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These are historic times for Asia. Recent years have seen the region’s economies enter an unprecedented phase of industrialisation and urbanisation. According to McKinsey, the Chinese economy is changing at 10 times the speed of Britain’s during the Industrial Revolution—and on 100 times the scale. The Asia-Pacific region as a whole is experiencing economic growth of around 6% each year. At the same time, the number of people living in cities globally is set to rise from 3.6 billion in 2010 to 6.3 billion by 2050—with much of that rise happening in Asia.
Asia’s dynamic economic growth is generating millions of jobs, transforming economies, and steadily lifting entire communities out of poverty. But it is also coinciding with growth of another kind. Global population is rising fast, with the number of people on the planet expected to increase from seven billion today to around nine billion by 2050. As population numbers are rising, so are aspirations. A growing global middle-class means people are striving for a better quality of life, with greater access to goods and services.
Economic success is, of course, something we should celebrate. But it brings its own challenges—for example, in terms of the increasing pressure it can put on natural resources. The Shell Scenarios team have 40 years’ experience of long-term scenario planning. Based on current trends, they expect global demand for energy, water and food all to rise between 40% and 50% by 2030. Across Asia as a whole, the need for energy is likely to double by 2060.
That’s a massive increase—and a powerful argument for urgent, concerted action. At Shell, we’ve thought long and hard about how best to act. Importantly, we agree with those who argue that there’s a relationship between the key resources of energy, food and water. How does that relationship work? In simple terms: water is required to extract energy and generate power; energy is required to treat and transport water; and both energy and water are required to grow and process food.
Pressure on those key resources is building. The Asian Development Bank recently warned that water shortages may soon hamper the reliable production of food and energy across the continent. But there are steps we can take to tackle this. For one thing, we can embrace more innovative urban planning. As Asia’s economies grow, so do its cities. In South-East Asia, for example, the urban population has almost doubled in the