The natural resources deficit: the implications for German politics – by Anna Kwiatkowska-Drożdż (Centre for Eastern Studies – February 8, 2011)

The Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW) is a Polish think tank dealing with analyses of the political, economic and social situation in the neighbour countries, Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Southern Caucasus, Central Asia and Germany. (Warsaw, Poland) 

Falling amounts of natural resources and the ‘peak oil’ question, i.e. the point in time when the maximum rate of extraction of easily-accessible oil reserves is reached, have been among the key issues in public debate in Germany on all levels: expert, business and – most crucially – the government level. The alarming assessments of German analysts anticipate a rapid shrinkage of oil reserves and a sharp rise in oil prices, which in the longer term will affect the economic and political systems of importer countries.

Concerns about the consequences of the projected resource deficit, especially among representatives of German industry, are also fuelled by the stance of those countries which export raw materials. China, which meets 97% of global demand for minerals crucial for the production of new technologies, cut its exports by 40% in summer 2010 (compared to 2009), arguing that it had to protect its reserves from overexploitation.

In 2009 the value of natural resources Germany imported reached €84 billion, of which €62 billion were spent on energy carriers, and €22 billion on metals. For Germany, the shrinkage of resources is a political problem of the utmost importance, since the country is poor in mineral resources and has to acquire petroleum and other necessary raw materials abroad[1]. In autumn 2010, the German minister of economy initiated the establishment of a Resources Agency designed to support companies in their search for natural resources, and the government prepared and adopted a national Raw Material Strategy.

In the next decade the policy of the German government, including foreign policy, will be affected by the consequences of the decreasing availability of natural resources. It can be expected that the mission of the Bundeswehr will be redefined, and the importance of African states and current exporter countries such as Russia and China for German policies will increase. At the same time, Germany will seek to strengthen cooperation among importer countries, which should make pressure on resource-exporting states more effective. In this context, it can be expected that the efforts taken to develop an EU resource strategy or even a ‘comprehensive resource policy’ will be intensified; or at least, the EU’s energy policy will permanently include the issue of sourcing raw materials.
German experts on the depletion of natural resources
The deficit of raw materials and its implications for the global, and especially the German economy and politics, have become the subject of research and analysis by key German research institutions and think-tanks. The problem is being examined by the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP)[2], the government and parliament’s leading advisory institution on foreign policy and security issues, as well as by the Bundeswehr Transformation Centre (BTC)[3], a think-tank of the Federal Ministry of Defence.

The issues related to the depletion of natural resources, especially petroleum and rare earth elements (such as cerium, zircon, dysprosium, europium, yttrium, and lanthanum, which are necessary in the process of creating new technologies, including those related to renewable energy) have been discussed by experts from other German research and analytical institutions, such as Wirtschaftsforschung und Beratungsunternehmen AG in Berlin and the Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung in Mannheim.
The message found in most of the assessments and studies recently published in Germany is that the state and economic institutions need to start preparing for shortages of natural resources immediately. What is particularly emphasised is how little time there is left to take the appropriate decisions. However, individual experts differ significantly in outlining the short and long-term implications thereof for German domestic and foreign policies.

For the rest of this policy essay, please go to the OSW website: