Written by Danièle Réchard,
Global warming, demographic change, mounting inequality, changing balance of power, societal impact of the ongoing technological revolution: in the face of these and other global trends, the world in 2030 or 2040 may appear so unknown, so complex and so distant that it would seem vain to prepare for it, as ’no one has a crystal ball‘. There is no shortage of crises – the euro, Greek debt, refugees, terrorism, Brexit – all calling for difficult and immediate political responses.
Moreover, how can political decision-makers take time out from dealing with the immediate agenda to focus sufficiently on long-term trends, and to manage the thousands of pages of detailed, specialist analysis produced by the major international think tanks and foresight centres?
Yet the need to draw a link between today’s decisions and the long-term future is not a distraction. Prevention is better than cure, and steps which strengthen our ’resilience’ are needed. With this in mind, the European Parliament has contributed actively to the development of the inter-institutional European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS). As the Parliament’s President, Martin Schulz, stated recently: ‘In too many policy fields, there is a tendency to fail to address issues for the long-run … This has to change.’
With the publication of the first edition of this new ’Global Trendometer’, the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) seeks to enhance its contribution to strategic foresight and respond to the need to identify and track medium- and long-term trends. This publication presents an up-to-date analysis of a selection of key trends.
The Global Trendometer takes a close look at specialist analysis from a variety of reputable sources. Robust analysis, both of empirical data and of the historical experience, is central to the search for effective responses to the multiple challenges that are likely to face Europe in coming decades. This new publication does not offer recommendations, but it does seek to draw attention to relevant studies and to prompt reflection on how Europe can address future challenges.
The guiding principles of this work are:
- to offer European political decision-makers, and in particular the Members of the European Parliament, a concise overview of key medium- and long-term trends;
- to underline the complex, cross-sectorial character of many current challenges;
- to analyse trends from a specifically European point of view; and
- to show how perceptions of key trends differ and/or evolve over time.
The 2015 ESPAS report ‘Global Trends 2030: Can the EU meet the challenges ahead?’ was the first document of its kind with a specifically European point of view. This is a fundamental reference and starting-point for the new Global Trendometer.
The European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS)
ESPAS aims to strengthen the EU’s collective administrative capacity for foresight. It seeks to identify the main global trends and to provide the decision-makers of the participating institutions with informed, up-to-date analysis of long-term policy challenges and options. It is a joint initiative of the European Parliament, the European Commission, the Council of the European Union and the European External Action Service, with the Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee as observers.
The 2015 ESPAS publication ’Global Trends to 2030: Can the EU meet the challenges ahead?’ summarised major existing and emerging trends under three broad categories: i) economic and technologic change, ii) social and democratic change, iii) geopolitical change.
This inaugural edition includes more detailed analysis of three trends, one from each of the major categories identified by the 2015 ESPAS report:
- Growing scarcity of water world-wide: Apart from its human impact on the most exposed societies, water scarcity may lead to conflicts and forced migration. Europe could be affected both directly and indirectly, and faces considerable challenges as a result.
- Increasing inequality: Foresight reports repeatedly confirm this trend, particularly in the West, and see it as a pre-eminent concern. Inequality poses critical challenges for the process of European integration, in social, economic and political terms.
- US military power in 2030: Changes in the technological, political, economic and even social bases of the US could change the global order. What consequences are there for Europe?
The Global Trendometer then addresses a wider selection of trends in a schematic way, to bring out uncertainties about their further development and possible disruptions they may provoke. The chosen trends are: jobless growth; the Asian century; blockchains and trust; additive manufacturing; intolerance; the mobile internet and democracy; Russia and China and democracy in the Middle East and North Africa.
As a rule, the issues addressed have deep roots and will have long-term consequences. Comprehensive solutions will often involve complex and indeed difficult policy packages, and a great deal of coordination and willingness to compromise across and within Member States, the European Union and the wider international community.
The choice of a wide selection of topics is quite deliberate. Specialist knowledge in specific areas is critically important; but there is also a great need to be able to look across sectoral boundaries. This can help us to identify common challenges and to develop comprehensive and strategically sophisticated responses. In a period of rapid change, an understanding of the dynamics of different sectors, and of their interaction, can help us make the most of the opportunities that arise and minimise the risk of future crises.
Read the complete study on ‘Global Trendometer‘.
3. Is there anything I can do about climate change?
Fly less, drive less, waste less.
You can reduce your own carbon footprint in lots of simple ways, and most of them will save you money. You can plug leaks in your home insulation to save power, install a smart thermostat, switch to more efficient light bulbs, turn off the lights in any room where you are not using them, drive fewer miles by consolidating trips or taking public transit, waste less food and eat less meat.
Perhaps the biggest single thing individuals can do on their own is to take fewer airplane trips; just one or two fewer plane rides per year can save as much in emissions as all the other actions combined. If you want to be at the cutting edge, you can look at buying an electric or hybrid car, putting solar panels on your roof, or both.
If you want to offset your emissions, you can buy certificates, with the money going to projects that protect forests, capture greenhouse gases and so forth. Some airlines sell these to offset emissions from their flights. You can also buy offset certificates in a private marketplace, from companies such as TerraPass; some people even give these as holiday gifts. In states that allow you to choose your own electricity supplier, you can often elect to buy green electricity; you pay slightly more, and the money goes into a fund that helps finance projects like wind farms.
Leading companies are also starting to demand clean energy for their operations. You can pay attention to company policies, patronize the leaders, and let the others know you expect them to do better.
In the end, though, experts do not believe the needed transformation in the energy system can happen without strong state and national policies. So speaking up and exercising your rights as a citizen matters as much as anything else you can do.