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EFP Brief No. 227: Assessment of Global Megatrends

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

The aim of the European Environment Agency’s regular state of the environment and outlook reporting is to inform policymaking in Europe and beyond and help frame and implement policies. Information can also help citizens to better understand, care for and improve the environment. Global megatrends assessment complements the assessment of four European challenges (climate change, biodiversity loss, growing material use and concern for the environment, health and quality of life) while it identifies additional social, technological, economic, environmental and political factors beyond Europe’s control that are already affecting the European environment and are expected to continue to do so.

Demographics, Technologies, Trade Patterns and Consumption Put Pressure on the Environment

An assessment of global megatrends relevant to the European environment has been performed for the 2010 European state and outlook report prepared by the European Environment Agency (EEA) and a network of countries (EIONET). It focuses on identifying the most relevant global pressures on Europe. A global-to-European perspective is relevant to European environmental policymaking because Europe’s environmental challenges and management options are being reshaped by global drivers such as demographics, technologies, trade patterns and consumption.

While the future cannot be predicted with certainty, it also does not arise from nowhere. It is rooted in our present situation. Some trends visible today will extend over decades, changing slowly and exerting considerable force that will influence a wide array of areas, including social, technological, economic, environmental and political dimensions. While these megatrends cannot be predicted with certainty, they can be assessed in terms of plausible ‘what-if’ projections.

Mega-trends always include uncertainties or strategic shock factors. They can lead to a sudden slowdown or change of direction. This concerns especially events with low probability but far-reaching implications (so-called ‘wild cards’). In addition, a combination of sub-trends can emerge into novel megatrends over a longer time frame, for example several decades.

Many of these changes are interdependent and likely to unfold over decades. They can significantly affect Europe’s resilience in the long term. Naturally, such changes also offer unique opportunities for action. Effective measures, however, require better information and a better understanding of a highly complex and evolving situation.

The assessment grouped a rich diversity of information on global drivers of change into a number of social, technological, economic, environmental and political (governance) megatrends (see Table 1). It summarised key developments succinctly with the goal of triggering a discussion about how we should monitor and assess future changes in order to better inform European environmental policymaking.
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Public Call for Evidence

The approach utilised for this exercise included:

  • A public call for evidence on global megatrends of relevance to Europe’s long-tem environmental The call was launched in June 2009 via the EEA website and was disseminated to relevant research networks and mailing lists. It generated a list of relevant studies that helped further prioritise topics for the analysis.
  • The setting up of an external advisory group to guide the progress of the work. The group comprised representatives of international and national organisations in the field of environmental assessment as well as EEA’s scientific committee members.
  • Reviews of academic and non-academic information sources in the form of eight targeted background reports produced between autumn 2009 and 2010.
  • Consolidation of the information base following the STEEP (social, technological, economic, environmental and political) framework for classifying drivers of change.
  • Structuring of the information base into information sheets including indicators.

The complexity of interlinkages and manifold uncertainties inherent in megatrends require an exploratory, qualitative approach, underpinned by empirical data. It does not solely rely on quantitative modelling although already available model results are used in the analysis. Current approaches to risk analysis and quantitative forecasting are problematic since the systems at hand and their dynamics are not well understood, assumptions are often non-transparent and necessary data are not always available.

The selection of the final list of global megatrends has been determined by matching selection criteria of relevance, novelty, data availability and feasibility within the time frame of the assessment.

The analysis of global megatrends and their relevance to Europe’s long-term environmental context is being carried out as a longer-term and iterative process. The current report captures issues and results relevant to the context and timescale of the state and outlook report 2010. Further work will be undertaken during the next years – and this assessment process intends to provide a solid information base to support policy formulation with a long-term perspective.

Global Megatrends of Relevance to European Environment

Eleven global megatrends were selected to address the European environmental challenges in the area of climate change, nature and biodiversity, natural resources and waste, and health and quality of life.

Increasing Global Divergence in Population Trends: Populations Aging, Growing and Migrating

The global population will continue to grow until the mid of the century but slower than in the past. People will live longer, be more educated and migrate more. Some populations will increase as others shrink. Migration is only one of the unpredictable factors for Europe and the world.

Living in an Urban World:
Spreading Cities and Spiralling Consumption

An increasingly urban world will probably mean higher levels of consumption and greater affluence for many. Yet it also means greater poverty for the urban underprivileged. Poor urban living conditions with the environmental and heath risks this involves can easily spread to other parts of the world, including Europe.

Changing Patterns of Global Disease Burdens and Risk of New Pandemics

Risk of exposure to newly emerging and re-emerging diseases and new pandemics grows with increased mobility of people and goods, climate change and poverty. Aging Europeans could be vulnerable and at risk of being severely affected.

Accelerating Technologies: Racing into the Unknown

The breakneck pace of technological change brings risks and opportunities. These include, in particular, the emerging clusters of nanotechnology, biotechnology and information and communication technology. Innovations offer immense opportunities for the environment – but can also create enormous problems if risks are not regulated adequately.

Continued Economic Growth

High economic growth accelerates consumption and the use of resources, but it also creates economic dynamism that fuels technological innovation potentially offering new approaches for addressing environmental problems and increasing resource efficiency.

Global Power Shifts:
From a Unipolar to a Multipolar World

One superpower no longer holds sway; regional power blocs are increasingly important, economically and diplomatically. As global interdependency and trade expands, so do international and bilateral agreements.  Europe may benefit from this development by improving its resource efficiency and knowledge-based economy.

Intensified Global Competition for Resources

How will Europe survive in the intensifying scramble for scarce resources? The answers may lie in more efficient production and use of resources, new technologies, innovation and increasing cooperation with foreign partners.

Decreasing Stocks of Natural Resources

A larger and richer global population with expanding consumption needs will place growing demands on natural systems for food, water and energy. Europe may see more pressure also on its own natural resources.

Increasing Severity of the Consequences of Climate Change

Accelerating climate change impacts will imperil food and water supplies, impair human health and harm terrestrial and marine life. Europe may see also more human migration, changes in migratory species and heightened pressure on resources availability.

Increasing Environmental Pollution Load

The environment is burdened with an increasingly complex mix of pollutants that threaten the regulatory mechanisms of the earth. Particulates, nitrogen and ground-level ozone merit particular attention in view of their complex and potentially far-reaching effects on ecosystem functioning, climate regulation and human health. In addition, many other chemical substances are released into the environment, the effects of which – whether in isolation or combined – are still poorly understood.

Global Regulation and Governance: Increasing Fragmentation But Converging Outcomes

The world is finding new governance models – multi-lateral agreements and public-private ventures, for example. In the absence of international regulation, advanced European standards and procedures have often been adopted worldwide. But will this situation continue in the future?

Impacts on Europe’s Environment

The analysis of global megatrends shows that they may have a series of direct and indirect consequences for Europe’s environment. These consequences can be illustrated by looking at the four priority areas that underpin the European Union’s Sixth Environmental Action Programme, namely climate change, natural environment, resource use, and environment and health.

The most evident consequences are expected in the area of climate change. A whole set of global socio-economic megatrends will play a key role in determining the severity of climate change impacts in Europe in coming decades. Projected direct impacts in Europe include biodiversity change, particularly in the Arctic region, the Alpine region and the Mediterranean. Water scarcity can become a problem in southern European regions, whereas flooding threatens lowland coastal areas and river basins. Indirectly, Europe may experience increased migration pressures from developing countries, where accelerating global environmental change is becoming more important as a direct root source for migration, and its ageing population may become more vulnerable to extreme events such as heat waves.

For biodiversity and nature, the global megatrends are expected to have a relatively weak direct impact on Europe itself (i.e. spread of invasive species), though globally the loss of biodiversity and indirect impacts on European biodiversity (through use of natural resources and pollution) will be a major concern.

