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Alternative Climate Scenarios 2040: Green Dream

Author

Sirkku Juhola

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 'green dream' scenario. Get involved, comment on the scenario and relate the scenario to recent developments!



Scenario dimensions

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


Impacts and risk areas

in 2040, global warming stays below 1.3C above pre-industrial levels and is expected to stabilised below 1.5C. While this is resulting in broadly moderate changes and risks in the existing climate, in some areas like coral reefs and glaciers impacts are severe. Hazards in Europe are mostly visible in key exposure areas, such as cities, and settlements in low-lying areas, affecting key infrastructure. Hazards include moderate sea level rise and increased heatwaves that affect human health and the agricultural sector. Climate risks assessments are regularly employed to assess how much adaptation is necessary.


Demographics, economy and governance

High levels of mitigation and adaptation are driven by the EU strategic shift towards sustainable energy autonomy, accelerated by the war in Ukraine in the early 2020s. Climate policy is also strongly driven by member states and regional authorities, particularly in higher-risk areas.


Guidelines issued for European businesses, such as the EU Taxonomy and ESG investments have heavily influenced and steered businesses towards more sustainable practices for several decades. This has encouraged European climate business to grow and lead the global markets, supported by decades of joint research and development towards just transitions. The EU has been successful in leading global governance efforts in climate policy and major powers like the US and China have joined forces to push other lagging countries to strengthen the commitments. The countries have also ratified the Global Carbon Tax Agreement and the precautionary Pact for Common Geoengineering Mechanism. The former aims to alleviate past injustices by using proceeds for restorative climate and development measures globally. The latter provides the forum to discuss geoengineering approaches in an transparent way. All this is backed by international financial cooperation for mitigation and adaptation, ensuring also funds for developing countries. The EU celebrates its ten-year anniversary of banning investments in fossil fuel-based assets.


Within the EU, the institutional redesign has drawn heavily on the principles of just transition and climate justice, building wide support for climate action. At the local level, citizen assemblies are a common way of engaging people. EU-wide Climate Barometer+, a deliberative policy tool which gauges European public opinion and is rarely ignored when decisions are made in terms of climate policy. It is employed Unionwide at regular intervals to gauge the public opinion and acceptability of climate policy. These include risk acceptance surveys of climate policy (strategy and implementation), and although the results are not legally binding, they nevertheless raise the level of compliance of policies across the Union. Acceptance of risk continues to be low, steering the options towards the “precautionary principle” and also screening out some climate solutions.


Practices and technologies

Official climate policies have taken up many initiatives of civil movements, among others flexible and or shorter work weeks, promotion of shared housing and plant-based diets. Furthermore, the focus on responsible research and innovation to ensure social acceptability of new practices and technologies have supported the rapid diffusion of prosumer schemes of urban farming and renewable energy micro-grids and mobility, for instance.


Integrated systemic approaches building on synergies between adaptation and mitigation and sustainability more broadly have created green, liveable and walkable cities, and neighbourhoods. European public-private partnerships are ‘exporting’ this know-how, widely requested across the world with supported social innovations and mechanisms of deliberative democracy for informed decision-making regarding climate.


The EU climate policy portfolio also includes some less risky geoengineering options. In accordance with the new Common Geoengineering Mechanism, the EU is championing international pilots on ocean alkalinization and de-desertification and directing significant investments in biochar, extensive peatland and wetland restoration across the EU and scaling up permaculture and agroforestry practices. Acceptability of new geoengineering options is gauged through deliberative tools before they are piloted. The social and environmental impacts of any new geoengineering are assessed based on the Directive for NBS (for mitigation, adaptation and carbon removal), which sets effective standards and mechanisms to prevent undesirable side-impacts.


Lifestyles and activism

In Europe, people have become highly aware of the climate crisis and, even if they feel personally less vulnerable to changes, they stay committed to climate action through demonstrations, boycotts and witnessing and watching, as well as influencing through consumer choice and shareholder activism. These social movements have jointly contributed to the general outlook and preferences in lifestyles that emphasise frugality and sustainability, translating into shifts towards more sustainable mobility, housing and working.

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