Archive for the ‘Sweden’ Category

EFP Brief No. 209: Future Forests Scenarios 2050 Possible Futures, Future Possibilities

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

This foresight brief summarises the findings of a scenario process on possible futures for Sweden’s forests and forest sector. The purpose of the process was to build interdisciplinary skills within the research programme Future Forests and to initiate discussions about the future with our stakeholders. A group of 21 researchers from different disciplines, ranging from the natural and social sciences to the humanities, took part in the process. Stakeholders and interest groups were involved in the initial steps and in discussions of the final scenarios. The process involved four steps: identifying external drivers, defining critical uncertainties to be discussed, developing the scenarios, and discussing implications with interest groups.

New Demands on Forests

Forests provide many ecosystem services to society, ranging from wood-based products to recreational value. Forest management has to take all of these services into account and must be able to deal with trade-offs between the different ecosystem services. This is a difficult task that requires a holistic approach to forest management, which includes not only knowledge of silviculture but also an understanding of, for instance, attitudes and values among different groups of stakeholders and of the conflicts between opposing goals. In addition, large-scale challenges and trends, such as climate change and globalisation, pose new and increasing demands on the services that forests produce. In other words, management of multi-use forests falls into the realm of so-called “wicked problems” where optimum solutions are difficult to find and an interdisciplinary approach is necessary to provide a basis for decisions.

The research programme Future Forests attempts to form a scientific basis for managing trade-offs between conflicting interests in boreal forests. Thus, Future Forests faces a challenge common to all applied, user-oriented research: reconciling the supply and demand of scientific information between scientists and decision-makers.

We believe that an interdisciplinary research approach is absolutely necessary to address these complex research questions within natural resource management and that stakeholders need to participate to ensure that research questions are grounded in real-world problems and help bridge the gap between science and action. We recognise, however, that conducting interdisciplinary research involving stakeholders is not without its own problems. For instance, difficulties in understanding and trust among different disciplines and differences in commitment between team members may cause interdisciplinary processes to come to a halt.

The scenario process that we describe in this brief was intended to act as a ‘nucleus’ around which we could hone our interdisciplinary skills, on the one hand, while it served the purpose of inspiring discussions with stakeholders about forest futures, on the other.

Confronting Renewable Energy with Strong Political Institutions

Our scenarios were developed as qualitative narratives of possible futures (see, e.g., the European Environmental Agency’s Environmental Issue Report no. 24 for a general description). The process was run as a series of workshops where we included stakeholders at certain steps. The scenario team consisted of 21 researchers from different disciplines, ranging from the natural sciences (forest management, ecology) to the social sciences (political science, social geography, forest economy) and the humanities (history). The 15 stakeholders who participated in the first step (see below) were from private and public forest companies, government agencies and NGOs (conservation and reindeer husbandry).

In short, we first listed a number of external drivers and trends that could affect the Swedish forest sector. This was done using both an expert panel approach and a participatory process with stakeholders (see the respective sections below for details). The research team then analysed the external drivers based on literature reviews. In the next step, we subjectively chose two major uncertainties that we wanted to explore using our scenarios. These were (1) the role of renewable energy sources and bioenergy, and (2) the role of strong political institutions and transnational agreements on climate mitigation and forest use. These two axes were placed orthogonally, resulting in four different scenarios (Fig. 1). These scenarios were then fleshed out into narratives using information from the literature reviews and in discussions among the research team. These narratives were described to our stakeholders in the form of bullet point lists, key sentences and fictional letters from the future.

How Climate Change and Other Variables Affect the Forest Eco-System

Extracting External Trends and Drivers

The process was started by identifying external trends and drivers that could affect the Swedish forest sector. External in this case refers to processes, events, trends etc. that the forest sector itself cannot influence. Internal structural changes, on the other hand, are, for instance, responses to these external drivers. We listed possible trends and drivers in two different brainstorming workshops: one where the research team acted as an expert panel and one with our group of stakeholders. The workshops produced 81 different suggestions, many of which were similar to each other. In a later meeting with the research team, these 81 drivers were aggregated into 11 themes (in no particular order):

  • Climate change
  • Climate change politics
  • Alternative land use
  • Demography and migration patterns
  • Energy and bioenergy
  • Environmental disasters
  • Markets for forest products
  • Geopolitics
  • Forest governance
  • Scientific and technological developments
  • Attitudes and values

These themes were analysed and developed through literature reviews by the research team members, except in a few instances where the group lacked sufficient expertise (for instance, in the field of geopolitics and demography/migration). These literature reviews constituted the empirical basis for the scenarios. A few of the literature reviews were later developed into published papers (e.g. Egnell et al. 2011 and Jonsson 2011).

