Predicting the future is a tricky business, just look at Nostradamus’ vague hallucinogenic ‘visions’ for evidence of that. Greenbang prefers reading tea leaves, but finds it a bit difficult with tea bags.
Inevitably there’s a lot of future-predicting that goes on around climate change and the latest comes from thenon-for-profit sustainability group Forum for the Future, which looks at the social, political, economic consequences of our response to climate change and how that will change society over the next 22 years.
Forum for the Future has hedged its bets somewhat, however, coming up with five different scenarios. Here they are:
- Efficiency First – Rapid innovation in energy efficiency and novel technologies have created a low-carbon economy with little need for changes in lifestyle or business practice. Artificially-grown flesh feeds hundreds of millions, supercomputers advise governments, and eco-concrete walls protect the USA’s eastern seaboard generating power from the waves and tides. The result is an increasingly individualistic, consumerist and fast-moving world, which relies on ever more complex systems. Some call it a golden age of technology and freedom, others a shaky house of cards at growing risk of crashing down.
- Service Transformation – Carbon is one of the most expensive commodities, businesses have shifted to selling services instead of products, and good citizens share with their neighbours. No-one owns a car – it is far too expensive – and athletes have just staged the world’s first virtual Olympics, staying at home and competing in cyberspace. NATO is ready to go to war if necessary to enforce the 2020 Beijing Climate Change Agreement, and water shortages have already forced the abandonment of Central Australia and Oklahoma. The dramatic transformation in business has been painful, with rising unemployment in the old high-carbon sectors. Booming mega-cities are only just managing to cope and fuel poverty is a huge problem.
- Redefining Progress – The global depression of 2009-18 forced governments to regulate the economy tightly and encouraged citizens to put greater priority on quality of life than making money. Countries compete to score highest in the World Bank’s Wellbeing Index and the EU Working Time directive sets a limit of 27.5 hours a week. The trend is towards economic resilience and simpler, more sustainable lives, but “free-riders” plunder resources, several big cities have set up as “havens of real capitalism” and some governments are aggressively pro-growth.
- Environmental War Economy – Talks about a post-Kyoto treaty broke down and a global pact was only signed in 2017. Governments enforced tough action to make up for lost time, reshaping their economies to focus all resources on climate change. Civil liberties have been stripped away. You need a licence to have children in some countries and if you go over your household energy quota the carbon monitor will turn off your appliances. Climate refugees from Bangladesh and the Pacific islands make up 18% of New Zealand’s population and are expected to boost Antarctica’s population to 3.5 million by 2040.
- Protectionist World – The 2012 Climate Agreement collapsed amid accusations of cheating and undeclared power stations. Globalisation fractured into protectionist blocs as countries launched go-it-alone strategies and fought violent wars over scarce resources. Soldiers fighting for nations and businesses are waging war over oil, gas and gold in the thawing north-west passage. Violent factions exploit the chaos to launch devastating bio-chemical attacks. Cyber-terrorists operating from safe havens in failed states have already bankrupted two multinationals. Action to mitigate climate change is all but abandoned.
Peter Madden, CEO of the Forum, says:
“What we do now could determine the fate of billions of people. These could be the most important years in history. Businesses should not think about having a ‘climate change strategy’ but a strategy that will work in a complex and uncertain world dominated by climate change – a strategy for the ‘climate change years.’”
The Climate Futures report was produced in collaboration with researchers from IT company HP.