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Alternative Climate Scenarios 2040: Coalition of Sustainable communities

Author

Albert Norström

Aug 30, 2022

This autumn, experts are developing alternative climate scenarios as part of a foresight project that helps prepare the 2nd Strategic Plan 2024-2027 of the Horizon Europe Framework Programme for R&I. The project is conducted by the “Foresight on Demand” Consortium on behalf of the European Commission, DG RTD. In a Deep Dive area “Climate change and R&I: from social change to geoengineering”, together with the other members of the expert team, I am developing, among others, this 'coalition of sustainable communities' scenario.

Get involved, comment on the scenario and relate the scenario to recent developments!

Scenario dimensions

Weak global governance; Sustainable lifestyles; Adverse to risk-taking; Vigorous activism


Impacts and risk areas

It's 2040, and the seeds of a new Europe are beginning to emerge following two decades of increased social conflict driven by interrelated financial, geopolitical, and climate crises. Between 2020 and 2040 global warming reached 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels and Europe experienced flooding, heat waves, and emerging diseases that generated substantial social disruption and social insecurity. A series of financial crises, combined with the tensions of economic reorganization (e.g. the loss of jobs), geopolitical tensions, and climate migration have led to decreased trust in government, large companies, and financial institutions.


Demographics, economy and governance

The past two decades have therefore triggered a rapid change in many social practices and institutions. National government and multinational companies have lost relevance, and capitalism and national state power are no longer dominant. With some delay, but with growing influence, a diversity of sustainable communities have now emerged as a bottom-up driven approach to address large-scale environmental challenges such as climate change and sustainable food production. Many of these communities were initially focused on food system transformations, because industrial food production underpinned so many of the risks and impact areas described earlier, but also because food is so central to social capital and human health. Initial successes around community organization on food issues allowed trust in new community councils to grow. Communities began to support healthy food production and consumption practices and organize against food multinationals. As climate migration continued to increase, these increasingly well-organized community forums also took on the integration of migrants into communities and were so effective that national governments began to rely on them to stabilize communities in the face of many challenging global and regional environmental issues. The importance of rural farming areas increased, and many people moved to the countryside to participate in increasingly important sustainable farming communities. Urban areas became better connected to rural areas, in part because good, healthy food was central to communities. Thus, general knowledge related to food production and ecosystem resilience increased across and within communities. By the time the oil industry finally collapsed completely, community councils were experienced and held power and the trust of communities, and the major shift in values towards community and environmental resilience was strengthened.


Power now lies in these decentralized communities, networks, and cooperatives, with substantial decreases in wealth inequality and ownership of private property. Europe is witnessing unprecedented growth in the sharing economy and an interest in circular economies. People are now emphasizing the importance of community, time, and collectives, and de-emphasizing private ownership and wealth creation.


Life-styles and activism

Today, there are different types of communities across Europe. People live in either coalitions of (1) cities (city- states), which are managed as multifunctional ecosystems with high levels of biodiversity and green infrastructure; (2) coalitions of villages and little towns (hybrid communities), within multifunctional landscapes that host cooperatives and small-to-medium scale sustainable farms; or within (3) traditional land-based communities, autonomous regions controlled by indigenous communities. While certain aspects of life differ across these communities – e.g. technology, transport, currency, and religion – there is a mainstreaming of values around a relationship with nature, which has shifted from extractive and consumptive, to ones of humans-in-nature, and this is reflected in land and natural resource use.


Practices and technologies

Initially, coalitions and connections between disparate communities were underpinned by decentralized peer-to-peer web platforms. Increasingly these platforms became focused on creating positive social and ecological impact and nurturing a vibrant community of young social activists and environmental enthusiasts who were willing to learn from each other and promote each other in creating a sustainable world together. The growth and proliferation of these platforms have now congealed into a loose, bottom-up driven online global sustainability network.


The rewilding of nature, especially urban areas to make them greener and more connected to surrounding rural landscapes, is happening at rapid rates. Europe is now seeing multiple “bright spots” where ecological richness, diversity, and productivity are being regenerated and providing opportunities for people living there to achieve spiritual, and economic development.


The radical decentralization of energy production and distribution – together with the cost of renewables crossing a price threshold - has been a key catalyst of these social changes. But other technologies have contributed, such as the democratization of driverless vehicles. As these forms of transportation are now becoming ubiquitous, they are helping to free up enormous amounts of space in urban areas that had previously been used for parking areas and wider roadways than were needed, given the smaller number of vehicles on the road and more efficient traffic flow.


Acknowledgment

This scenario is heavily inspired and influenced by European future scenarios developed in Raudsepp-Hearne, C., G. D. Peterson, E. M. Bennett, R. Biggs, A. V. Norström, L. Pereira, J. Vervoort, et al. 2020. “Seeds of Good Anthropocenes: Developing Sustainability Scenarios for Northern Europe.” Sustainability Science 15 (2): 605–17.

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July 26, 2023 at 8:25:53 AM

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