The links between global megatrends and their impacts on Europe’s natural resources are complex and uncertain. Europe is resource-poor in terms of fossil fuels (oil, gas) and minerals (e.g. rare earths, phosphorus, copper, aluminium) and will largely remain dependent on supply from abroad. For energy, Europe may turn to its own stocks (coal, oil shale, ‘revival of mining’), but exploitation costs will be high due to high costs of labour, environmental and occupational security, accessibility and landscape disruption. Changes in the abundance of migratory species and climate change impacts might be aggravated by an increased demand for and depletion of domestic resources (such as food and timber). Similarly, heightened global demand for European agricultural and forestry products may lead to an increase in the intensity and scale of agriculture and forestry in Europe, increasing pressure on water and soil resources. Technology, however, may act to reduce pressure on Europe’s natural resources by enhancing the efficiency of resource use and improving agricultural yields.

In addition to the direct and indirect consequences on Europe’s environment, the megatrends can be expected to also have a global impact on environmental security in many parts of the world, including Europe’s neighbours in the southern and eastern Mediterranean as well as in Sub-Saharan Africa. Examples of such impacts are climate-change-induced refugees, risk of new pandemics and new diseases, conflicts arising from competition for resources, development problems related to uncontrolled urban sprawl.

How Can We Respond to Global Megatrends?

The assessment of megatrends highlights a range of interlinkages and interdependencies. They increase complexity, uncertainty and risk and accelerate feedback within and between economic, social, technological and environmental systems. The growing global links also offer unique opportunities for action although the attempts to realise these opportunities face the challenge of huge time lags between action (or inaction) and effect.

Responding to global megatrends and reflecting future changes in policy is thus a challenging task. The report of the Reflection Group on the Future of Europe has emphasised how many recent global developments, such as the financial crisis or price volatilities in key commodity markets, have caught us by surprise.

A key question emerges: how can we respond to global challenges in resource-using systems when we are very far from understanding them completely? For example, much of the speed and scope of global environmental change has been underestimated by scientific assessments and policy appraisals. Few considered that some of the key emerging economies would develop so fast and affect global demand as quickly as they have in the last decade.

Brief reflection reveals three related but distinct challenges for the future:

  • reviewing assessment approaches to improve monitoring and analysis of future changes and their uncertainties;
  • revising approaches and institutional arrangements to embed a long-term perspective into policy planning and decision-making;
  • reflecting on further policy changes to take better account of global-to-European interlinkages and better align European external policies with environmental policies.
Authors: Teresa Ribeiro              Teresa.Ribeiro@eea.europa.eu

Axel Volkery                 avolkery@ieep.eu

Anita Pirc Velkavrh       Anita.pircvelkavrh@eea.europa.eu

Hans Vos                     hansbvos@gmail.com

Ybele Hoogeveen         Ybele.hoogeveen@eea.europa.eu

Sponsors: n.a.
Type: Regular European state of the environment reporting every four years
Organizer: European Environment Agency
Duration: 2009-2010
Budget: n.a.
Time Horizon: 2050
Date of Brief: August 2012

Download: EFP Brief No. 227_Assessment of Global Megatrends.

Sources and Resources

EEA, 2010a, ‘General support to framing the forward-looking assessment component of the European state of the environment and outlook report 2010 part A — Background Paper on Demographics and Migration’, European Environment Agency, Contract Number 3403/ B2009/EEA.53788 (unpublished).

EEA, 2010b, ‘Background paper on urbanisation and consumption— General support to the forward-looking assessment component of the 2010 European State of the Environment and Outlook Report (Part A)’, European Environment Agency, Copenhagen (unpublished).

EEA, 2010c, ‘Report on health related megatrends — Identifying global health megatrends in support of SOER 2010 Part A’, European Environment Agency Contract No. EEA/AIR/04/007 Specific Agreement 3403/B2009/ EEA.53683, Task 4.

EEA, 2010d, ‘Global megatrends in the area of nano-, bio-, ICT and cognitive sciences and technologies’, European Environment Agency, Copenhagen (unpublished).

EEA, 2010e, Pharmaceuticals in the environment, EEA Technical report No 1/2010, European Environment Agency (http://www.eea.europa. eu/publications/pharmaceuticals-in-the-environment-result-of-an-eea-workshop/at_download/file) accessed 23 November 2010.

EEA, 2010f, The European environment – state and outlook 2010: synthesis, European Environment Agency, Copenhagen.

EFP Brief No. 179: Facing the Future: Time for the EU to Meet Global Challenges

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

The aim of this project is to provide a comprehensive picture of the main trends ahead and possible disruptive global challenges in the future and to examine how the EU could position itself to take an active role in shaping a response to them. The work described in the final report contributes a fresh perspective on the future, linking widely accepted quantified trends through 2025 and beyond with the opinions of experts and policy makers on the likely consequences of these trends and wild cards. This work has been undertaken in cooperation with the Bureau of European Policy Advisors of the European Commission.

The World in 2025

What will the world look like in 2025 and beyond? What are possible future disruptive global challenges? And how can the EU position itself to take an active role in shaping a response to them? There is a clear and growing need for the ability to anticipate change to be embedded in policy. This is critical not only for being able to respond and adapt to new situations before they occur but also to shape the future, building upon mutual understanding and common vi-sions to be jointly pursued.

For policy responses to address all the pressing current global challenges, especially when seen in isolation, is clearly a demanding task. Institutions face greater com-plexity and difficulty in providing solutions in due time. This is particularly true when the policy focus extends beyond the challenges that societies face today, seeking to anticipate future challenges and transform them into opportunities.

This is the rationale for the study “Facing the future: time for the EU to meet global challenges” carried out by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (JRC-IPTS) for the Bureau of European Policy Advisors of the (BEPA).

From Analytical Review to Robust Portfolio Modelling

The methodology used combines an extensive analytical review of more than 120 recent future-oriented studies, followed by a broad online consultation of almost 400 identified issues in six policy-relevant areas and use of multi-criteria quantitative analysis (Robust Portfolio Modelling) to prioritise the resulting issues. Key issues were then presented and discussed in a workshop with selected experts and policy makers. The main objective of the expert workshop was to organise the findings of the literature review and the analysis of the online survey into novel cross-cutting challenges, which the EU needs to tackle now in order to secure a better future for all and to translate them into policy messages. As a wide variety of challenges emerged related to the future of the world in 2025, the criteria of urgency, tractability and impact were used to prioritise and select the most relevant ones.

Main Challenges for the EU

Following the methodological approach above, three key challenges with a global scope were identified at the end of the expert workshop. Their multiple dimensions are articulated below.

Need to Change the Current Ways of Using Essential Natural Resources

This global challenge relates to the human over-exploitation of basic natural resources, which are essen-tial for societies to function and evolve in a sustainable manner. Current conditions and patterns of behaviour need to be reflected, and policy actions supporting the shift towards sustainable ways of living should be fostered and strengthened. The long-term sustainability is key to ensure not only economic growth but also a better quality of life for all current and future generations. This depends on the intelligent use, conservation and renewal of natural resources and ecological systems.

All human activities both depend and have an impact on natural resources. Food production, for example, is highly dependent on water and land and its processing and distribution depends on energy. All industrial activity starts by extracting natural resources and then assem-bles them in different ways to add economic value, while using energy and generating waste along the chain. The chain ends with the disposal of final goods at the end of their product life. The provision of services also impacts on natural resources.

Economic growth has largely relied on the overexploita-tion of essential natural resources and hence ulti-mately caused the disruption of natural cycles. Techno-institutional lock-in may be an important factor that com-pounds and intensifies human impacts on nature since it creates barriers to the search for sustainable alternatives to existing processes and infrastructures as well as to behavioural change. The most well known effects are:

  • Climate change and its manifold effects on water and other natural resources, agriculture and food se-curity, ecosystems and biodiversity, human health and migration patterns (IPCC, 2007; UNEP, 2007).
  • A dramatic increase in water scarcity in many parts of the world partly due to climate change and partly due to excessive withdrawals and contamination of surface and ground water, with profound implications for ecosystems health, food production and human well being (WEF, 2009; WWF, 2008).
  • The decline in the geographical distribution and abundance of arable land, freshwater and marine biodiversity is progressing more rapidly than at any other time in human history, with humanity moving in the direction of crossing tipping points since changes in the biophysical and social systems may continue even if the forces of change are removed (WWF, 2008).
  • A possible global energy shortage due to increas-ing demand and consumption, which will lead to a rise in global competition for energy resources as well as a greater dependency between nations, with energy in general and oil in particular playing a key role in future power relations and defence policies (European Commission, 2008; OECD, 2008).
  • Increased demand for food due to a growing world population, rising affluence, and the shift to Western dietary preferences (World Bank, 2007); this will place more pressure on water for agriculture and have a strong effect of high food prices.
  • Climate change, water scarcity and lack of food at affordable prices will be important factors in the in-crease of illness and death rates in developing countries (IPCC, 2007), which will lead to a deepen-ing in poverty and exclusion linked to the unsustain-able exploitation of the natural resources still avail-able, mass migration as well as threats in the form of radicalisation and terrorism (United Nations, 2008).