The space in this brief does not allow for a thorough description of these reviews, but we will mention some of the key issues discussed. The climate change models from the IPCC all predict a similar climate development by 2050, but potentially taking different paths towards the end of the century. We thus assumed a similar global climate warming of about 1oC in all our scenarios. However, climate change politics may change much faster, for instance depending on the development of the Kyoto protocol or EU common forest politics. This is a key feature in our scenarios. Alternative land use (e.g. agriculture, protected areas or recreation) may strongly influence forest use. Demography and migration may also have strong effects (for instance climate refugees from Mediterranean areas). Energy and bioenergy is, of course, a key issue, especially if, and if so how, renewable energy sources and bioenergy are able to take a large market role. The environmental disasters paper discusses risks of windstorms, insect outbreaks and nuclear power disasters. Markets for wood products discusses trends in demands, while the geopolitics paper discusses the political stability of the EU and adjoining areas (e.g. Russia and the Arctic). Forest governance describes the international and national legislative, regulative and normative framework that can be seen as affecting forest use. Scientific and technological development discusses the construction of scientific facts and technological artefacts, and also the problem of implementing technological breakthroughs in a society that needs to accept, use and validate them. Finally, the attitudes and values paper concentrates on attitudinal factors about forests, which is comprised of values, environmental attitudes and beliefs, and personal norms.

Identifying Critical Uncertainties

Based on the literature reviews on drivers, we identified critical uncertainties that we wanted to investigate using our scenarios. This was done in a workshop with the research team in an iterative process where smaller groups produced suggestions, which were discussed among the entire team until consensus was reached. This step is by definition a very subjective one where the uncertainties chosen reflect the interests of a particular group of people at a particular period in time. Our research team agreed on the following two uncertainties, which by themselves are aggregates of several drivers: 1) the role that strong political institutions could have in achieving transnational agreements on forest use, and 2) the role that renewable energy, and bioenergy in particular, could have in society. These uncertainties served to construct our scenario cross (Fig. 1).

Constructing Scenario Narratives

The two uncertainties defined four different possible futures (Fig. 1): Balancing Act, Carbon Sink, Carbon Substitution and Free-for-all. These futures were fleshed out in several ways. In the first step, we extracted relevant information from our literature reviews. Secondly, the research team, acting as an expert group, commented on, added or changed the information to better suit the different futures. Finally, we gathered and organised the information into bullet point lists and also constructed a fictional letter from the future for each scenario. The bullet point lists and the fictional letter together served as a narrative that could be used as a basis for discussions. In the following, we give a short description of each scenario.

Balancing Act describes a stable world with a strong global economy and strong political institutions (such as the UN and EU) that can achieve international agreements (on climate mitigation, for example). Breakthrough innovations have led to reduced energy consumption, and both renewable sources of energy and nuclear power play an important role. The high demand for bioenergy has resulted in substantial land conflicts. The rural economy in Sweden is experiencing a favourable development thanks to more job opportunities in the forests. A strong demand for forest products has led to intensive forestry with short rotation periods. As a result of political decisions, efforts are being made to also take other forest uses into consideration, leading to a mosaic landscape where intensively cultivated forests are interspersed with protected areas, resulting in positive effects on biodiversity.

Carbon Sink describes a less stable world with a weak economy. Strong political institutions have some influence, however, and they have agreed on mitigating climate through carbon sequestration. No major innovations have taken place in the energy sector, and fossil fuels (predominantly coal) dominate. Rural development in Sweden is weak. There is a relatively weak demand for forest products, and forest management focuses on carbon storage. Forests are not managed intensively but in many cases as closed-canopy forests with long rotation periods. Biodiversity is doing well and the risk of infestations by pests and diseases is relatively low. However, the risk of storm damage has increased.

