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Competence Centre on Foresight

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Developments and Forecasts of Climate Change and Environmental Degradation

Foresight

Greenhouse gas emissions and pollution

Greenhouse gas emissions and pollution are increasing, largely driven by economic and population growth. Meantime, the Earth’s biodiversity and resilience shows persistent declining trends.

Continued high GHG emissions would lead to mostly negative impacts for biodiversity, ecosystem services and economic development and amplify risks for livelihoods, and food and human security.

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  • The demand for food is expected to increase by 35% by 2030 and by 50% by 2050 compared to 2012.
  • Global water demand might increase 55% by 2050, compared to 2015. Meantime, by 2025, 50% of the world's population might be living in water-stressed areas, while by 2030, there might be a 40% shortfall of water needs.
  • Global electricity demand is expected to increase 57% by 2050, mostly driven by increasing demands in China and India.
  • The demand for energy is expected to increase by more than 25% by 2040, compared to 2017. However, IEA scenarios show that if all economically viable avenues to improve efficiency were to be pursued, the overall demand for energy in 2040 could be at 2017's level.
    | Related Megatrends: Natural resourcesConsumerismHealth
  • Since 1970, the world is in ecological deficit. At present, humanity is using the equivalent to 1.75 Earth planets to support its life style -- using natural capital 1.75 times faster than the ecosystem's  regeneration capacity. In 2019, Earth Overshoot Day was on July 29; EU's Overshoot Day was on May 10, meaning that if all humanity would live like EU residents, we would need 2.8 planets Earth.
  • An estimated 200 species are becoming extinct each day. We might be in the midst of the sixth mass extinction on Earth.  
  • The population of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians have declined by an eswtimated 60% between 1970 and 2014; some 50% of shallow water corals has been lost in the past 30 years, and 20% of the Amazon has disappeared in just 50 years, notes WWF.
  • Forests, which host 80% of the world's terrestrial biodiversity and play a key role in climate change mitigation are being destroyed around the world. Between 1990 and 2016, some 1.3 million square kilometres of forest area has been lost due to deforestation and forest degradation. About 80% of global deforestation is due to expansion of land used for agriculture.
  • Loss of biodiversity in an area could trigger a domino effect to future extinctions, leading to an "extinction cascade".
    | Related Megatrends: Natural resourcesConsumerism
  • Approximately 20% of the Earth’s vegetated surface shows persistent declining trends in productivity, mainly as a result of land/water use and management practices. | Related Megatrends: Natural resourcesDemographyGeopower; ConsumerismUrbanisation
  • Globally, 76% of the population derives most of their daily protein from plants. If CO2 levels continue to rise as projected, researchers estimate that roughly an additional 150 million people may be placed at risk of protein deficiency because of elevated levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. | Related Megatrends: HealthNatural resources
  • Eutrophication – pollution due to over-enrichment of water by nutrients such as nitrogen phosphorus – is increasing, becoming one of the leading causes of water quality impairment, loss of subaquatic vegetation, change in species composition, coral reef damage, low dissolved oxygen, and the formation of dead zones (oxygen-depleted waters) that can lead to ecosystem collapse. 
    | Related Megatrends: Natural resourcesConsumerism
  • In China, soil erosion is of about 5 billion tonnes annually affecting 360 Mha, including 75 Mha of the Yangtze and Yellow river basins.
    | Related Megatrends:  Natural resourcesConsumerism; GeopowerSecurity
  • If current trends continue, there could be more plastics (by weight) than fish in the ocean by 2050.
  • Marine litter costs the EU economy an estimated €259 million to €695 million per year. Plastics make up 80-85 % of marine litter on European beaches, representing a major threat to marine and coastal biodiversity.  In 2018, the European Commission began discussing a legislative proposal seeking to address the issue of marine litter from plastics. 
    | Related Megatrends: Natural resourcesConsumerism

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Global warming

Global sea levels are rising at an average rate of 3.4 millimetres per year, the Arctic sea ice volume reached record low in 2018, Antarctic ice sheet melting rate has accelerated threefold over the last five years, and exposure to natural hazards doubled in the last 40 years, affecting an increasing number of people.