Need to Anticipate and Adapt to Societal Changes

For the EU to fully become a knowledge society there is a need to anticipate and adapt to political, cultural, demographic and economic transformations. Business, demography, migration and societies are generally changing at a much higher rate than public institutions and related decision-making processes. Legal frame-works, social security systems, education and the mod-els of healthcare have difficulties in keeping up with the pace of these transformations. This hampers innovation and economic growth and puts high pressure on natural resources and on the ability of institutions to cope with societal transformations. Beyond the consequences already mentioned in challenge one, there are now in-creasing concerns on how to provide equal access to healthcare and how to become a so-called knowledge society. The multiple dimensions of this challenge are:

  • Rising employment rates will no longer be sufficient to compensate for the decline in the EU working population due to ageing and a change in skills needed to function in knowledge societies, leading to economic growth being mainly dependent on in-creases in productivity.
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  • Ageing societies are placing increasing pressure on pension systems, social security and healthcare sys-tems (European Communities, 2008).
  • Increase in continuing flows of migrants from de-veloping to developed countries due to environmental hazards and armed conflicts as well as aspirations to a better quality of life.
  • Education and information and communication tech-nology (ICT) innovations could lead to a shift towards citizen empowerment and e-governance with citizens holding governments accountable due to an increase in transparency, but this is at risk of failing to become reality since the majority of the world population is still excluded from having access to the knowledge society.
  • Innovations limited by social acceptance due to a lack of education, transparency and societal un-derstanding of technological possibilities.
  • New converging technologies that emerge from multidisciplinary collaboration are expected to drasti-cally change all dimensions of life (RAND, 2001).
  • In relation to globalisation, it is expected by 2025 that the world will comprise many more large economic powers. China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia and In-donesia will take on greater significance in the global economy (EIN, 2007) and their huge consumer-driven domestic markets can be expected to become a major focus for global business and technology.

Need for Effective and Transparent Governance for the EU and the World

This challenge comprises the need for the EU to create more transparent and accountable governance struc-tures and processes that can adapt to and anticipate the future, and to use this capacity to do likewise at the global level in order to address global and common chal-lenges and to spread democracy and transparency all over the world. Addressing the multiple effects of both challenges mentioned above requires new forms of governance and that as many nations and stakeholders as possible join forces. The multiple dimensions of this challenge are:

  • Single policy governance approaches can no longer cope with global issues, leading to fragmented responses to common challenges that are complex and interconnected. This is linked to the lack of a single nation’s ability to keep up with the pace of socio-economic change and the reliance on reactive, individual, unaligned and inflexible strategies (Florini, 2005).
  • The problems faced by developing countries also increasingly become the problems of developed economies, such as the EU member states, as a consequence of increasingly fading borders between nations due to terrorism and conflicts (i.e. over natural resources) and migrations caused by pandemics and poverty.
  • Mainly thanks to ICT-related innovations there is an increasing shift towards empowerment in govern-ance. The use of the Internet is now moving towards the use of Web 2.0, with applications such as social networking, blogs, wikis, tagging, etc., and this supports a trend towards networked computing and e-governance systems (Accenture, 2009).
  • Many rising superpowers, such as Russia, China, the Middle-East and some Latin American countries, have widely differing traditions in democratic gov-ernance, which may cause pressures on democracy also elsewhere. Western norms and values, as the foundation of the global system, could also be challenged by radical religious identity politics that might emerge as a powerful counter-ideology with wide-spread appeal.
  • The growing strength of emerging economies in-creases pressure to integrate them more closely into international coordination processes. Unbalanced representation of nations in global fora, such as the UN, WTO and IMF, makes it impossible for many developing countries to participate in global decision-making processes and to implement or adopt strategies that are decided only by the economically powerful countries (Amanatidou, 2008).

Reduction of Resource Dependence, Equal Access to Knowledge Institutions and Social Care

Based on the above challenges, the main policy issues to be considered at EU level are:

  • Policy alignment towards sustainability – includ-ing the need to align all relevant policy domains to achieve reform in the agri-system; a reduction in the EU’s dependency on resources; an increase in levels of education and social awareness; appropriate and effective management of migration flows resulting from climate change, aspirations to a better quality of
    life, and the labour market needs of especially ageing societies; and a change in the policy paradigm based on GDP to an updated system that also considers ecological flows and stocks.
  • Social diversity and ICTs towards citizen empow-erment – including the need to build new incentives to facilitate and strengthen relationships between dif-ferent social systems; develop the necessary means to enhance education on the use of ICTs in conjunc-tion with other technologies; improve the quality of education by, for instance, fostering competition within and between EU national education systems; regulate the healthcare system, tapping into new technologies to provide equal access for all; develop radically new and far more efficient forms of social protection; and enhance regional specialisation through the formation of regional RTDI clusters.
  • Anticipation of future challenges to turn these into new opportunities – including the need to em-bed forward looking techniques in EU policy making; foster mutual understanding through ongoing and in-clusive dialogue both within the EU and worldwide to build shared values, common visions, actions, and smart regulations, and enable effective and adaptive international organisations to become a reality; estab-lish partnerships between industry, government and society; clarify at global fora the role and status of the EU and balance its representation in international or-ganisations; and foster (e)participation and (e)democracy through the use of web 2.0.

The foresight approach employed in this study contrib-utes to policy making by supporting a continuous and shared approach to understand the present in all its complexity, to look at different future possibilities and to shape a joint direction to follow while considering differ-ent stakeholders’ points of view. This can be coupled with a periodic evaluation of what has or has not been achieved to enable policy to correct deviations and to continually adapt to and re-shape upcoming new situa-tions. It is believed that such an approach, linked to other forward-looking techniques and tapping into evi-dence-based research and quantitative elements, would be critical to enable EU policy making to become more adaptive and able to anticipate and address change.

Download EFP Brief No. 179_Facing the future

Selected References

The full bibliography is available in the final report on http://ftp.jrc.es/EURdoc/JRC55981.pdf.

Accenture. 2009. Web 2.0 and the Next Generation of Public Service. Accenture.

Amanatidou E. 2008. The Role of the EU in the World. EFMN Brief 133, http://www.efmn.info/.

European Communities. 2008. The 2009 Ageing Report. European Economy 7/2008.

EIN. 2007. The world in 2025 – how the European Union will need to respond. Discussion Document. European Ideas Network: Brussels.

Florini A. 2005. The Coming Democracy – New Rules for Running a New World. Brookings Institution Press: Washington DC.

IPCC. 2007. Climate Change 2007 – Synthesis Report. An Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: Geneva.

OECD. 2008. World Energy Outlook 2008. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development: Paris.

RAND. 2001. The Global Technology Revolution – Bio / Nano / Materials Trends and Their Synergies with Information Technology by 2015. RAND: Santa Monica.

UNEP. 2007. Global Environmental Outlook (GEO4) – Environment for Development. United Nations Environment Pro-gramme: Nairobi.

United Nations. 2008. Trends in Sustainable Development: Agriculture, Rural Development, Land, Desertification and Drought. United Nations: New York.

WEF. 2009. World Economic Forum Initiative: Managing Our Future Water Needs for Agriculture, Industry, Human Health and the Environment – The Bubble is Close to Bursting: A Forecast of the Main Economic and Geopolitical Water Issues Likely to Arise in the World during the Next Two Decades. World Economic Forum.

World Bank. 2007. World Development Report 2008 – Agriculture for Development. The World Bank: Washington DC.