The Carbon Substitution scenario describes a world with growing tensions between states and weak political institutions. However, the economy is fairly strong since green economy has made a breakthrough in step with new innovations focussing on renewable energy and reduced energy consumption. A strong demand for bioenergy has resulted in severe land conflicts and resultant land grabbing. Rural Sweden is experiencing a favourable economic development. Demand for forest products is strong, with a focus on bioenergy and biomaterials to replace fossil energy sources and materials. Forestry is intensive with short rotation periods. Market-driven certification schemes have resulted in voluntary set-aside forests, and these are the only areas where any form of old-growth forests remains. Landowner’s rights have been strengthened and the right of public access weakened. Biodiversity is not developing well, and the risk of pests and diseases has increased.

The Free-for-all scenario describes a highly regionalised world with a high risk of conflicts (e.g. trade blockades and currency wars). There are weak political institutions and a weak global economy. There have been no major innovations in the energy sector, and nuclear power and coal are the dominant sources of energy. There are serious land conflicts due to a strong demand for traditional forest products in local markets in northwestern Europe. Rural development in Sweden is advancing in regions with an active forest industry. A high demand for timber and pulpwood creates an intensive forestry with short rotation periods. Biodiversity is developing in very unfavourable directions.

Discussing Implications with Stakeholders

So far, the scenario narratives have been used as starting points for discussions with government officials from the National Forest Agency, the management group for SCA Skog (one of the largest private forestry companies in Sweden), and with representatives from several different forest companies. One common thread in those discussions was a tendency among the participants to rank the scenarios according to the group’s specific interests, i.e. to move from possible futures to what the respective group considers a desirable future. Another, somewhat surprising, outcome was the marked ability of the groups to identify aspects of the narratives where the scenario teams producing the scenarios had failed to agree on the consequences, probably because the logic behind that particular aspect of the scenarios was not clearly described. However, we can conclude that, even though the scenarios were primarily intended for internal use within the research programme, they are also very well suited to stimulate discussions about the future with stakeholders.

Trying to Think in New Ways

Lessons Learned

In the following, we outline some of the lessons learned from our scenario exercise.

  • Foresight studies are powerful tools to deal with complex issues. As we were working with narratives rather than with quantitative simulations, it was quite easy to discuss complex relationships without getting bogged down in details. This makes it possible for researchers from different disciplines (both natural and social sciences) to contribute to the process. This kind of scenario exercise can thus be an important tool for building interdisciplinary skills.
  • A scenario exercise is more important as a process than as an end product. The most important aspect is the collaborative learning that takes place in the group that constructs the scenarios. This also means that scenarios can be difficult to communicate as they are always a result of many explicit and implicit assumptions and simplifications, which are difficult to describe to non-participants.
  • Collaborative learning means that if stakeholders are an important audience, they have to be involved in the whole process. Otherwise, they may find it hard to understand the logic behind the narratives.
  • Future scenarios are very much about the views of the future that we have today. They thus have a short ‘shelf-life’. For example, our scenarios were created just before the COP15 meeting in Copenhagen. At this time, the possibilities of achieving international agreements or not was an obvious topic to explore. On the other hand, the scenarios were created before the tsunami in Japan and the subsequent decision by Germany to phase out nuclear power. Prior to this event, nuclear power was a logical alternative to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels and was thus included in scenario-building.
  • Although scenarios are sometimes discussed as a tool to examine the consequences of surprising events, it is very difficult to think in new ways. Unconsciously we have a tendency to think in linear developments and along business-as-usual lines. This contributes to the short ’shelf-life’ of the scenarios.
  • Since an important aspect of the exercise is the process itself and the learning that takes place in the scenario group, it takes time and money.
  • Our scenarios were intended as possible futures, i.e. no probabilities were attached to the scenarios and they can all be seen as equally probable (or improbable). However, it was a challenge in both the scenario team and in discussions with our stakeholders to stop thinking in terms of forecasts.
Authors: Jon Moen                             

Annika Nordin                         

Stig Larsson                          

Sponsors: N/A
Type: National foresight exercise, single issue
Organizer: Future Forests research programme,, Jon Moen,
Duration: 01/2009–12/ 2011 Budget: N/A Time Horizon: 2050 Date of Brief: Jan 2012  


Download EFP Brief No. 209_Future Forests_Scenarios_2050

Sources and References

More information and contact addresses can be found at

European Environment Agency (2001): Scenarios as tools for international environmental assessments. Environmental Issue Report, no. 24.

