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Page | Last updated: 20 Oct 2022

Climate change and environmental degradation

Continued unabated, anthropogenic pollution and greenhouse gas emissions will further increase changing climate patterns.

Aerial view of Skeiðarárjökull Glacier
(© USGS-


A Megatrend is a long-term driving force that is observable now and will continue to have a global impact in years to come

The climate would continue to change even if all emissions from human activities suddenly stopped. However without a much stronger abatement, anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions will markedly further increase global warming and changing climate patterns. Pollution, overexploitation of natural resources and environmental degradation will lead to severe, pervasive and possibly irreversible changes for people, assets, economies and ecosystems around the world.

This is why urgent environmental action is necessary - to reduce the harm and to avoid the worst effects of climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change adaptation is also necessary - to reduce vulnerability towards the negative impacts that we cannot prevent. Living inside ‘planetary boundaries’ (i.e. the environmental limits within which humanity can live safely) will require fundamental changes in the way we live. On a positive note, a side effect of ongoing environmental action and awareness is that established belief systems and behavioural patterns are under pressure to change.

This Megatrend is part of the Megatrends Hub



The driving forces of the Megatrend change over time. This timeline indicates more established and newer trends that are influencing the future direction of the Megatrend

Climate change and environmental degradation timeline

They indicate a direction of change in values and needs which is driven by forces and manifests itself already in various ways within certain groups in society. 

Climate change continues

Human-caused climate change continues. Anthropogenic (i.e. caused by humans) greenhouse gas emissions are increasing, largely driven by economic and population growth. These emissions increase the level of greenhouse gases, which in turn determines the rate at which global warming will occur.

Negative impacts increase

The negative impact of climate change on our lives is increasing. Global warming is already affecting us today. With continued climate change, the severity of the negative impacts will increase.

Outside planetary boundaries

We continue to live outside of the planetary boundaries. Human activity has negative effects on the natural environment. We are polluting natural ecosystems and using resources at a rate that makes it impossible for ecosystems to regenerate.

Change the way we live

Deep climate change mitigation, e.g. reaching zero emissions by 2050, requires fundamental changes in the way we live. Fundamental changes in almost every aspect of our lives is necessary to stop the continuation of global warming and to prevent its worst effects.

Established practices are questioned

A side effect of environmental action is that established belief systems and behavioural patterns are under pressure to change, in order to reduce the environmental impact of humanity.


Previously Covered Trends

These are trends that were spotted in the past, and might have grown or faded away in time.


-   Public support increases

-   Reduce GHG emissions

-   Urban development

-   Techniques addressing pollution

-   Increasing resilience

-   Sustainable Development Goals


Future Snapshots

A future snapshot shows a plausible image of what might happen in the future in relation to this Megatrend. It is a creation built using knowledge and imagination. These snapshots presented here are excerpts of inspiring future-oriented reports written by other colleagues and organisations.

'Do it ourselves'

“The political system shows an incapacity to implement significant climate and SDG policies. However, consumers change their attitudes and behaviour under the thrust of increasingly influential social movements and the aftermath of a series of dramatic crises. Subsequently, the resulting change in demand (both patterns and levels) drives the supply system to adapt.”

Other sketched scenarios are: Do it for us, Do it together, Do what is unavoidable

The European bioeconomy in 2050 Four foresight scenarios. JRC (2021)



“Climate action and biodiversity recuperation are the top-line of every national and transnational agenda. The results of the galvanised global efforts have been unprecedented for the environment, but not without significant sacrifice from people who are realising the trade-offs did not quite work out for them. Humanity now lives in self-imposed servitude to the environment under the mantra of ‘happy planet, happy people.’”

Other sketched scenarios are: Humans inc., Post Anthropocene, Extinction express

2050 scenarios Four plausible futures. ARUP (2019)


“The potential role of technology in providing or improving the provision of ecosystem services. In this scenario, people push ecosystems to their limits through the use of technology for maximal resource extraction. Sometimes, unexpected problems and human’s reliance on technology undercuts the ability of ecosystems to support themselves. This leads to surprising interruptions of some ecosystem services, and sometimes serious consequences for human well-being.”

Other sketched scenarios are: The global orchestration, The order from strength, The adapting mosaic

Ecosystems and Human Well-being: biodiversity synthesis. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005)


Further Reading

Want to explore more? Some interesting readings below:

●    Drivers of change of relevance for Europe's environment and sustainability - European Environment Agency
●    PESETA IV – EU science hub
●   100 Climate-neutral Cities by 2030 - European Commission 


This Megatrends hub is a repository of foresight related information. It highlights long-term driving forces and its underlying shorter-term trends. This repository can help you understand the changing society in a broad and more systemic way. 

Disclaimer: this repository is by no means comprehensive and apart from established scientific knowledge contains also issues which are subject to scientific debate and where research is ongoing or only starting to give the reader some insights and ways to further explore the topics in more depth.