evans, Center on International Cooperation at New York University

This discussion paper, published by WWF in association with Oxfam, aims to contribute to the evolving debate on the links between resource scarcity and international development. It focuses on the issues of equity and ‘fair shares’ for poor people and poor countries in the context of limits to resources such as land, water, food, oil and carbon space. The need to advocate for ‘fair shares’ of these resources will become increasingly central to international development.

Mapping out this new development agenda will involve unpacking some highly political questions. What definition of ‘fairness’ is most appropriate? Is it enough to ensure people’s basic needs are met, or is a more egalitarian approach needed that tries to reduce inequality in access to resources? Does it make sense to think about equity of access to a particular resource (carbon permits, for example) or is it more helpful to think about overall wealth or income distribution and the entitlement to resources of all kinds that this carries with it?

Key recommendations from the report:

Some tentative recommendations for what aid donors, campaigning organizations and think tanks can do to take forward a new development agenda include:

  • Invest in improving the data: current systems to survey resource scarcity have major gaps and are poorly integrated across both issues and levels of governance.
  • Recognize that resource scarcity will become central to advisers in the areas of governance, economics, social development and conflict – and should be incorporated into training and professional development.
  • Understand how scarcity shapes politics in poor countries: donors and NGOs need to understand how scarcity impacts on the wider political economy context and relates to urban–rural tensions, political parties, spending decisions, civil society dynamics, the politics of ethnic groups, and so on.
  • Start developing policy options now: as impacts of scarcity and climate change increase in frequency and severity, political space will open up – often after shocks – for a limited time. Having ideas ‘on the shelf’ means that policy options can be deployed rapidly when opportunities arise.