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Global scenarios for the century ahead: searching for sustainability

The Tellus Institute of Boston is pleased to announce the release of our new research paper "Global Scenarios for the Century Ahead: Searching for Sustainability", May 2010. The Tellus Institute has been performing energy and environmental policy analyses for over 30 years.

Abstract: Building on earlier work of the Global Scenario Group and the Stockholm Environment Institute - Boston, this paper presents four updated and contrasting global scenarios for the twenty-first Century created with the PoleStar modeling system. These scenarios feature brief narratives and integrated quantifications across numerous economic, social, resource, and environmental dimensions. Alternative pathways for meeting a set of sustainability targets are evaluated, focusing on a comparison of conventional and transformative strategies between two of those scenarios: Policy Reform versus Great Transition. One basis for our overall evaluation of sustainability is a new Quality of Development Index (QDI) which is designed to take into account many of the dimensions modeled. The quantitative findings of these updated scenarios are compared and contrasted to some other major sustainability/climate studies. The need for a fundamental shift in the development paradigm for the future is stressed, including much greater equity and less material growth, in order to enhance the feasibility of sustainability.

The full paper can be downloaded for free at: http://www.tellus.org/publications/files/Global_Scenarios_for_the_Centur...

Scenarios are often defined as plausible stories about the future. But deep uncertainties lurk on the path to the future: How will the climate system respond? What geo-political formations will emerge? How will human values adjust? The plausibility, and even the internal consistency, of different visions is itself uncertain. Indeed, the exploration of internal inconsistencies – the ways surprises and feedback might knock a scenario off course – is also revealing.

Market Forces: Market-centered Development
Market Forces is constructed as a future in which free market optimism proves well-founded: policy prioritizes economic growth, free trade, and competitive markets. Average global incomes grow at nearly two percent per year, even as the population expands by some 40 percent from 2005 to 2050 [10]. The global economy grows over three-fold by 2050 and over eightfold by 2100...

Policy Reform: Directing Growth
This government-driven scenario assumes a massive implementation of reform policies aimed at meeting sustainability objectives. As a Conventional Worlds scenario, Policy Reform assumes no major changes in the international order rooted in the nation-state, institutional structures, and the continuity of dominant consumerist cultural values. However, unlike Market Forces, governments intervene to redirect economic growth to achieve key internationally recognized goals for poverty reduction, climate change, ecosystem preservation, water supply adequacy, and pollution control. For example, the scenario meets tough stabilization targets for carbon dioxide and, in rough compatibility with the United Nations (U.N.) Millennium Development Goals, halves world hunger between 2005 and 2025 (then halves it again by 2050)...

Fortress World: An Authoritarian Path
If market adaptations and policy reforms are unable to redirect development away from destabilization, the global trajectory could bend toward a pessimistic future. Fortress World explores the possibility that powerful world forces, faced with dire systemic crises, impose an authoritarian order in which elites retreat to protected enclaves leaving impoverished masses outside.4 In the Fortress World, the trend seen in Market Forces of greater income inequality within and between regions becomes extreme, allowing only elites everywhere to reach a Western lifestyle. As economic progress stagnates or reverses, the standard of living for many people would be a modestly improved version of that typical in Africa today...

Great Transition: A Sustainable Civilization
In dramatic contrast, Great Transition envisions a values-led shift in which the citizens of the world drive fundamental change toward a just, sustainable, and livable future. The ascendant development paradigm is rooted in popular values stressing human solidarity, environmental stewardship, and quality of life. The emergence of far more equitable social arrangements and effectual institutions for global governance supports technological improvements and policy reforms, while more moderate lifestyles reduce the growth thrust of the Conventional Worlds scenarios.

The immense uncertainty of this scenario, of course, is whether the historical agents necessary for such grand political and cultural changes will appear. If they do, a sustainable future such as the Great Transition would become feasible and, for many people, a desirable legacy for future generations. The scenario assumptions lead to the eradication of poverty and hunger, reduction of material consumption and production, universal access to social services, reduced work weeks, diminished armed conflict, enhanced democracy, and a stabilized world population. World population stabilizes more rapidly than in other scenarios reaching only about 8 billion by 2050, then dropping about ten percent by 2100, as more equal gender roles and universal access to education and health care services lower birth rates. Diminished population pressure plays important role in meeting environmental and social goals.

Lifestyles in the Great Transition are materially sufficient and culturally rich, with the notion of the “good life” shifting from an emphasis on possessions to qualitative dimensions of well-being: creativity, leisure, rewarding relationships, and community engagement. Average global income stabilizes after 2050, as the world approaches a steady-state economy, reaching about $30,000 per person by 2100.

Although lower than the approximately $51,000 in Policy Reform, this is more than three times the 2005 global average, and, with a more egalitarian income distribution, most people are far better off. Indeed, “international equity” (the ratio of income in developing to developed regions) reaches 90 percent by 2100 – twice that of Policy Reform. At the same time, equity within each region rises with the ratio of the incomes of the richest to poorest 10 percent of the population no higher than 4 to 1 by 2100, more equitable than Sweden today. Greater social equity contributes to social cohesion and reduced conflict as the world confronts crises with enhanced resilience and cooperation. This kind of world, were it to come to pass, would be deeply sustainable...

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