  • Each of the last 3 decades has been successively warmer at the Earth's surface than any preceding decade since 1850.
  • The five warmest years on record all have taken place since 2010. Global average temperatures in 2017 was 0.90 degrees Celsius warmer than the 1951-1980 mean, according to NASA.
  • The IPCC estimates that at current warming rate, the world would reach human-induced global warming of 1.5°C around 2040.
  • Some models show that the 1.5 °C level could be reached by 2030, when taking into consideration the combination of three trends: rising emissions, declining air pollution and natural climate cycles.
  • New generation of models show a faster warming than previous ones. They indicate that by 2100, global average temperatures could rise 6.5°-7°C above pre-industrial levels if CO2 emissions continue unabated. This finding by two independent models from leading research centres in France is supported by other models from respected reserach centers—e.g. from the USA and Britain's Met Office—that indicate a higher ECS (equilibrium climate sensitivity) than the previous generation of models.
  • In northern Europe, global warming will increase the number and intensity of heatwaves, with events even worse than the 2018 unusually hot summer to strike every other year by the 2040s.

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  • Due to rising temperatures, glaciers and ice caps have been melting and as a result sea levels as well as temperatures have been rising.
  • Oceans take up over 90% of global warming. Once the sea ice is gone, the atmosphere will warm up faster.
  • Arctic sea ice volume on July 10, 2018, was at a record low for the time of the year. It has started to break up twice, opening waters north of Greenland that are normally frozen, even in summer.
  • September Arctic sea ice is declining at an average rate of 13.2% per decade, relative to the 1981-2010 average. In September 2018, the Arctic might be ice-free
  • Antarctic ice sheet melting rate has accelerated threefold over the last five years – from 76bn tonnes per year (0.2mm sea-level rise contribution) to 219bn tonnes of ice per year (0.6mm sea-level rise contribution). If present trends continue, Antarctic melting could contribute 27 cm to sea-level rise by 2070.
  • Global sea levels are rising at an average rate of 3.4 millimetres per year, mainly due to melting glaciers and sea ice, and expansion of sea water as it warms.
  • As the Arctic warms faster than anywhere else on earth, the thawing of permafrost could release mercury at a rate much faster than it would occur naturally, with potential consequences to the environment and the food chain.
  • Ocean acidification is increasing as a result of increasing concentrations of CO2, affecting marine ecosystems.
  • If present trends continue, Antarctic melting could contribute 27 cm to sea-level rise by 2070. Antarctic ice sheet melting rate has accelerated threefold over the last five years – from 76bn tonnes per year (0.2mm sea-level rise contribution) to 219bn tonnes of ice per year (0.6mm sea-level rise contribution).
  • By 2100, some 150-200 million people could be displaced by sea level rise, globally. | Related Megatrends: MigrationSecurity

 

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  • Exposure to natural hazards doubled in the last 40 years; earthquake affects the highest number of people; flood is the most frequent natural disaster; tropical cyclone winds threaten 89 countries in the world and the population exposed to cyclones increased from 1 billion in 1975 up to 1.6 billion in 2015; Japan is most at risk to tsunamis – 4 times more than China, the second country on the ranking.
  • In 2015, there were 19.2 million newly displaced people due to weather, water, climate and geophysical hazards in 113 countries – more than double of those by conflict and violence. | Related Megatrends: Migration
  • Changes in many extreme weather and climate events have been observed since about 1950. Some of these changes have been linked to human influences, including droughts, floods, typhoons, heatwaves, wildfires worldwide.| Related Megatrends: Natural resourcesConsumerismSecurity
  • Of the 1,692 cities with at least 300,000 inhabitants in 2014, 56% (944 cities) were at high risk of exposure to at least one of six types of natural disaster (cyclones, floods, droughts, earthquakes, landslides and volcano eruptions). | Related Megatrends: Urbanisation; Security
  • The risk of extreme summer heat events in Europe has already quadrupled, with serious implications.
  • Abnormal weather patterns caused by El Niño were among the increasing food insecurity in 2016, affecting some 108 million people -- a drastic increase compared to 2015 when the figure was around 80 million. | Related Megatrends: Natural resourcesMigrationInequalities; Security
  • Forecasting extreme space weather, such as different types of solar activity becomes increasingly important given their potential impact on the operations of critical infrastructures; e.g. solar flares, solar radiation storms or geomagnetic storms could affect radio, radar, ground- and space-based communications, GPS, satellite, aviation, rail transport and power-grid operations. | Related Megatrends:  Technology; Security
  • Weather-related disasters could affect around 66% of the European population annually by 2100, potentially resulting in a 50-fold increase in fatalities compared to today.

