Sustainable world of 2050
Today our world stands at crossroads - one way allows us to secure a sustainable future for the coming generations, while on the other we carry on with business as usual. According to researchers, the demographic, environmental, economic, and geopolitical factors and trends will have a direct impact on how the world of 2050 is shaped. Whether that world will be more or less equitable and sustainable depends on policy choices made at global, national, company, and societal levels.
Population Growth & Urbanisation
According to UN estimates, the global population will reach 9.3 billion by 2050 – some 2.3 billion more inhabitants on our planet than we have today. This demographic trend is expected to be associated with rapid urbanisation and thus, most of this population growth is expected to be absorbed in urban areas. Currently, more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas. However, this trend is not consistent across all regions of the world, but is expected to be reached in Asia by 2020 and in Africa in 2035.
With this growing population and inevitable development around the world, issues of environment, energy, climate change and sustainability will be kept at the utmost priority. Because economic growth is fuelled by quickly-depleting natural resources, many think economic growth and environmental integrity cannot exist simultaneously. But is that really true? There are environmentally-friendly approaches that can, and have tackled poverty, inequality, and sustainability. Opportunities range from developing and maintaining low-carbon, zero-waste cities and infrastructures to improving and managing biocapacity, ecosystems, lifestyles and livelihoods.
Fossil Fuel vs. Renewable Resources
Today, one of the largest threats to our environment and the main driver of climate change is the unchecked consumption of fossil fuels. If we intend to build a sustainable future, it is necessary that we end our dependency on fossil fuels and shift to cleaner sources of energy. With the use of existing technologies like solar, wind, tidal and geothermal energy generation, and other not-so-popular ones like artificial photosynthesis, the use of renewable energy sources must rise in the post 2050 world to reduce harmful emissions. It’s a common perception that significant technological breakthroughs are necessary to harness enough clean and renewable energy to power our global energy demands. However, a recent study called "Transition to a Fully Sustainable Global Energy System," published in Energy Strategy Reviews, makes an ambitious case for sustainable energy sources providing 95% of the global energy demand by 2050 without the need for any extraordinary breakthroughs.
Urban Energy Developments: Supply & Demand
This study examines demand scenarios for the major energy use sectors - industry, buildings, and transport - and calculates the feasibility of fulfilling this demand with renewable supply sources. To achieve such a large goal, we need to combine aggressive energy efficiency on the demand side with accelerated renewable energy supply from all possible sources. This requires a paradigm shift towards long-term, integrated strategies that will not be met with small, incremental changes.
Apart from generating cleaner energy, saving energy will be equally important. Energy efficiency is the low-hanging fruit which needs to be harnessed to reduce the ever increasing energy demand and the consequent emissions. More sustainable cities have to be developed and more efficient buildings will have to be designed to reduce energy waste and harness the power of natural environments. Green buildings offer the most economical paths to saving energy and reducing CO2 emissions. Communities will reside in greener cities integrated with revolutionised public transit systems. China is developing a new-age green city where any two locations would be within a 15 minute walking distance of each other. Concepts and innovative ideas like this will revolutionise urban living.
Political Shifts = Social Sustainability + Environmental Developments
Social sustainability will be important if economic and environmental developments are to be carried together in a sustainable manner. Better access to resources, corporate governance, human rights and labour rights will lead to a better world by 2050. Elements such as Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) will be the norm; fair-trade might be an obsolete concept as the trade becomes more glocalised (a portmanteau concept of globalisation and localisation). Because capitalism and other economic models have failed in delivering their promises of a balanced growth, there is an open door to rethink and evaluate these models. In this view, a UK law firm proposed the concept of ‘sustainable capitalism’. This idea incorporates putting a price on natural resources like carbon, which will allow a positive effect in long-term environmental development and economic sustainability. The model of sustainable capitalism suggests that it is important for environmental and social costs to be counted in products and services, ensuring that balance and sustainable growth are maintained.
While the global focus is on environment and sustainability, we can act boldly to break the current unsustainable model of growth. By 2050, we can replace it with a model of growth based on the use of renewable resources and recycling. The pathway to this sustainable world contains opportunities and risks, and will radically change how we and future generations interact with the world. Collaboration, conviction and courage will be required to visualise and implement the radical changes needed for long-term prosperity while succeeding in current conditions. Global leaders need to lean towards sustainability, and we should invite political and civil society leaders to join national and international leaders in this challenging and exciting journey.