WWF. 2008. Living Planet Report 2008. World Wide Fund for Nature.

EFP Brief No. 172: Future Scenarios for the Spanish Sustainable Development Model

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

This brief report describes a scenario design exercise undertaken to study the future evolution of the sustainable development paradigm and its possible implications for the Spanish development model. For this purpose, three scenarios were built for a time horizon extending to 2025, displaying possible alternative economic, energetic, technological and environmental contexts. Finally, scenario implications were determined for the social, economic, territorial and governance models in the Spanish context.

Is Spain Ready for a Sustainable Lifestyle?

Since the Brundtland Commission defined sustainable development (SD) as “the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED, 1987), this concept has gained universal acceptance among the general public. Moreover, a growing number of socio-economic and political agents are said to be conscious about the need of pursuing more sustainable urban development. However, the relative novelty of this concept and the fact that it has only recently gained widespread social acceptance have not yet permitted to assess with rigour the reciprocal relations that might develop between the sustainable development paradigm and general behaviour in society.

Although nowadays many public administrations and private companies are assessing the implications of sustainable development in their daily activities with more or less intensity, there is not much relevant research about future citizen behaviour toward the SD concept. The lack of studies on this issue may be explained by two major difficulties: unmanageable complexity and high uncertainty.

The first difficulty is due to the diverse and complex behaviour of social groups toward sustainable development in their daily or sporadic vital activities. This level of complexity is aggravated by the fact that the sustainability paradigm also influences and transforms patterns of social behaviour. In other words, we are faced with a circular relation where social attitudes affect sustainable development while the paradigm in turn induces certain types of social behaviour. We must therefore recognise the unquestionable difficulty of assessing the impact of the concept of sustainability on our development models.

The second difficulty refers to the existing high level of uncertainty whenever the future evolution of social behaviour is to be predicted with regard to the sustainable development issue in advanced and prosperous societies. Even if we know the principles and values that presently guide the vital functions of social groups in a certain territory, they can fairly easily change in a short period of time, breaking with historical patterns. Additionally, there is a tendency to ignore the future evolution of environmental factors such as climate change or the availability of energy resources, which surely will significantly influence social behaviour. Therefore, any attempt at anticipating a single and officially accepted scenario of the future of socio-cultural behaviour patterns, economic systems, governance models, and land use patterns in contemporary societies suffers from a lack of plausibility.

What Business Opportunities Can Sustainability Bring?

The study pursued three major objectives:

(1) to design global scenarios for the future evolution of social behaviour toward the sustainable development paradigm in a 15-20 year horizon;

(2) to determine the implications of the scenarios for Spain’s development; and

(3) to identify new business opportunities involved in providing goods and services related to the concept of sustainability.

Constructing Future Scenarios

From the existing foresight tools, scenario design was chosen to carry out this research project because it most adequately allowed taking the complexity and uncertainty of social behaviour toward sustainable development into consideration while it at the same time enabled unfolding alternative futures. A scenario may be defined as a tool for arranging perceptions of the future, thus helping to shape an outlook with a wide perspective in a world of great uncertainty. This foresight technique is eminently qualitative; it combines intuition and rational analysis, and it usually requires the collaboration of a group of experts.

The chosen method for this foresight exercise was organised sequentially in four stages (see Figure 1): (1) characterise the sustainable development concept; (2) identify and assess the most relevant change trends that may affect sustainable development; (3) design future scenarios for the evolution of sustainable development; (4) determine scenario implications for development models. This approach rested on an ongoing and systematic process of participation and evaluation by experts in areas related to sustainable development.

Engagement of Experts

In the course of the study, more than 30 experts from private companies and public organizations participated in assessing trends and determining the implications of scenarios for the sustainable development model. Expert involvement either took the form of personal interviews or participation in focus groups.

Three Scenarios for Spain

In an initial step toward scenario design, various critical uncertainties were grouped around two axes:

  • The vertical axis represents possible alternative responses of society to the concept of sustainable development in the future. This axis encompasses all future uncertainties related to social behaviour, economic models and public policies toward SD.
  • The horizontal axis shows the availability of resources to achieve the goals of sustainable development in the future. This axis includes all critical uncertainties regarding the abundance or scarcity of technological, economic, human, institutional and natural resources.

In the space defined by those axes, we can identify three distinct scenarios, which pose a number of challenges to the Spanish development model (see Figure 2).

Scenario A: Green Paradigm (circa 2025). This scenario can be expected when, on the one hand, there is a proactive and favourable response from public and private agents toward SD and, on the other, there are abundant resources of all types to achieve sustainable development. “Green Paradigm” assumes an environmentally conscious society in which most citizens participate in public decision-making.

Spanish society would have to meet a number of challenges in order to prosper in this scenario. First, an education system capable of promoting sustainability, innovation and solidarity values is required. Second, a diversity of new social demands of a very heterogeneous population have to be satisfied but without risking sustainability principles. Third, an economic model based on respect for the environment and supported by responsible consumption must be developed. Fourth, measures promoting cooperation between business and government must be implemented in order to make an easier transition toward less polluting and more eco-efficient technologies. Fifth, mobility patterns have to be transformed by applying technological innovations to transport systems. Sixth, an advanced and transparent governance model is required favouring citizen participation, co-ordination among different administrative levels and public-private co-operation. Seventh, planning and implementing advanced territorial policies are needed that support Spanish society in developing toward more sustainable arrangements. Eighth, management of companies and public bodies must be improved so that they internalise environmental costs by applying sophisticated environmental evaluation tools.

Scenario B: Predator Development (circa 2025). This scenario unfolds in a context in which resources of all types are abundant, but at the same time public and private agents are either slow or passive in reacting to sustainability challenges. “Predator Development” represents a society that disregards environmental issues as not critical compared to its economic and consumption needs. The successive emergence of technological innovations seems to conjure away environmental threats and tends to relax a society indulging in exuberant consumerism.

Scenario B challenges underline the need to correct the strong environmental and social impacts generated by an economic model based on a philosophy of growth. First, formulas need to be established for satisfying social needs in an environment where individualism and intolerance prevail. Second, an ample array of products and services must be provided to facilitate day-to-day tasks in a society geared toward a culture of rapid change and instant satisfaction. Third, Spanish companies must be competitive enough to successfully operate in global markets. Fourth, the Spanish economy’s dynamism has to be fed by providing abundant and inexpensive energy sources. Fifth, effective technological innovations have to be developed to take full advantage of nuclear energy and to exploit coal reserves. Sixth, strong demand for passenger and goods mobility must be accommodated by construction of new transport infrastructures with low environmental impact. Seventh, public administrations need to make widespread use of new technologies to guarantee transparent decision-making, streamline administrative procedures and facilitate citizens’ access to public services. Eighth, effective legislation in the field of urban development is required in order to counterbalance real estate excesses.

Scenario C: Back to Basics (circa 2025). According to this scenario, there is a significant shortage of all types of resources due to a prolonged recession, but, at the same time, Spanish society as a whole is inclined to support sustainable development models. “Back to Basics” elaborates a scenario of failure of the current development model that leads to social tension and frustration.

Scenario C confronts Spanish society with a number of challenges that call for a radical transformation of the old development model. First, new initiatives must be launched to restrain immigration flows by promoting development in third world countries. Second, family structures and other social networks have to be reinforced to counterbalance the negative effects of the economic crisis. Third, a new education system must be set up to foster new social and environmental values. Fourth, commercial marketing has to be aligned with new social and environmental values. Fifth, strong structural measures have to be adopted to get the economic system on track toward a more sustainable paradigm. Sixth, energy consumption per capita needs to be reduced by changing patterns of demand. Seventh, a clear and strict normative framework needs to be established forcing companies and public bodies to internalise environmental costs. Eighth, a strong government with broad public backing must be formed to implement effective policies against the economic and environmental crisis. Ninth, citizen participation and co-ordination among public administrations must be required by law and be additionally supported by public pressure. Tenth, joint action by public administrations, the third sector and the private sector are needed to cover growing social needs provoked by a systemic crisis.