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Forecasting extreme space weather, such as different types of solar activity becomes increasingly important given their potential impact on the operations of critical infrastructures.
| Related Megatrends: InequalityMigrationSecurity

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Potential consequences

Food security, rising sea levels and stronger storms affecting coastal areas, health issues, migration, and growing economic damages are only a few of the immediate implications of climate change.

Climate change will amplify existing risks and create new ones. Consequences of climate change, such as weather-related disasters, are set to continue even if emissions start to decrease. Increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for humans and ecosystems. Risks are unevenly felt and are generally greater for disadvantaged people and communities in countries with low level of development. 

  • Potential impacts of climate change include:  
    • by 2050, yields of most important crops in developing countries would decline, exposing an additional number of people to malnutrition, including 25 million children.
    • by 2050, 200 million more people will be exposed to malaria.
    • by 2100, between 25 million and 1 billion people might be displaced in response to extreme weather events, drought, sea level rise, and other climate change impacts.
    • by 2100, an additional 52 million people in 84 developing countries could be affected by coastal storm surges. Damaging typhoons will be increasing in frequency and severity, which will mean considerable loss of life and economic damage.
  • 2017 was the second costliest year for loses due to natural disasters, at US$ 330bn. The record year is 2011 with losses of US$ 350bn, due mainly to the Tohoku earthquake and floods in Thailand.
  • Mentime, corporate social responsibility is on the rise. With nearly 10,000 companies from some 160 countries being members of the UN Global Compact, supporting the Sustainable Development Goals, corporate responsibility is becoming an importnat driver of social change and addressing environmnetal issues.

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  • Approximately 20-30% of the Earth’s vegetated surface shows persistent declining trends in productivity over the past 20 years. This is mainly due to land and water use, as well as management practices.
  • Globally, 76% of the population derives most of their daily protein from plants. If CO2 levels continue to rise as projected, researchers estimate that roughly an additional 150 million people may be placed at risk of protein deficiency because of elevated levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.
  • Loss of biodiversity in an area could trigger a domino effect to future extinctions, leading to an "extinction cascade". 
  • Models on co-extinction (extiction of several species due to synergic mechanisms) show that "ecological dependencies amplify the direct effects of environmental change on the collapse of planetary diversity by up to ten times."
    | Related Megatrends: Climate and environment;  Consumerism
  • The extinction rates of large number of species has critical impact on global food security:
    • by challenging the sustained provision of fisheries productivity and other ecosystem services;
    • by continued negative impact on wheat, rice and maize production;
    • by shifting production areas of food and non-food crops around the world;
    • by impacting water availability and supply, food security, infrastructure and agricultural incomes and by intensifying competition for water among sectors an countries.
  • Extreme weather and climate related events influenced by the strong El-Niño in 2015/2016 report had significant negative impacts on agriculture and food security. More than 60 million people around the world were affected by these events;
    | Related Megatrends: Inequalities

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  • Millions of people could be displaced due to extreme weather events, particularly in developing countries with low income.
  • Of the estimated 971 million people -- over 12% of the world population -- living in areas with high or very high exposure to climate hazards, 41% reside in countries with already low levels of peacefulness. Asia-Pacific and South Asia -- the regions with the higher risk to natural hazards and weaker coping capacities -- are home to over 66% of those at high environmental risks.
  • Exposure to six major natural hazards -- earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, floods, tropical cyclone winds, and sea level rise --  doubled over the past 40 years. Currently, some 33% of world population is exposed to earthquakes, around 1 billion people in 155 countries are exposed to floods and 414 million live near one of the 220 most dangerous volcanoes.
  • By 2100, between 25 million and 1 billion people might be displaced in response to extreme weather events, drought, sea level rise, and other climate change impacts.
  • Studies show that temperature deviations from the moderate optimum (~20°C) increase asylum applications nonlinearly-- accelerating with continuous global warming. NASA models estimate that asylum applications in the European Union might increase, on average, by 28% to 188% by 2100 -- meaning 98,000 to 660,000 additional applications per year, depending of the scenarios (RCP 4.5 or RCP 8.5 for the 21 climate models in the NASA Earth Exchange Global Daily Downscaled Projections (NEX-GDDP)).
  • If current trends continue, by 2100, climate change could lead to a yearly average of 1 million asylum seekers entering the EU. Related Megatrends: MigrationSecurity
  • In 2015 there were 19.2 million new displacements associated with weather, water, climate and geophysical hazards in 113 countries, more than twice as many as for conflict and violence. Of these, weather-related hazards triggered 14.7 million displacements. South and East Asia dominated in terms of the highest absolute figures, but no region of the world was unaffected.
    | Related Megatrends: Migration; Security

