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Alternative Climate Scenarios 2040: Deepening Divisions

Author

Duncan McLaren

Aug 31, 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 'deepening divisions' scenario.

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

Scenario dimensions

Weak global governance; Unsustainable lifestyles; Open to risk-taking; Vigorous activism Demographics, economy and governance In 2040 Europe stands divided. Populist, secessionist governments are in power in Poland, Italy and France (amongst others). European institutions struggle to exercise power and influence. In the wider world relations with Russia remain uneasy following the division of Ukraine; China-US military clashes continue in the South China Sea as China accuses the US of funding and arming Tibetan separatists, and tensions escalate between the EU and the Pan-African Confederation over the continued death-toll amongst climate migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean. Global climate governance is just one of the many casualties. In this world nationalist competition over resources dominates international relations, and free trade is a long-lost dream. European economies continue to falter as supply chains further fragment. Populist movements verging on fascism are in the ascendance in dozens of countries, while local territorial defence and independence movements have become violent in several cases. Populations are divided and polarised, with consumption unabated. Wealthy elites retreat into secure compounds and gated communities. And while some environmental activists are trying to build resilient self-sufficient eco-villages, others have embraced violence, especially in the face of authoritarian policing of protest and attacks on political freedoms. Real and imagined threats of climate migrants and refugees from Africa continue to dominate political discourse. In every country border controls are strengthened. Walls, fences and deportation programs proliferate. The Mediterranean and its coasts are more like a war zone than a holiday destination, with naval forces and drones deployed to deter crossings. But political myopia and nationalism infect climate policy – with more focus on local, exclusionary adaptation than mitigation. Populist movements combine ethno-nationalist prejudice with continued support for fossil fuel use – rhetorically described as cheap and patriotic. Impacts and risk areas Climate change is both a trigger and a consequence of fragmentation and deepening divisions. While biodiversity losses multiply as temperature rises reach 1.7oC, climate scientists project temperatures rising further, beyond 3oC above pre-industrial levels. Impacts are already widely felt, not only in coastal communities and those affected by vanishing glaciers and melting permafrost, but more widely and especially in the form of prolonged heatwaves, massive wildfires and droughts during summers followed by autumn flooding. These conditions have devastated agricultural production and exacerbated pressures on electricity systems: droughts causing nuclear shutdowns due to lack of cooling water, whilst demands for energy rise with widespread use of air-conditioning. Energy and food prices have spiralled, fuelling food and energy poverty; undermining livelihoods, harming health and wellbeing for many, and fragmenting communities. Rising prices have also fuelled populist anti-EU and anti-climate action sentiment. Public sentiment, powered by populist media is further polarised by more radical climate activism using cyberattacks, blockades and violence against property to attack fossil power stations, airports and other targets (including geoengineering research facilities). Most states deploy anti-terror powers against climate activists, and paramilitary responses (tacitly ignored by state authorities) including assassination and kidnapping of activists have spread from the extractive frontiers of the global South to some European countries. Practices and technologies Scientists and technologists have demonstrated most of the suite of new climate technologies anticipated in 2020, including new-generation nuclear fission, carbon capture and storage (CCS), green and blue hydrogen and ammonia production, CCS has been linked not only to industrial processes but also to bioenergy (BECCS) and capture of CO2 direct from the atmosphere (DACCS). But none of these technologies have reached scale as supply chains, social licence, and investment flows have all been disrupted and undermined by international and national conflicts. As a result, scientists are now widely and urgently advocating and researching more radical and controversial technological approaches including ocean fertilisation for carbon removal, and large-scale albedo modification through GM crops, stratospheric aerosol injection or space mirrors. Trials of some of these technologies have attracted billionaire philanthropy eager to scale up their application. In parallel, suspicions and conspiracy theories abound on social media, multiplied by hostile state disinformation, to the effect that the droughts and floods are in fact a product of such ‘greenfinger’ geoengineering (rather than the reason for such experiments). Life-styles and activism For the wealthy, lifestyles remain luxurious, and most citizens aspire to enjoy such high levels of consumption and mobility. Products with green and ‘sustainable’ labels are scarce and expensive, even though widely considered to be mainly greenwash. In our divided society though, anti-consumerist riots and looting, involving destruction of merchandise or property are not uncommon. Climate activism takes multiple forms. For some, climate grief is expressed through embrace of religious faiths, and some engage in non-violent protest such as hunger strikes. Conventional NGOs continue to lack influence in polarised political debates, and more radical forms of activism have proliferated including demonstrations and mass arrests, hacktivism and cyber-attacks, and even eco-terrorism, sabotage and bombing

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