Global leaders discuss food, water and energy scarcities at Re|Source2012

Tamara Etmannski, University of Oxford

The Oxford Water Security Network had a strong presence at the highly acclaimed Re|Source2012 conference which was held at Oxford University on 13-14 July 2012. Oxford’s Professors Jim Hall and Professor David Grey were amongst the impressive list of speakers, which included influential thinkers such as Bill Clinton, Sir David Attenborough, Lord Patten of Barnes, and Amartya Sen. The vision for Re|Source2012 was to bring together global business, finance, political and academic leaders to discuss the interdependencies of food, water and energy, resource scarcity, and investment opportunities. The event provided the platform to rethink, reform, and renew ideas about managing resources.

‘A Thirst for Growth’ panel, moderated by Dominic Waughray, World Economic Forum. Photo: John Cairns

The immediate need for water-related innovations became a common theme throughout the two days of discussion. Prof Hall drew attention to a predicted 90% increase in water demand by 2050 and in low latitudes, a 10-30% decrease in water availability. The Chairman of the Board of Nestlé S.A., Peter Brabeck-Letmathe warned that the future of all economic growth will depend on water. The Minster for Environment and Water Resources of Singapore, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan highlighted three factors that have been critical to success in Singapore: long-term plans that extend beyond the electoral cycle, technology breakthroughs such as reverse osmosis, and pricing to send a signal that water is a scarce and precious resource. Glen Daigger of CH2M HILL said that solutions will need to be tailored to the local context and hydrology, selecting from a toolkit of approaches which increasingly includes efficiency, water recycling and reuse, and rainwater capture.

Oxford University Professors David Grey and Jim Hall. Photo: John Cairns

Two water exhibits gave examples of the innovative research being undertaken by Oxford University. Patrick Thomson had a real-size ‘Smart Hand-pump’ for rural water supply set-up to demonstrate how it will automatically send a text message to district and national water managers when there is a mechanical problem or failure with the pump. This will ensure immediate action by local partners, creating a reliable system of information communication and repair accountability. Simon Dadson presented a global hydrology simulation model using geospatial visualisation, highlighting the sophisticated modelling tools being advanced to help understand and inform tradeoffs in water resources and environmental management.

‘Smart Handpump’ measures the amount of water extracted and sends a text message when there is a failure

Some major themes emerged throughout the conference. On the value and management of natural resources, there was clear emphasis on the need for long-term agendas and multi-stakeholder partnerships. MP David Miliband responded to the question of whether action should be led by business or government, by stating that the answer is clearly both. He stressed that strong government leadership, business innovation and mass mobilisation are key. Dr James Bradfeld-Moody, co-author of ‘The Sixth Wave’, suggested real innovation as the selling of access not ownership, using and investing in waste, and the convergence of the digital world with the natural world.

The private sector voiced how integrated reporting is the way forward, how sustainability in business is an investment and touched upon other important topics like ethical business, fairness and dignity. Representatives from both BP and Puma spoke of the need for corporate and governmental transparency, especially in the area of subsidies. Delegates converged on agreement that the future is already here, and action on all these fronts is required immediately.

President Bill Clinton inspired delegates with a vision for the future in his closing keynote speech. He clearly stated that the sustainability model in business is good economics. To tackle climate change, he said we should “pick the low-hanging fruit”; first by improving global efficiency, and then pursuing solar power as an alternative energy source. He emphasised that creative networks of cooperation should be the way forward in tackling all the issues discussed during Re|Source2012, and said that one day we will all realise that common good is more important than private gain.

All talks and discussions from Re|Source2012 are available to view online.

Tamara Etmannski is a Doctoral Student in Sustainable Water Engineering at the Department of Engineering Science, University of Oxford.

 

 

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