Bringing Change to Social and Cultural Behaviour

This foresight exercise on the future evolution of the Spanish sustainable development model has produced some interesting findings from the point of view of development policies.

Irrespective of whatever scenario materialises in the near future, whether the sustainability paradigm in Spain will be achieved to lesser or greater degree depends on the fulfilment of a number of prerequisites:

  • Climate scenarios must be designed to anticipate and discuss the possible impacts of climatic change on the country’s key economic activities, such as tourism, construction or the automotive industry.
  • Technology’s capabilities of solving future environmental and energy problems must be assessed with rigour and realism.
  • Strategically comprehensive and multi-sectoral territorial plans must be elaborated for achieving sustainability with a wide scope.
  • All public administrations – European, national, regional or local – must assume responsibility and make a profound commitment to implementing sustainable development at their level of authority.
  • Social consciousness and collective intelligence toward sustainability must significantly increase if social-cultural and consumption behaviour is to be changed in the desired direction.

In brief, Spain faces a big challenge to change social and cultural behaviour toward sustainable development, which involves improving citizen education and providing more information on the issue. Meeting this challenge implies significant changes in our day-to-day habits as in our governance and business models. Nevertheless, these changes will create new economic, social and environmental opportunities for Spanish society as a whole.

Author: José Miguel Fernández-Güell        josemiguel.fernandez@upm.es
            Sponsors: VALORA Consultores
Type: Scenario design on socio-environmental issues
Organizer: Fundación OPTI, Ana Morato, anamorato@opti.org
Duration: 06–12/2006 Budget: 57,000 Euros Time Horizon: 2025 Date of Brief: May 2010

 

Download EFP Brief No. 172: Sustainable Development Scenarios Spain

Sources and References

Fernández Güell, José Miguel (2006). Planificación estratégica de ciudades: Nuevos instrumentos y procesos. Barcelona: Editorial Reverté.

Fernández Güell, José Miguel (2004). El diseño de escenarios en el ámbito empresarial. Madrid: Editorial Pirámide.

Fundación OPTI y Valora Consultores (2007). Estudio de prospectiva sobre el comportamiento social ante el desarrollo sostenible. Madrid: Ministerio de Industria, Turismo y Comercio.

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                 braun_a@vdi.de

Axel Zweck                   zweck@vdi.de

            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

http://ec.europa.eu/research/social-sciences/pdf/report-the-world-in-2025_en.pdf and

http://ec.europa.eu/research/social-sciences/pdf/the-world-in-2025-report_en.pdf

EFP Brief No. 155: A Roadmap for the Commercial Development of Medicinal Plants of the Andean Region of South America

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

The main objective of the project was to establish a future vision (2020) and define the best means for the production, commercialization and innovation of products on the basis of medicinal plants of the Andean region of South America that would contribute to its social and economic development.

EFMN Brief No. 155_Andean Medicinal Plants

EFP Brief No. 149: EU-Africa Energy Partnership: Implications for Biofuel Use

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

This brief intends to provide an overview of the rationale underlying the EU-Africa Energy Partnership, in addition to an analysis of the potential implications of this policy on the development of sub-Saharan African nations. It is posited that the partnership could have potentially negative repercussions if critical uncertainties are not sufficiently taken into account, and that it is in the EU’s best interest to ensure that outcomes are genuinely equitable. The research also has implications for other developing nations around the world seeking to further their economies and raise living standards by means of engaging in the global biofuels industry.

Europe, Energy Security and Biofuels

It is widely acknowledged that the energy security of the EU, as a whole, is deficient with respect to meeting future energy requirements. At the same time, the EU has resolved to de-crease its carbon footprint and wean itself off from environ-mentally damaging fossil fuels. A further concern is that even if the developed world manages to arrest the proliferation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions the developing world will still continue to pollute.
To address these important issues, the EU has developed the EU-Africa Energy Partnership. The rationale, broadly speak-ing, is twofold:

  • Secure the EU’s energy supply and allow its member states to meet challenging emissions reduction targets.
  • Provide sub-Saharan African economies with a further export market, in addition to allowing these nations to leapfrog to lower-emissions technologies.

Although the partnership deals with renewable energy in its broadest sense, there appears to be great emphasis on the cul-tivation of biomass used in the production of renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel, for which there is increasing demand within the EU. Despite the ostensibly sound intentions of the policy, it remains to be seen whether the energy partner-ship will truly be mutually beneficial.
The aim of this brief is to examine the critical uncertainties that could potentially damage the workability and equitability of the energy partnership. A key consideration, here, is that the partnership has seemingly been formulated under ceteris pari-bus conditions. Thus, the partnership’s success is predicated on the continuation of existing trends, such as growth in bio-fuel demand and the ability to cultivate biomass at market-friendly prices in the future. Yet, the increasing complexity of technological systems, the advent and potential adoption of new technologies, in addition to climate change, means that it cannot be assumed that all things will indeed remain equal.

EU Biofuel Policy

The EU has set targets for biofuel usage within the member states. Policy measures designed to stimulate biofuel use were introduced in 1992. The overall aim has been to reduce the cost of biofuels in comparison with conventional petroleum products, which otherwise would be higher given the produc-tion costs and economic risk associated with fluctuations in oil price and the value of biomass-derived by-products (Cadenas and Cabezudo, 1998).
The EU Commission set a political target of substituting 20 percent of conventional biofuels by 2020 (European Commis-sion, 2001, p. 45). The even more ambitious COM(2006)845 proposed that biofuel targets for transport fuel should be 20 percent for the same year. The EU Biofuels Directive (2003/30/EEC) requires member states to ensure that a mini-mum proportion of fuels sold are biofuels (see Faaij, 2006). The aim is to ensure that 5.75% of conventional fuels are re-placed by biofuels, although the Biomass Action Plan (BAP) has concluded that these targets will not be reached (Commis-sion of the European Communities, 2006, p. 6).
There is thus a growing requirement for biofuel production within the EU and indeed a growing demand for biofuels (es-pecially biodiesel). Since the EU member states do not have the capacity to increase biomass cultivation without causing an increase in food prices (a politically unpalatable outcome), it has been deemed necessary to look for alternative ways to satisfy this demand.

Energy Partnership

In this context, the EU-Africa Energy Partnership emerges as an important component of the EU’s aim to increase the use of bio-fuels for transport within the member states, thereby allowing the EU to meet challenging biofuel targets, contribute to global GHG mitigation strategies (such as Kyoto), and address concerns regarding energy security. The partnership is argued to be mutually beneficial, since it will also promote economic and social improvement in sub-Saharan African countries and allow such nations to switch to more environmentally friendly patterns of energy use.
The partnership is intended to promote greater interconnectiv-ity between energy systems and ensure a diversity of energy options (Commission of the European Communities, 2006, p. 15). Although there is reference to alternative energy sources, such as hydropower (ibid.), there is clearly an emphasis on greater biomass cultivation and biofuel production, perhaps to the detriment of other energy solutions.
Energy security is obviously an important component of the partnership. Sub-Saharan Africa thus has the ability to sup-plement volatile supplies (and pricing) of OPEC oil with bio-mass cultivated in the region. Although the sub-Saharan re-gion is also clearly not especially stable, it at least has the ca-pacity to offset some of the risk associated with dealing with OPEC countries.

Production Processes

Given the current high cost of second-generation biofuel pro-duction processes (which use the whole organic matter as a feedstock), it can be assumed that the bulk of the biofuel feed-stocks grown in sub-Saharan Africa would be used in arguably inefficient first-generation production processes. Here, only the sugars and starches (rather than the whole plant) are used for ethanol production, while only the extracted vegetable oil is used in biodiesel production (Charles et al., 2007).

Critical Uncertainties

It is necessary to look at the critical uncertainties that could impact on the success of the EU-Africa Energy Partnership.

