‘Long term resource planning is an absolute necessity’

19 November 2013

Protecting resources for future generations was the topic at the latest seminar in the Oxford Martin School’s Now for the Long Term series.

Professor Jim Hall, co-director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Resource Stewardship, and Dr Tara Garnett, principal investigator on the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, were joined by Professor Andrew Hector, Professor of Ecology at the University of Oxford’s Department of Plant Sciences to discuss resource futures in light of the the report of the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations.

Professor Hall began with the topic of water resources, saying water was greatly valued when it was scarce but undervalued when it was available in large quantities. Advances in technology now meant there was enormous potential for understanding the aquatic system, he said, with greatly improved modelling and sharing ability.

“We can now understand much more about water resources, and that chimes with the Worldstat recommendation in Now for the Long Term. We should be emphasising investment and exploring new sources of finance, and prioritising ecosystem services. It’s an absolute necessity to plan for the long term,” he said, citing Singapore, which has little land to collect and store rainwater, as an example of successful long-term water planning.

Dr Garnett, who runs the Food Climate Research Network, said a clear connection needed to be made between producing better, more nutritious food to improve health, and the environmental implications of food production. “Livestock is contributing to about 50 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. Meat is both energy dense and fat dense. If you join the dots in developed and emerging economies we could achieve a double win. We need to look at the balance between individuals taking responsibility and what our collective responsibility and the role of the state is.”

Continuing on this theme, Professor Hall said: “The critical question is making the right choices along that development trajectory. The world is scarred with bad schemes that burden countries with debt and haven’t yielded the returns that were expected. We need to provide the information, evidence and capacity to make better choices.”

Professor Hector added: “Target setting per se is no good if there’s no mechanism to try and achieve those goals. A lot of policy is based on opinion rather than evidence. What’s a shame is when we try and do things we then collect very little evidence about success or failure.”

Dr Garnett emphasised the need for agriculture planning in developing countries “so that they don’t make the same mistakes we made”.

“We need to start thinking about over consumption in low income countries, which sounds like a terrible thing to say when a quarter of people are malnourished,” she added. “But because people have different views on what ought to be done, policy makers are too scared of doing anything and end up doing nothing or the minimum.”