Egnell, G., Laudon, H. & Rosvall, O. (2011): Perspectives on the Potential Contribution of Swedish Forests to Renewable Energy Targets in Europe. Forests 2: 578-589. [Online]

Jonsson, R. (2011): Trends and Possible Future Developments in Global Forest-Product Markets—Implications for the Swedish Forest Sector. Forests 2: 147-167. [Online]

EFP Brief No. 168: Forward-looking Activities in Support of ERA Vision 2020

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

As a part of the Ljubljana Process of governance of ERA, which was launched by the EU Commission and Council in May 2008, a common 2020 vision for the European Research Area was adopted on 2 December 2008. This vision stipulates that: “[…] by 2020, all actors should fully benefit from the free circulation of researchers, knowledge and technology.”1 Forward looking activities are indis-pensable for promoting the policy process of the ERA vision 2020 in order to speak with one voice, to jointly promote consistency between their R&D cooperation activities, and to develop joint initiatives that give Europe leadership in addressing global challenges and reaching sustainable development goals.

ERA Vision 2020

The 2020 Vision for the European Research Area (ERA) was developed in partnership by all member states and the European Commission and in consultation with associated countries. When adopting the 2020 Vision, the Council of the European Union invited member states and the European Commission to communicate it widely to stakeholders and society at large and to quickly focus policies and actions to make it a reality.

1               European Research Area Vision 2020 –


By 2020, all players are supposed to fully benefit from the Fifth Freedom3 across the ERA, which refers to the free circulation of researchers, knowledge and technology. The ERA is intended to provide attractive conditions and effective and efficient governance for carrying out research and investing in R&D intensive sectors in Europe. It seeks to create significant added value by fostering scientific competition throughout Europe whilst ensuring the appropriate level of cooperation and coordination. It is envisaged to be responsive to the needs and ambitions of citizens and to effectively contribute to the sustainable development and competitiveness of Europe.

3 The Fifth Freedom is derived from European Union law where the Four Freedoms is a common term for a set of treaty provisions, secondary legislation and court decisions, protecting the ability of goods, capital, services, people and labour to move freely within the internal market of the European Union. More precisely, they are the free movement of goods, the free movement of capital, the free movement of services and the free movement of persons.

The ERA Vision 2020 is predicated on the insight that good European governance must be based upon strategic forward thinking. This involves defining major societal challenges, underpinning the selection of themes in joint programming and helping to prioritise and focus research, thus laying the groundwork for future-oriented strategic thinking. The ex-ante analysis of societal trends in the world and the European Union on the basis of scenarios and identifying potential breakthroughs (“wild cards”) are all elements that allow decision-makers to highlight their choices under a new perspective.

Forward-looking Activities to Promote ERA

The European Commission, following up on its commitment to help member states better coordinate their research efforts, organised a conference session on forward-looking activities in October 2009 that underpinned the ERA vision 2020.4

Experts, representatives of the public sector and directors of DG Research attempted to identify the needs in this field. The participants discussed how a continuous process of forward-looking and horizon scanning activities for ERA could be organised in the future, how to ensure that this approach would lead to a better support and further integration of national research policies in ERA, and what could be the drivers to determine potential “grand challenges” and joint programming priorities.

Three-dimensional Strategy

During the session, Anneli Pauili, the deputy Director-General of DG Research, reflected on the main principle guiding forward-looking activities promoted by the EC, which is to combine three dimensions in these activities: ensuring that the abundance of information provided by experts is taken into consideration, involvement of stakeholders (researchers, companies, NGOs and public organisations), and involvement of relevant politicians to increase the likelihood of results being considered in policy-making.

Added Value through Joint Programming

At European level, there exist various networks, tools and systems to follow up on forward-looking activities. Consensus is growing that European research policy needs to be based on more systematic, continuous, forward-looking and pan-European activities. It is particularly important that member states and associated countries combine their research efforts through “joint programming”, which must not be content with simply finding the lowest common denominator but should rather strive to merge different perspectives and multiple visions of the future. Here is the clear link with the Lund declaration5 that stipulates, “The identification of major challenges must involve the relevant stakeholders, including European institutions, business, public sector, NGOs and the scientific community, and foresee the interaction with international partners.”6

4     /programme/programme_22-10_en.htm

5 The Lund Declaration (SE), adopted on 9 July 2009 at the “New Worlds – New Solutions” conference, stipulates that the EU must identify the major challenges for which public and private research need to develop sustainable solutions.