Climate Change

The energy partnership, in as much as it relates to promoting sub-Saharan Africa as a source of biofuel feedstock, assumes that current climatic conditions will prevail. Yet climate change could mean that climatic conditions in areas currently suitable for agricultural endeavour might militate against prof-itable biomass cultivation.
There are a number of critical factors associated with climate change that need to be taken into account:

  • Increased uncertainty with regard to rainfall patterns: This will problematize when to plant and place pressure on water use, with potential social repercussions.
  • Increased and more severe meteorological phenomena: Floods could wipe out entire fields; storms could damage or destroy harvests, while uncontrolled fires (resulting from co-factors of drought, thunderstorm activity or hu-man action) could do likewise.
  • Increased incidence and severity of pestilence: Changed climatic conditions could make crops more susceptible to pests, thereby increasing the need to employ pesticides (with cost penalties and potential impact on the local envi-ronment and human health).

These factors, when taken together, suggest that it will be more difficult to plan for weather-related phenomena into the future. Thus, claims of increased energy security within the EU resulting from the partnership need to be tempered with the realization that traditional agricultural techniques do not guarantee constant and predictable harvests, while climate change may exacerbate uncertainty.

Environmental Impacts

Agriculture has brought about widespread environmental deg-radation around the world. Thus, it is important to bear in mind the potentially negative impacts that intensified farming practices will have on ecosystems in sub-Saharan nations, in addition to the region as a whole.
The possible factors that could lead to negative environmental impacts are as follows:

  • Increased use of fertilizers: Run-off from fertilizers in-creases the incidence of algal bloom in aquatic environ-ments; fertilizers lead to an increased level of atmospheric N2O harmful to the ozone layer; and fertilizer production and distribution is energy inefficient and contributes to greenhouse gas proliferation.
  • Increased use of pesticides: Pesticide run-off pollutes local watercourses, results in a loss of biodiversity when food supplies for higher organisms are reduced, can flow throughout food-chains, thereby leading to chemical build-up in higher organisms, especially avian fauna; pro-duction processes and distribution incur GHG penalties, can be harmful to human life and can contaminate water supplies (of particular importance in developing nations).
  • Increased threat of deforestation: Expanding biofuel mar-kets may prompt changes in land-use, potentially leading to deforestation, entailing significant biodiversity and CO2 penalties.

These factors could be aggravated if a greater demand for bio-fuels in the EU member states is occasioned and if changing weather patterns result in a need to ‘make hay while the sun shines’. Such a demand could effectively see the EU exporting local environmental degradation from its member states to sub-Saharan Africa. Environmental degradation could also lead to opportunity costs resulting from a loss of potential eco-tourism income.

Technological Change

Biofuels, at best, will be an important component in a future energy mix. There are no indications that biofuels will ever replace petroleum-derived products on a one-for-one basis (Di Lucia and Nilsson, 2007). Biofuels enjoy a clear advantage over other potential energy solutions, especially since they take advantage of existing infrastructural systems (Foresight Vehicle, 2004). This ensures that switching costs are reduced.
On the other hand, there is the threat that biofuels will be ren-dered redundant by other technologies. There is much evi-dence throughout history to suggest that over-reliance on a single natural resource for a nation’s prosperity is not sustain-able over the long-term. For example, Chile, which prospered on the basis of its export of sodium nitrate (saltpetre), lost this advantage when scientists developed a synthetic alternative.
Some threats to the increasing importance of biofuels are as follows:

  • Increase in use of nuclear energy (and thus ‘clean’ elec-tricity).
  • Switch to cleaner second- (and third-) generation biofuel production processes.
  • Development of a hydrogen economy (predicated on the availability of clean, renewable energy, such as from the sources listed below).
  • Other energy paradigms, for instance, geothermal, hy-droelectric, photovoltaic, wind etc.

Thus, over-capitalization in biomass cultivation for first-generation production processes (in particular) may lead to un-sustainable increases in foreign debt, in addition to severe job losses and resultant social upheaval. In a worst case scenario, more efficient technologies, if they become widely adopted around the globe, could lead to the biofuel industry’s collapse.

Opportunity Costs

Even if the biofuel industry remains important, over-emphasis on biomass cultivation could result in a failure to develop in-dustries that have the potential to contribute greater value added to sub-Saharan African economies. This would espe-cially be the case if insufficient attention were paid to process-ing the feedstock in sub-Saharan Africa, as could occur in na-tions traditionally focussed on exporting natural resources.
Biomass cultivation, in the event of an ever-increasing de-mand for biofuels, would not merely translate into sub-Saharan African countries gaining an OPEC-like significance on the world stage. This is especially the case given a) the potentially wide dispersal of biomass cultivation and b) the high likelihood that biofuels would remain one of several al-ternative energy solutions. African biomass would also have to compete with that cultivated in North and South America, and also in South-East Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Given that these regions are already more highly industrialized than most sub-Saharan African nations, it is plausible that greater value added would occur in these regions.
There is also a danger that biomass cultivation in sub-Saharan Africa could engender an increased dependency on multi-national corporations involved in agribusiness. There are al-ready substantial links to agriculture in developing nations and the research-intensive products, including seeds, support sys-tems and expertise, being offered by multinational agribusi-ness entities.

Export Commodity Dependency

Sub-Saharan Africa has a long history of supplying European nations with raw materials to be used in value-adding produc-tion processes. There is thus the potential for this situation to continue if Europe resolves to view the region merely as source of inexpensive feedstock for biofuel production, rather than as a knowledge-intensive producer in its own right.
Many of the economic and social problems faced today in sub-Saharan Africa are deeply rooted in history. When the Euro-pean colonial powers partitioned Africa, they viewed the colo-nies as suppliers of raw materials for their factories. Farmland traditionally used for food cultivation, even after the inde-pendence of the former colonies, was turned over to cash crops such as cocoa, cotton, coffee and rubber. The result was that Africa exported what it did not need, and imported what it did, thereby leading to substantial trade deficits and continued indebtedness (Carmody, 1998). This is because the low price obtained for cash crops rarely if ever matches the relatively high price paid for imported food, in addition to luxury goods and hardware desired by affluent members of society.
It is important to be awake to the potential for ongoing com-modity dependence to occur, especially if the EU pays insuffi-cient attention to developing sub-Saharan Africa as an energy producer rather than merely an agricultural supplier.

Investing in Sub-Saharan Future

It is possible to formulate a number of potential policy impli-cations that would add rigour to the energy partnership.

  • Moving away from first-generation biofuels: A continued emphasis on first-generation biofuel production processes reinforces sub-Saharan Africa as a supplier of cash crops.There are inherent problems with first-generation biofuel production processes. A failure to address these and move demand towards more efficient second-generation proc-esses could lead to a global undermining of confidence in biofuels as a source of renewable energy.
  • Ensuring environmental sustainability: This is tied closely to the previous consideration, but also with the necessity of preventing local and regional environmental degrada-tion as a result of poor farming practices or indeed wide-spread change in land-use. There is a need to develop mechanisms to ensure that increasing demand for biofuels within the EU does not lead to catastrophic environmental impacts in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Investing in sub-Saharan Africa’s future: The energy partnership should be used as a component in an overall strategy to enhance economic development in the region. A failure to do so will result in greater amounts of envi-ronmental degradation (including greenhouse gas emis-sions) over the long-term.

In short, the nations of the region need to acquire their own energy security and processing infrastructure. The EU-Africa Energy Partnership must serve as a vehicle to promote these ends. To achieve this end, sufficient political will over the long-term to propagate cleaner biofuel production processes is required. If not, the biofuels market could be irreparably com-promised and the partnership with it, with grave implications for not only the EU and sub-Saharan Africa, but also the planet as a whole.