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  • Higher temperatures have resulted in range expansions for key disease carriers, such as mosquitoes. The incidence of malaria, dengue, and haemorrhagic fever is correlated with temperature, precipitation, and humidity. Overall, improvements in public health are expected to lead to a decline in infectious disease, but climate change will act as an impediment.
  • By 2050, 200 million more people might be exposed to malaria, due to global warming.
  • Globally, 76% of the population derives most of their daily protein from plants. If CO2 levels continue to rise as projected, researchers estimate that roughly an additional 150 million people may be placed at risk of protein deficiency because of elevated levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.
  • Due to climate change, yields of most important crops in developing countries would decline, by 2050, exposing an additional number of people to malnutrition, including 25 million children.
  • Residents of crowded cities (especially in South Asia) may experience growing health problems due to rising heat and humidity levels.
  • The risk of extreme summer heat events in Europe has already quadrupled, with serious implications to the ecosystem and human health.

| Related Megatrends: Health; InequalityMigrationSecurity

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The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals  "are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice. The Goals interconnect and in order to leave no one behind, it ís important that we achieve each Goal and target by 2030."

The SDGs provide a framework for an equitable development of the world within the limits of the planet. They should guide the economic and political agenda of all countries and corporations. SDG-compliance and accountability should be considered as a measure of progress beyond the GDP and profit.

Labels showing SDG-compliance could help rise consumer awareness and change behaviour.

System of fiscal incentives and penalities should help increase corporate social responsibility towards respect of the SDGs. 

SDG Index and Dashboards

The SDG Index and Dashboards Report 2018 notes that although all countries are making progress, overall, no country is on track to achieve all the SDGs by 2030. Progress is slowest on some of the environmental goals, mainly in the poorer countries, which tend to lack adequate infrastructure and mechanisms to manage key environmental issues. The 2018 report is the first ever assessment of government efforts to achieve the SDGs. It found that of the G20 countries,  Brazil, Mexico and Italy have taken the most significant steps to achieve the goals. No G20 country has fully aligned its national budget with the SDGs and only India and Germany have partially undertaken an assessment of investment needs. Sweden, Denmark, and Finland are best performers towards achieving the SDGs. USA ranks 35th, China ranks 54th,  and the Russian Federation ranks 63rd in the Index.

The SDG Index and Dashboards Report 2017 shows that OECD countries face major challenges in meeting several SDGs, mostly on sustainable consumption and production (SDG12), climate change (SDG13), clean energy (SDG7), and ecosystem conservation (SDGs14 and 15); even top ranked countries have “red” score on climate change and other environmental SDGs; poorer countries tend to be closer to the bottom of the rankings, since they lack adequate infrastructure and the mechanisms needed to meet the SDGs; data on each spillover indicator show that high-income countries tend to generate negative SDG spillover effects for poorer developing countries (countries with larger spillover: Switzerland, Singapore, Luxemburg, Netherlands, United Arab Emirates, USA, Belgium, UK). 
| Related Megatrends: Natural resourcesConsumerismInequalities

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IPCC Assessment report

According to the Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP) developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

  • Surface temperatures projected to rise over the 21st century under all assessed emission scenarios.
  • It is very likely that heat waves will occur more often and last longer, and that extreme precipitation events will become more intense and frequent in many regions.
  • The ocean will continue to warm and acidify, and global mean sea level to rise.
  • Extreme high sea level events are very likely to become more common, through a combination of sea-level rise and storm surge.
  • Heatwaves will become more intense, more frequent and of longer duration.
  • Heavy rainfall events, and associated flooding, are likely to occur more frequently, especially in the mid-latitudes and wet tropical regions.
  • The intensity and duration of droughts are likely to increase.
  • Intense tropical cyclone activity may become more common in the western North Pacific and North Atlantic.