Forward-looking Activities Support Innovation Policies

In recent years, forward-looking activities have been used intensively to support impact assessment for climate action policies, and there have been unprecedented levels of employing such activities in day-to-day policy-making in many countries and in the EC. Within research and innovation policies, forward-looking activities have a corrective role (addressing deficiencies and systemic failures and policy lock-ins), a disruptive role (encouraging an emphasis on crisis or breakthrough events that can completely change the current status quo), a creative role (stimulating the conditions whereby new networks and structures can evolve and grow) and a more embedded role as an instrument of articulating, structuring and delivering research and innovation policy.

6 Interview with Anneli Pauili, the deputy Director-General of DG Research, Special Issue – Research EU – November 2009,

Barriers to Networking

The major barriers to networking in the related fields and thus to the integration of national approaches of forward-looking activities are the uncertainty surrounding sufficient funding, the unnecessary rivalry among modelling teams for access to funds and the frequent lack of sufficient size, variety and multi-disciplinarity of modelling teams.

New Wave of Interest in Foresight

The context of crisis and challenges has led to a new wave of interest in foresight, as alternative solutions and promising ways of moving forward are sought. Foresight has now become a pervasive activity at the institutional level to inform programme planning and to support structural change. Its role in EU Framework Programmes (FP) and ERA needs to be grounded in a greater involvement of stakeholders and users to encourage them to take ownership of the exercises. On the supply side, there is a need to maintain and extend the foresight community through support for research and community building activities and to help carry the results beyond their initial audience.

Common Understanding of the Potential of Forward-looking Activities

The ERA Conference 2009 resulted in a common understanding that forward-looking activities can be used in defining the future research activities, the annual work programmes, joint programming and international cooperation. In order to further shape the ERA vision 2020, forward-looking activities will have to

  • help reinforce the governance culture by integrating the long-term perspective and giving more space to cross-cutting issues,
  • help improve the quality and impact of European, national and regional research policies by comparing findings and methods and, consequently, by contributing to improved policy design and implementation at the European, national and regional level,
  • support model development, human capital of modellers and long-lasting capacity and network of models, modellers and databases on a transnational basis.

To be successful, forward-looking activities need the commitment and involvement of the initiator.

Improving Foresight in Research and Policy

Better Networking and Sharing of Resources

For the future of the European Research Area (institutional, organisational, methodological, etc.), networking and sharing of resources (data, mathematical methods, policy advice experience and skills) are very important, provided that the network has some degree of variety and stability over time.

Better coherence – which does not mean harmonisation or standardisation – among forward-looking exercises at various levels, better access to each other’s knowledge, sharing and networking would support future decision-making. European forward-looking activities should not be limited to the aggregation of national forward-looking activities but should be set up as a truly European project, preferably putting together interoperable visions that can be exploited by decision-makers.

Interoperable Visions: European Technology Platforms

The forward looking approaches of some European Technology Platforms are good examples for such interoperable visions. The European Technology Platforms provide a framework for stakeholders, led by industry, to define research and development priorities, timeframes and action plans on a number of strategically important issues where achieving Europe’s future growth, competitiveness and sustainability objectives is dependent upon major research and technological advances in the medium to long-term. They play a key role in ensuring an adequate focus of research funding on areas with a high degree of industrial relevance, by covering the whole economic value chain and by mobilising public authorities at national and regional levels. As such, they are proving to be powerful actors in the development of European research policy, in particular in orienting the FP7 programs (including the “Cooperation Programme”) to better meet the needs of industry.

The following are some examples of technology platforms with a forward-looking approach for 2030 and beyond:

  • European Biofuels TP (EBTP)
  • European Construction TP (ECTP),
  • European Steel TP (ESTEP)
  • Forest-based sector TP (FTP)
  • European Photovoltaic TP
  • European TP on Sustainable Mineral Resources (ETP SMR)
  • Sustainable Nuclear Energy TP (SNE-TP)
  • European Wind Energy TP (TPWind)
  • Water Supply and Sanitation European TP (WSSTP)

Maintain Continuous Process

A continuous process of integrated forward-looking activities should be organized (joint programming), comprising cooperation between policy-making EU Directorate-Generals and ERA in order to make sure that forward-looking analytical capacity is established, well networked and disposes funding to ensure high quality and state-of-the-art methods. It is important thereby to ensure continuity and stability to modelling teams.