 

Authors: Michael Charles michael.charles@scu.edu.au
Sponsors: Southern Cross University, Australia
Type: Single issue, energy policy
Organizer: n.a.
Duration: n.a.
Budget: n.a.
Time Horizon: 2018
Date of Brief: July 2008

Download: EFMN Brief No. 149_EU-Africa Energy Partnership

Sources and References

  •  Cadenas, A., and Cabezudo, S., 1998. Biofuels as sustain-able technologies: perspectives for less developed coun-tries. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 58(1–2), 83–103.
  • Carmody, P., 1998. Constructing alternatives to structural adjustment in Africa. Review of African Political Econ-omy 25(75), 25–46.
  • Charles, M.B., Ryan, R., Ryan, N., and Oloruntoba, R., 2007. Public policy and biofuels: the way forward? En-ergy Policy 35(11), 5737–5746.
  • Di Lucia, L., and Nilsson, L.J., 2007. Transport biofuels in the European Union: the state of play. Transport Policy 14(6), 533–543.
  • European Commision, 2001. Green Paper: Towards a European Strategy for Security of Supply. Directorate-General for Transport and Energy.
    http://ec.europa.eu/energy/green-paper-energy-supply/doc/green_paper_energy_supply_en.pdf
  • European Commission, 2006. Communication from the Commission: An EU strategy for Biofuels—Impact As-sessment. Commission Staff Working Document COOM (2006) 34 final.
    http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/biomass/biofuel/sec2006_142_en.pdf
  • Faaij, A.P.C., 2006. Bio-energy in Europe: changing technology choices. Energy Policy 34(3), 322–342.
  • Foresight Vehicle, 2004. Foresight Vehicle Technology Roadmap: Technology and Research Directions for Fu-ture Road Vehicles, Version 2.0.
    http://www.foresightvehicle.org.uk/public/info_/FV/TRMV2.pdf

EFP Brief No. 138: Results of Lab on ‘Old and New Energy’

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

The Club of Amsterdam set up an ‘Old and New Energy Lab’ designed to generate novel and potentially viable plans of action for dealing with energy issues by leveraging brainstorming methods to produce innovative thinking and bypass preconceived ideas and assumptions. The process tapped into the expertise of ‘thought leaders’ chosen for their diversity so as to maximise the fertility of discussions.

Lab Challenges to Think Outside the Box

Diminishing reserves of fossil fuels, climate change, geopo-litical factors and a wave of technological advances are bring-ing complex pressures to bear on the landscape of energy gen-eration and consumption. Change seems inevitable, but react-ing appropriately is a challenge. This is especially so when limited modes of supply and consumption have been en-trenched for extensive periods, as is the case with the energy landscape. This can make it very hard for people to think ‘out-side the box’ – arguably much needed at the moment.Thus the challenge addressed at ‘The Lab’ was to bypass pre-conceptions and traditional ways of thinking. Participants were called upon to brainstorm possibilities and then validate the resulting ideas with some tangible, realistic scenarios.

Conceiving Future Scenarios – the Methodology

Principal approaches employed were Socratic discourse and a future scenario method. Participants were asked to identify a set of driving ‘values’ deemed desirable (e.g. equal access to resources, freedom, quality of life, stability etc.). Socratic dis-course and other techniques were applied to open up discus-sion to the broadest possible level. The outcome was the ob-servation of numerous facts, trends, constraints etc.
The resulting ‘facts’ were then fed into an analysis based on the future scenario method. The values identified earlier were used to drive the scenarios, which were to envision a positive future ten years hence (the goal being to identify possible so-lutions).
Four scenarios were created by choosing two drivers of change: governance and economy. Note that there is nothing absolute about the choice of drivers or even the number of drivers con-sidered, but these were the ones considered most important.
These drivers define the axes of a graph depicting four different environments (symbolized by the numbered circles in the diagram)derived from the possible combinations of extreme cases of both drivers. These environments provided the basis for the scenarios.

138_bild1

Keep in mind that these scenarios are not predictions but simply tools to guide discussion from exploration to identification of potential solutions and analysis of important trends and factors (political, cultural, technological, etc.) and their interactions.

Participants

Four ‘thought leaders’ brought expertise to help keep discussion realistic, whether on technological, economic, political or social levels. Their backgrounds included

  • analysis of new technologies and their commercial and social impact;
  • understanding corruption and conflict resulting from exploitation of natural resources and international trade systems;
  • energy resource analysis and prediction in the context of the International Energy Agency;
  • nuclear policy and law.

Energy Futures – the Four Scenarios

Observations on trends and forces will be split into socioeconomic and cultural, and technological and sectoral. The four scenarios based on these trends and forces will then be outlined before looking at identified opportunities and challenges, which are in turn fed by the scenarios.

Scarcity of Supply, Potential for Conflict, and Environmental Concern – Socio-economic and Cultural Trends/Trend Breaks
  • Rising energy production costs.
  • Concern about climate change (global warming).
  • Increasing sensitivity to energy supply disruption.
  • Concerns over energy dependence and vulnerability.
  • Impending scarcity of fossil fuels with increasing demand from rapidly advancing nations such as China and India.
  • Increasing global tension relating to energy supplies and the possibility of resulting conflict.
  • Environmental concerns about nuclear energy.
  • Increasing interest in alternative energy sources.
  • Increasing interest and efforts in energy conservation.
  • Development of carbon trading schemes.
More Choices and Technological Advances –  Technological and Sectoral Trends/Trend Breaks
  • Capability (in some markets) for energy purchasers to also sell to the grid.
  • Choice (in some markets) over source of energy bought.
  • The nanotechnology ‘revolution’ impacting multiple, interacting energy-related technologies.
  • Multiple parallel and rapid advances in solar technologies promising greater efficiency and/or lower cost.
  • Advances in fuel cells (in many sectors).
  • Advances in batteries and ultracapacitors.
  • Developments in thermoelectrics offering promise for waste heat reclamation and geothermal energy.
  • Availability of smart energy-saving materials (electrochromic or anti-IR window coatings etc.).
  • Lighter/ stronger metals, ceramics and composites.
  • Efficient lighting (especially nanostructured LEDs).
  • Improvements in coal/gas/biomass-to-liquid processes, often driven by improved technology (e.g. nanocatalysis).
  • Advances in hydrogen production and storage.
  • Potential developments in artificial photosynthesis.
  • Potential for low-loss electrical transmission.
  • New CO2 separation technologies.
  • Improved nuclear fission technologies.
The Four Scenarios

Four scenarios were framed assuming environments as described in the methodology section. Remember that they are designed to be optimistic views of a situation ten years hence. Their creation allowed disparate ideas to be brought together in a framework where interactions and socio-economic and political realities could be considered.

Not all the scenarios were recorded in the same degree of detail. Different groups of participants chose different styles of presentation.

 Scenario 1 – ‘Harvesting Energy’ (emerging economy, minimal governance)

The environment envisaged was a poor, sub-Saharan country with village communities as the dominant settlement pattern, poor access to resources and minimal infrastructure. The village in this scenario was assumed to be remote but not overly far from a principal city.

The one plentiful resource is sunshine. New cheap photovoltaics and microloans allow the village to produce electricity. This gives rise to increased productivity and enables more flexibility in trading of staples such as vegetable and meat produce through refrigeration.

The small economic boost and decreasing costs of photovoltaics allow expansion of generating capacity. Direct energy sales become attractive in a future where fossil fuel is expensive and supplies unreliable and the village becomes a supplier of power from solar energy. Improved battery technologies and high fuel prices lead to more electric or hybrid vehicles. Households in and outside the village increasingly use batteries and pay for recharging.

The village has effectively shifted from subsistence agriculture to ‘farming’ sunlight, with batteries as the means of distribution.  The availability of power for transport attracts more vehicles and infrastructure improves. Then cables are laid to directly supply electricity to the nearby city. After all, the village now has the generating capacity, the expertise, and plentiful lowvalue land for expansion. Infrastructure experiences another boost, including communications. The village buys computers and the community now has Internet access. Educational opportunities increase dramatically. Over time the community becomes generally well-educated and thus capable of engaging in even more diverse and complex commercial activities.

Some time in the future (although maybe not in the ten-year frame), solar energy could be captured in a fuel created by artificial photosynthesis, allowing wider export of energy and opening up the solar farming model to more remote communities. This would require importing water (limiting displacement of battery use), but importing water is certainly preferable to importing oil in this (future) day and age.

Scenario 2 – ‘Central Energy Planning’ (emerging economy, strong central governance)

This scenario assumed a top-down, centrally-organised society with an emerging economy. China was offered as an example, on the assumption that much of the traditional communist philosophy still permeates the government, which regulates the allocation of resources. Short-term (business) thinking is constrained for the benefit of the collective when it comes to something as fundamental as national energy supply.

