Viewed from the perspective of the past, the current crises predict a gloomy future. Viewed as an evolutionary opportunity to break with outmoded ideas, values and institutions, they provide the essential conditions for the rapid transition to a more peaceful, prosperous, equitable and sustainable future.
The recent failure of collective action to address international financial instability, climate change, unemployment and food insecurity seem to justify pessimism. But this failure has been the result of a piecemeal, fragmentary approach to both understanding and addressing the issues. The root causes of the crises we are witnessing rest on outmoded theoretical concepts, values and institutions. The remedy lies in the formulation of a new theory appropriate to the radically different conditions of the 21st century, commitment to progressive values that integrate individual freedom and equitable cooperation to maximize the welfare and well-being of all, and the establishment of more effective national and global institutions.
Is there a growing understanding and an increasing consensus of the kind of world we want to live in? What is our vision for the future? And how do we get there?
2052: A Global Forecast
for the Next Forty Years
by Jorgen Randers
Where are we headed?
A stimulating starting point for finding answers to this question represents the new Report to the Club of Rome, 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years. Although any attempt to undertake a forecast over such a long time period is quite daunting and can most certainly not be done with high precision, “2052” raises fundamental questions and triggers debates about the course of humanity. Because it tells us what the future might look like if we do not change course.
After all, the examination of trends, future options, solutions and realistic pathways is vital to achieve a sustainable and equitable world. “2052”is a wake-up call as it raises the possibility that humankind might not survive on the planet if it continues on its path of over-consumption and short-termism. It dares to give highly educated guesses, combining data, modelling and hard science with an understanding of human nature and its systems and intuitions. Its findings are sufficiently unsettling and startling to start the debate about the need for fundamental change.
Is the time right to take a pragmatic look into what might be our future in four decades time?
Basic assumptions and some findings of the book
The process of adapting humanity to the limitations of the planet has indeed started. Over the next forty years, efforts to limit the ecological footprint will continue. Future growth in global population and GDP will be constrained not only by this effort, but also, by rapid fertility decline as a result of urbanization, productivity decline as a result of social unrest, and continuing poverty among the poorest two billion world citizens.
At the same time there will be impressive advances in resource efficiency and climate-friendly solutions. There will also be a shift in focus toward human well-being rather than per capita income growth.
Still, based on the extensive database that underpins 2052, it appears that the human response will be too slow. The most critical factor will be greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. These emissions will remain so high that our grandchildren most likely will have to live with self-reinforcing, and hence runaway, global warming in the second half of the twenty-first century.
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In the Report author Jorgen Randers raises essential questions: How many people will the planet be able to support? Will the belief in endless growth crumble? Will runaway climate change take hold? Where will quality of life improve, and where will it decline?
Using painstaking research, and drawing on contributions from more than 30 thinkers in the field, he concludes that:
The global population will stagnate earlier than expected because fertility will fall dramatically in the increasingly urbanized population. Population will peak at 8.1 billion people just after 2040 and then decline.
The global GDP will grow more slowly than expected because of the lower population growth and declining growth rates in (gross labor) productivity. Global GDP will reach 2.2 times current levels around 2050.
Productivity growth will be slower than in the past because economies are maturing, because of increased social strife, and because of negative interference from extreme weather.
The growth rate in global consumption will slow because a greater share of GDP will have to be allocated to investment—in order to solve the problems created by resource depletion, pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, and inequity. Global consumption of goods and services will peak in 2045.
As a consequence of increased social investment in the decades ahead (albeit often involuntary and in reaction to crisis), resource and climate problems will not become catastrophic before 2052. But there will be much unnecessary suffering from unabated climate damage around the middle of the century.
The lack of a dedicated and forceful human response in the first half of the twenty-first century will put the world on a dangerous track toward self- reinforcing global warming in the second half of the twenty-first century.
Slow growth in per capita consumption in much of the world (and stagnation in the rich world) will lead to increased social tension and conflict, which will further reduce orderly productivity growth.
The short-term focus of capitalism and democracy will ensure that the wise decisions needed for long-term well-being will not be made in time.
The global population will be increasingly urban and unwilling to protect nature for its own sake. Biodiversity will suffer.
The impact will differ among the five regions analyzed in the book: the United States; the other OECD nations (including the European Union, Japan, and Canada, and most other industrialized nations); China; BRISE (Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa, and ten other big emerging economies); and the rest of the world (the 2.1 billion people at the bottom of the income ladder).
The most surprising loser will be the current global economic elite, particularly the United States (which will experience stagnant per capita consumption for the next generation). China will be the winner. BRISE will make progress. The rest of the world will remain poor. All—and particularly the poor—will live in an increasingly disorderly and climate-damaged world.
The world in 2052 will certainly not be uniform or flat—the sentiment and conditions in the five regions will differ dramatically.