The World in 2025 - can challenges become opportunities?

In fifteen years the EU will have a different position on the world stage, according to new research by the European Foresight Expert Group. Compared to Asia, its population and trade will lessen but there will be an increase in the proportion of Europeans aged over 65 years. To face these challenges the research suggests that the EU should adopt a new socio-ecological model. This would re-define our patterns of consumption and production, consider the changing dynamics between rural and urban areas and incorporate the shifting balance between generations.

The findings are the result of analysis by a range of experts, including representatives from think tanks, universities, industry, the EC and governmental bodies. The experts developed predictions for the world in 2025, firstly by highlighting the global trends in population, development, trade and poverty and secondly by outlining the tensions in natural resources, migration and urbanisation. The researchers identified several transitions necessary to cope with these trends and tensions.

Trends

  • According to the UN, the world population will increase by 20 per cent to 8 billion between now and 2025. 97 per cent of this growth will occur in developing countries. The EU population will account for 6.5 per cent of the world population and will have the largest proportion of people aged over 65 years.
  • The centre of gravity of world production and technological development will move towards Asia. EU exports could drop from 39 to 32 per cent of total global production.
  • There will be an estimated 250 million migrants in 2025 and 65 per cent will be in developed countries.
  • Poverty will be concentrated in cities and mega-cities (those with more than 10 million inhabitants).
  • World energy demand will increase by 50 per cent by 2025 and in 2030 the EU will import almost 70 per cent of its energy needs.
  • If Europe is not followed by other powers in its efforts to slow climate change, we are unlikely to reach the objective of remaining below a 2ºC global temperature rise.

Tensions

  • The population increase will cause tensions with food availability and malnutrition will increase. Buying up farmland abroad could threaten the livelihoods of the poor. Biofuels are a potential threat to agriculture, especially if second generation biofuels are not available by 2025.
  • In 2025 it is estimated that 3 billion people will not have access to clean water. Although desalination technologies could help, the first generation desalination plants will use combustion energy and increase CO2 emissions unless powered by renewable energy.
  • A constant rise in energy prices could be contained by increases in renewable energy and reductions in energy consumption. However, a possible ‘oil peak’ in 2025 would cause major tensions.
  • Increasing multi-culturalism in cities could have positive impacts but could cause conflict, triggered by events such as economic crises and pandemics.

Transitions

  • In the last sixty years world governance has been either bipolar in nature between the USA and the Soviet Union or, latterly, dominated by the USA. From 2008 until 2025 the world will need to become multi-polar. With its common governance system that recognises the diversity of nation states, the EU could lead by example.
  • Pressures on the environment and raw materials mean that the EU will need a new way of producing, consuming, living and moving. This will mean a transition to a socio-ecological model that considers the interaction of individuals and their environment, including the development of green goods and services whose worth is expected to double by 2020.
  • The possible ‘oil peak’ in 2025 will require a transition towards the ‘after-oil era’. Advances are needed in renewable energy, carbon capture and storage, nuclear power, hydrogen and fuel cells. Hand-in-hand with this must go economic incentives such as taxation and a market for pollution permits. Changes in behaviour are essential; stimulated by appropriate policies to reduce consumption.
  • The growth of cities, particularly in Asia, will require investment in infrastructure and housing, estimated at 200 trillions of dollars from now to 2030. These could provide a major opportunity for collaborative sustainable development projects between the EU and international partners.
  • The expected aging of the European population will produce tensions in public finances. However, the EU could benefit from new markets in pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and cultural products for elderly people.
  • Finally, to promote the above transitions the EU will need better co-ordination between national and EU policies as well as different policy areas.

The World in 2025 – Rising Asia and Socio-Ecological Transition (duration: 01/01/2008 – 31/12/2008) was a Specific Targeted Research Project funded under the 7th Framework Programme for Research of the European Union, Thematic Priority 7 – Foresight activities.

See: http://ec.europa.eu/research/social-sciences/pdf/the-world-in-2025-report_en.pdf
Contact: Domenico Rossetti, domenico.rossetti-di-valdalbero@ec.europa.eu