The immediate need for more energy to support growth is urgent. Coal is abundant and coal-fired power stations proliferate, with little thought given to environmental concerns. But this is only the first, quick fix, part of the plan, which is also influenced by oil imports for vehicles, the need to transport energy over great distances and the fact that even coal resources have limits.

Coal-to-liquid processes are used to produce clean diesel to help ease the dependence on oil imports, while a massive research effort creates low-loss electrical transmission based on high-temperature superconductors (doubly important because of the chosen alternative to coal – photovoltaics).

Huge solar ‘plains’ grow in the country’s remote, arid and impoverished west, bringing employment and commerce. Ultimately, the technology becomes simple plastic sheets that can be rolled out and clipped together. They contain nano-engineered structures that exploit the highly-efficient initial step of photosynthesis but feed the liberated electrons into the superconducting transmission lines and on to the energy-hungry coast. China soon becomes a major exporter of these technologies.

In the cities of the East, electric and hybrid cars are encouraged and manufactured. Coal is increasingly used only to produce diesel and dependence on foreign oil now rapidly disappears.

 Scenario 3 – ‘Energy Caps and Taxes’ (strong economy, strong central governance)

Sweden, which aims to become oil-free by 2021, might be an example.

A progressively increasing carbon tax is introduced for individuals and corporations. A flexible power supply network allows individuals to avoid a carbon tax by purchasing energy from sustainable sources. This encourages development of such sources – from the logging and papermaking industries using waste to produce electricity, heat and biofuels, down to individual households generating energy and selling any surplus to the grid.

Central support and legislation for energy-saving technologies in housing and transport increases their uptake through various means. The carbon tax imposes a cost on manufacturers for the lifetime emissions of their products.  The tax alone triggers substantial change, but more comes through governmentdriven, large-scale geothermal, hydroelectric and combined heat and power schemes.

 Scenario 4 – ‘Communicating Energy’ (strong economy, minimal governance, individual action)

This scenario is one of change through popular movements. Analogies might be seen in the growth in the popularity of ‘organic’ produce or that of ‘fair trade’ products, both of which evolved out of grass roots concern. For instance, we can help the environment by buying local produce rather than that shipped great distances, or eating less meat (such unlikely action probably highlights limits to this approach). Other individual contributions are switching lights off, car-pooling, capturing rainwater to water one’s garden or carbon offsetting schemes.

The key is understanding what can be done and creating a culture of willingness and responsibility. Communication is key and the Internet makes this possible as never before.

To some extent this scenario is happening now, but there are clearly limits to how much it can achieve without some topdown initiatives (or economic imperatives) added to the mix.

Top-down Action and Technological Advances are Critical for Seizing Opportunities

The fact that all but one of the scenarios could conceivably address all the main energy issues points to much opportunity. Exploiting this rapidly enough is a major challenge. Another obvious challenge is highlighted by Scenario 4, which suggests that, at least in the developed world, ‘people power’ is not enough and top-down governmental action may well be necessary. Economic and practical pressures would achieve the necessary changes eventually, but it is probably not advisable to wait for the hurricane to prove that you should not have made your house of straw. As for opportunities, the scenarios explored highlight those best. Scenario 1, ‘Harvesting Energy’,
perhaps best illustrates the dramatic achievement that might be had given only certain technological advances. Many other scenarios are possible, of course, and those developed were deliberately positive. But the consensus at The Lab was that all the scenarios were credible, so they probably do represent real opportunities.

Diverse Solutions, Proactive  Government and Advances  in Technology Are Key

In view of policy implications, the full two days of discussion and debate might be briefly summarized in the following manner.1

Oil dependence is a danger that needs addressing

Despite much disagreement about how close ‘peak oil’ is, all seemed to agree that action is needed now to reduce the developed world’s dependence on oil.

Solutions to the problems being faced will be diverse

Different environments are likely to beg different solutions and the diversity of technological developments that bear on the issues prevent simple answers and argue for multiple alternatives to be investigated.

The variation across the scenarios developed suggests that multiple approaches will be needed in parallel, covering conservation, alternative forms of generation, and storage and transmission technologies. The best solution or combination of solutions for a given region will vary with external factors (climate, population density, access to water, etc.) and with developments in numerous interacting technologies. The appropriate focus can vary dramatically depending on the existing situation. For example, a focus on coal in the short-term is sensible for China, if the aim is energy independence, while France might see nuclear in a similar light. In lower latitudes, solar energy will be more quickly economically viable than in higher latitudes, where geothermal may be a better choice. In all cases, conservation makes sense as a priority and gives the most rapid return on investment.

Given this diversity and uncertainty, it seems sensible to recommend broad investment in energy-related R&D and a systematic, inclusive, and iterative analysis of the energy situation at regional scales.

It is worth noting that only two currently achievable sources of energy are sufficient for global needs in the long-term and truly sustainable. They are solar and geothermal energy.

Areas of technological focus to be considered are just as diverse – see section 2 on technological and sectoral trends.

In the developed world government action is probably essential

The ramifications of energy supply disruption and the time needed to change our infrastructure suggest that appropriate change cannot be expected to arise from market and social forces. Accordingly, governments need to be a key player in developed countries. Proactive action from government is almost certainly necessary to avoid the risk of severe economic disruption.

Much of the rest is down to technological developments and their impacts on the economic competitiveness of certain technologies. Though solar emerged from the Lab as the winner in terms of chief long-term global energy sources, the means of capturing it, transporting it and using it produced no clear favourites. The range of possibilities from domestic to industrial to automotive applications in a diverse range of environments suggests that all avenues of research should be actively explored. Since solutions will likely be more complex than the current rather monolithic systems, flexibility, interoperability and rapid adaptability are critical success factors.

In the under-developed world, small changes or actions may have a large and lasting positive effect

When tackling the issue of poverty on a global scale, there may be a possibility of achieving much with little (Scenario 1), given certain technological shifts.

 

Authors: Paul Holister                  paul9@holisters.net
Sponsors: Club of Amsterdam
Type: Field/sector specific
Organizer: Humberto Schwab, humberto@clubofamsterdam.com, Felix Bopp, felix@clubofamsterdam.com
Duration: April 2007
Budget: n.a.
Time Horizon: 2017
Date of Brief: April 2008

Download: EFMN Brief No. 138_ Energy Lab

Sources and References

Club of Amsterdam, Lab on Old and New Energy, April 17 and 18, 2007, in Girona, Spain.

http://www.clubofamsterdam.com/content_list.asp?contentid= 655&contenttypeid=9 

The participating thought leaders were:

  • Nathalie Horbach – Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy, University of Dundee;
  • Simon Taylor – director and co-founder, Global Witness;
  • Christof van Agt – independent participant, formerly at the International Energy Agency;
  • Paul Holister – technology impact consultant.

Humberto Schwab, director of the Club of Amsterdam and innovation philosopher, led the process.

EFP Brief No. 129: Rural Areas: One of the Most Important Challenges for Europe

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

This brief presents an overview of major trends and policy options for rural areas. A number of social, technological, economic, environmental and political trends as well as strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats will be highlighted, followed by ten major policy options in view of two traditional and conflicting objectives: rural socio-economic development and countryside protection.

EFMN Brief No. 129_Rural_Areas

EFP Brief No. 121: National Foresight Programme “Poland 2020”

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

The National Foresight Programme “Poland 2020” is the first national foresight exercise being carried out in Poland. It is being con-ducted in three research areas: sustainable development of Poland, information and telecommunication technologies, and security. Its main aim is to set up paths of scientific research and development capable of accelerating long-term social and economic growth. An-other equally important goal is to trigger public debate on visions of Poland’s future. The realization of the programme has been pre-ceded by a pilot foresight project in the area of “Health and Life” research.

EFMN Brief No. 121_Poland 2020_SocioTrans

EFP Brief No. 108: The Future of the Dutch Natural and Built Environment

Friday, May 20th, 2011

The purpose of this scenario exercise is to support the Dutch national government in the development of policies on spatial planning, natural resources, and quality of the physical environment. By exploring how various aspects of the living environment and land use in the Netherlands may develop in the long run (2040), the study aims to show when and where current policy objectives may come under pressure and which new issues may emerge.

EFMN Brief No. 108 – Dutch Environment