Optimise Integration of Foresight
in Governance Processes

A lot of work has been done at the European level in the “research” component of forward-looking activities but a lot has still to be done in the “policy” component of those activities; that is, “foresight” done by researchers and experts should be better integrated into the policy-oriented foresight process where policy-makers and stakeholders (including citizens) should participate.

Forward-looking methods have to be combined and integrated as much as possible in the “policy cycle”, taking stock of appropriate structures for defining research agendas, such as the European Technology Platforms and Social Platforms. Policy-makers, stakeholders (ministries, universities, industries, research centres and civil society organizations) should participate and work together. Both bottom-up (researchers, experts) and top-down (policy-makers) involvements are needed. Endogenous technology dynamics including their complex interactions with society, economy and energy have to be applied.

Authors: Anette Braun       

Axel Zweck                     

  Sponsors: Pierre Valette, European Commission – DG Research – Directorate L – Science, Economy and Society Unit L2 – Research in the Economic, Social Sciences and Humanities – Prospective
Type: European/international
Organizer: European Commission – DG Research – European Research Area
Duration: 2008 Budget: N/A Time Horizon: 2020 Date of Brief: Dec. 2009


Download EFP Brief No. 168_ERA Vision 2020

Sources and References

European Research Area Vision 2020:,

ERA 2009 Conference:

Interview with Anneli Pauili, the deputy Director-General of DG Research, Special Issue – Research EU – 11/ 2009,

Tiit Jurimae, The experience of European Technology Platforms (ETPs) as a vision-building process, 2009,

EFP Brief No. 167: The World in 2025

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

DG Research’s Directorate for Science, Economy and Society in collaboration with the Bureau of European Policy Advisers launched a foresight exercise on “The World in 2025”, which resulted in a report published in January 2009.

The World to Come – Global Trends & Disruptions

The report “The World in 2025” highlights the main trends up to 2025 (demography, urbanisation, macro-economic projections, education, science and culture) and underlines the pressures on natural resources and the new production-consumption patterns while attempting to identify the so-called “wild cards”. The role for European foresight and forward-looking activities are presented focussing on a multi-polar world and beyond technological innovation. The report has benefited from the discussions of the group of experts set up by the European Commission in 2008 (see box below).

It has taken stock of the most recent publications in the field of foresight and forward-looking activities and includes most of the reflections of different Commission Directorates-General.

Group of Experts & Scenario Process

DG Research’s Directorate for Science, Economy and Society in collaboration with the Bureau of European Policy Advisers (BEPA) launched a foresight expert group on “The World in 2025”, which met on five occasions in 2008 and 2009.

The objectives of this group were, first, to assess and measure global trends over recent decades to serve as a basis for forward projections while distinguishing the different major economies and regions, including the European Union, and identifying the main economic, geopolitical, environmental and societal relationships and interconnections.

Secondly, the group was asked to generate and analyse alternative (even disruptive) scenarios of world trends up to 2025 based on specified assumptions about economic, political, social, environmental and technological developments in order to assess their consequences for the EU and to examine which policy responses could be appropriate.

“The World in 2025” group was composed of experts with a profound understanding of global challenges and developments as well as a solid knowledge of foresight in specific countries or regions. Group members included representatives from think tanks, universities, industry, the European Commission and governmental bodies. Meeting five times in 2008 and 2009, the group produced two publications: one collects the experts’ individual contributions and the other called ‘The World in 2025 – Rising Asia and Socio-ecological Transition’ highlights the conclusions.

The experts identified principal trends, tensions and transitions while highlighting strategies that may help policy stakeholders make informed decisions. They also say that competition for natural resources and shifts in wealth, industrial production and populations may lead to tensions over natural resources (food, energy, water and minerals), migration and urbanisation.

Each expert produced an individual contribution to the discussions and, collectively, they generated a set of indicative scenarios for the world in 2025. The experts covered a wide range of issues, including demography, migration, urbanisation, cohesion, macro-economics and trade, employment, services, environment and climate change, energy, access to resources, education, research, technology, innovation, economic governance, defence, security and intercultural dialogue.

