Climate change is one of the defining issues of our times, but is only one of several examples of environmental degradation and resource depletion that are fundamentally changing our world.

The past half-century has seen exponential growth in global populations, economic activity and resource utilization. This has taken the world to a point where a growing demand for key resources and ecosystem services can no longer be satisfied by increasing supplies. These new demand and supply dynamics mark the end of affluence, and will pose fundamental challenges on the world already in the coming decade.

This article shows how a complex of fundamental global challenges will unfold along two parallel but interlinked processes. First, the ecosystem services that provide the foundation for life on Earth – e.g. regulation of the climate and biodiversity to safeguard stable ecosystems – are losing capacity to deliver vital services. Failing ecosystem services will hit directly at the livelihoods at local, regional and global scales. Second, increasing pressures on limited physical and renewable resources are pushing commodity prices towards ever higher all time highs and escalating volatilities. Continued stagnation in supplies of fundamental commodities will have far-reaching, possibly unforeseeable consequences for the global distribution of wealth and for financial stability.

The article argues that the world is entering a new paradigm: an era defined by growing scarcities and mounting uncertainties. This will alter the global playing field as nations and corporations change their strategic behaviour; at the same time, the combination of different challenges is causing tensions and accelerating risk levels on all scales of global society. The article discusses the nature of these security risks in terms of growing pressures on ecosystem services as well as renewable and physical resources.

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