Outlook 2002–2032

GEO-3 emphasizes that the next 30 years will be as crucial as the past 30 for shaping the future of the environment. Old troubles will persist and fresh challenges will emerge as increasingly heavy demands are placed upon resources that, in many cases, are already in a fragile state. The increasing pace of change and degree of interaction between regions and issues has made it more difficult than ever to look into the future with confidence. GEO-3 uses four scenarios to explore what the future could be, depending on different policy approaches. The scenarios, which span developments in many overlapping areas, including population, economics, technology and governance, are described in the boxes that follow. They are:

Markets First
Most of the world adopts the values and expectations prevailing in today’s industrialized countries. The wealth of nations and the optimal play of market forces dominate social and political agendas. Trust is placed in further globalization and liberalization to enhance corporate wealth, create new enterprises and livelihoods, and so help people and communities to afford to insure against — or pay to fix — social and environmental problems. Ethical investors, together with citizen and consumer groups, try to exercise growing corrective influence but are undermined by economic imperatives. The powers of state officials, planners and lawmakers to regulate society, economy and the environment continue to be overwhelmed by expanding demands.

Policy First
Decisive initiatives are taken by governments in an attempt to reach specific social and environmental goals. A coordinated proenvironment and anti-poverty drive balances the momentum for economic development at any cost. Environmental and social costs and gains are factored into policy measures, regulatory frameworks and planning processes. All these are reinforced by fiscal levers or incentives such as carbon taxes and tax breaks. International ‘soft law’ treaties and binding instruments affecting environment and development are integrated into unified blueprints and their status in law is upgraded, though fresh provision is made for open consultation processes to allow for regional and local variants.

Security First
This scenario assumes a world of striking disparities where inequality and conflict prevail. Socio-economic and environmental stresses give rise to waves of protest and counteraction. As such troubles become increasingly prevalent, the more powerful and wealthy groups focus on self-protection, creating enclaves akin to the present day ‘gated communities’. Such islands of advantage provide a degree of enhanced security and economic benefits for dependent communities in their immediate surroundings but they exclude the disadvantaged mass of outsiders. Welfare and regulatory services fall into disuse but market forces continue to operate outside the walls.

Sustainability First
A new environment and development paradigm emerges in response to the challenge of sustainability, supported by new, more equitable values and institutions. A more visionary state of affairs prevails, where radical shifts in the way people interact with one another and with the world around them stimulate and support sustainable policy measures and accountable corporate behaviour. There is much fuller collaboration between governments, citizens and other stakeholder groups in decision-making on issues of close common concern. A consensus is reached on what needs to be done to satisfy basic needs and realize personal goals without beggaring others or spoiling the outlook for posterity.