The key messages concern the main challenges to be faced in the next fifteen years, the main drivers that could impact on the future, the main strengths and weaknesses of Europe by 2025 and finally the wild cards that may radically change the different situations that are foreseen.

Europe to Face Marginalization

The report “The World in 2025” underlines the major future trends: geopolitical transformations in terms of population, economic development, international trade and poverty. It elucidates the tensions – natural resources (food, energy, water and minerals), migration and urbanisation – and draws transitional pathways towards a new production and consumption model, new rural-urban dynamics and a new gender and intergenerational balance.

Shift towards Asia

By the year 2025, the centres of gravity, wealth and industrial production may shift towards Asia, and the United States and Europe could likewise lose their scientific and technological edge over Asia. India and China could account for approximately 20% of the world’s research and development (R&D), that is more than double their current share.

Within 16 years, the world population will reach eight billion, the experts in the report say. Some 97% of world population growth will occur in developing countries. The analysis of demographic growth for 2025 indicates that the European population will only constitute 6.5% of the world population.

Scarcity of Natural Resources

Increased population, according to the expert group, may lead to greater scarcity of natural resources and impact the environment. This can result in tension and shifts in production and consumption patterns and the availability of natural resources.

From these demographic and resource challenges, the report sees a new ‘socio-ecological’ production and consumption model arising. New technologies (renewable energy sources, capture and storage of CO2, nuclear power, hydrogen and fuel cells) as well as changes in social behaviour, supported by economic incentives, will contribute to a reduction in energy consumption (better house insulation, replacement of environmentally damaging cars with greener options, and increased use of public transport).

The report says that while numerous scientific and technological advances will give rise to controversies in society, Europe, with its wealth of various debate and participative governance experiences, is well equipped to manage them and involve civil society in research. Global access to knowledge, though, together with the development of joint global standards and the rapid worldwide diffusion of new technologies will have a great impact on Europe’s future welfare.

It is assumed that by 2025 Europe will be specialized in exporting high-tech products. Although the specific products are currently still unknown, they can be expected to benefit from the rapid growth in Asia whose growth will probably be accompanied by an increasing inequality in the purchasing power of the population. “The increase of the population is already a good indication of the future opportunities of the market, of the consumer aspirations that have not been covered, better than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).”

Potential Conflicts, Threats and Wild Cards

The report also points to the possibility of future social conflicts emerging in Europe around scientific and technological advancements in areas like cognitive sciences, nanotechnology, security technologies, genetic manipulation, synthetic biology and others.

Among the unforeseeable turbulences that could shape the next two decades, the report identifies seven “wild cards”:

  1. Persistence of the financial and economic crisis beyond 2010.
  2. A major war (for the years 2010-2020 of strong turbulence).
  3. A technological disaster that could influence the choices of priorities of governments (e.g. a nuclear accident like Chernobyl blocking the nuclear option for many years).
  4. Pandemics with devastating effects.
  5. The collapse of a major urban area in a developing country.
  6. The blocking of the European Union as a result of the difficulties of establishing new economic governance and political decision mechanisms;
  7. A breakthrough in the field of renewable energy production;
  8. A new wave of technological innovations and a new rapid growth cycle driven by emerging countries;
  9. Sudden or even brutal acceleration of the (nonlinear) impacts of climate change;
  10. Progress in the adoption of a world governance system due to the extent of the problems to be dealt with and to the pressure of public opinion.

What Experts Recommend to EU Policy Makers

Key RTD Areas

The EU should struggle for maintaining its leadership in key RTD areas, such as technologies of energy saving, research into sustainable development and climate change, health and the containment of diseases, food safety and security in general.

Europe Must Not Fall Behind in R&D

Experts suggest that Europe become a model based on emphasizing quality of life, which might involve maintaining global access to knowledge and guaranteeing or contributing to establishing international standards in science and technology. “To ensure access to knowledge through the global networks also means to be attractive for the researchers and the investment that comes from the outside”, the report points out.

From ‘Brain-drain’ to ‘Brain-circulation’

There will be a switch from ‘brain drain’ to ‘brain circulation’, and young researchers will be moving to various regions of the world, which will become educational and scientific centres. It is estimated that in 2025 there will be 645,000 Chinese students and 300,000 Indian students outside their countries. In turn, the number of European students that transfer to these two countries can also be expected to grow.

Effective Governance

Europe needs good policy in order to retain its traditionally strong position in developing cutting-edge innovation that goes beyond incremental improvements of existing technology. It will be essential that some key governance issues are solved. For instance:

  1. Set a new 3% target. One in which the EU member states commit themselves to spending 1% of GDP from public funds for research and 2% for higher education by 2020. Its implementation will be under the full control of the national governments.
  2. Consider the “Grand Challenges” – a term denoting major social problems that cannot be solved in a reasonable time, under acceptable social conditions, without a strong coordinated input requiring both technological and non-technological innovation and, at times, advances in scientific understanding. In a way, the central issue is the other side of the coin of the previous one. Can resources, not just in terms of research but also procurement and other investments, be shifted across European stakeholders to more productive “societal uses” to influence not only the pace but also the direction of technical change and innovation?
  3. Create a strong coordination between research and innovation policies in order to orient innovative activities towards the needs of society. A stage gate approach is suggested, including adequate provision for innovative procurement and pre-commercial procurement practices.
  4. Discuss European versus national research policy approaches. The global financial crisis represents a window of opportunity for more radical reflections on the relationship between Community and national research policies. As fiscal pressures mount in each member state, the question of increasing the efficiency of national research funding agencies and of higher education and public research funding is likely to be raised in coming months and years in many countries.

The opportunities for further deployment of new Community instruments will only be realized if they can demonstrate their particular value for Europe in terms of administrative flexibility and best practice governance. Only then will they play a central role in structuring a new, post-crisis augmented European Research Area (ERA).

Will the Looming Crisis Be Averted in Time?

If issues of effective governance at EU level are not addressed as ones of absolute priority, the crisis shock might actually go the other way: increasingly questioning the value of Community research and leading to a future ERA that is much more based on the member states’ national efforts at attracting research talent within their own borders.

Outlook: Socio-economics & Humanities Re-considered

The stimulating contributions and discussions of this expert group have paved the way for a broad debate at European and world level. This prospective analysis contributes to understanding, anticipating and better shaping future policy and strategy developments in the European Union.

Forward-looking approaches help in building shared visions of the future European challenges and evaluating the impacts of alternative policies. A qualitative and participatory method (‘foresight’) combined with quantitative and operational methods (‘forecast’) allows better long-term policies to develop, like the post-2010 European strategy and the European research and innovation policies. Through its Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) with its ‘socio-economic sciences and humanities’ theme, the European Union is funding forward-looking activities with around EUR 30 million.

Authors: Anette Braun       

Axel Zweck         

            Sponsors: European Commission – DG Research – Directorate L – Science, Economy and Society Unit L2 – Research in the Economic, Social Sciences and Humanities – Prospective
Type: European/international – covering issues from a European or even global perspective
Organizer: European Commission – DG Research – Directorate L  – Science, Economy and Society Unit L2 – Research in the Economic, Social Sciences and Humanities – Prospective
Duration: 2008 Budget: N/A Time Horizon: 2025 Date of Brief: Dec. 2009


Download EFP Brief No. 167_The World in 2025

Sources and References

Based on the report ‘The World in 2025 – Rising Asia and socio-ecological transition’ (Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2009) and information from the European Commission.

‘The World in 2025 – Rising Asia and socio-ecological transition’ report is available at and

EFP Brief No. 11: Nordic Hydrogen Energy Foresight 2030

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

The overall aim of the Nordic Hydrogen Energy Foresight was to find long-term promising ways for Nordic stakeholders of exploiting hydrogen in the drive to meet the 3 Es: Energy Security, Economic Growth and Environmental protection. More specifically, the aim was to build a Nordic Research and Innovation Area in hydrogen and fuel cells, contributing with a bottom-up approach to the European Research Area.

EFMN Brief No. 11 – Nordic Hydrogen Energy Foresight 2030

EFP Brief No. 2: Swedish Technology Foresight 2004

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

Teknisk Framsyn’s second foresight study aimed to identify the preconditions for sustained technological progress and economic growth for Sweden over a 15-20 year period to 2025. With its intention of inspiring the coming generation of decision-makers who will shape Sweden’s future, the project was directed at the private sector as well as government, public sector policies and organizations.

EFMN Brief No. 2 – Swedish Technology Foresight 2004