Everything you wanted to know about the future of business, of economic growth and the state of the planet in 2050, but were afraid to ask.


What if we don’t succeed? What if we don’t manage to achieve the the Paris Agreement and the 17 UN Global Goals, and do not get the earth back on a sustainable track?

The newly published TWI2050 Report: “Transformations to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals” argues that we are currently at a crossroad.

One road could lead us to a sustainable world by 2050 – according to the report, it is in fact ”possible to achieve a world in 2050 that is characterized by prosperous, equitable, and inclusive societies safely operating within planetary boundaries.” This is far from the easy road, but demands a global “change in mindsets, values, and norms, coupled with a more effective governance for long-term sustainability” – with an ambitious 2050+ perspective.

The other road laid out in the report is the business as usual scenario. That is where we throw in the towel in combating climate change. That is the road where we allow economic growth to remain king, the business sector to continue down the unsustainable path and allow the political leadership to succumb into inertia and populism.

But what if we take that second road and continue down the same path as we are currently heading? What would the world look like in 2050 in a business as usual scenario?

Here are the five most wide ranging, but also most confronting numbers on the future of our planet. By 2050 we could expect:

  • 2 degrees temperature increase: According to most projections, we will slide past the two degrees temperature increase around the year 2050. This means that by 2050 we will globally be looking at heat waves that are dangerous for human health, changes in patterns of rainfall and snowfall, more intense storms, and changes in the distribution, and even extinctions, of various plants and animals.
  • Overcrowding: Global population is on path to reach 9–10 billion people by 2050. Aside from overcrowding, the skyrocketing population will likely spur the faster spread of infectious diseases and viruses, from tuberculosis to the flu. Dwindling water supplies and inadequate sanitation will only compound the negative health effects.
  • Resource scarcity: Energy, food, and water demand could grow by up to 50% by 2050. This would create a general state of scarcity. For instance, nearly two billion people will live in countries, mostly in the Middle East and North Africa, with absolute water scarcity, according to the International Water Management Institute. And by 2050, MIT researchers say that 5 billion of the world’s projected 9-10 billion people could live in water-stressed areas.
  • Rise in sea level: By 2050, over 570 low-lying coastal cities will face projected sea level rise by at least 0,5 meters. This puts over 800 million people at risk from the impacts of rising seas and storm surges. The global economic costs to cities, from rising seas and flooding, could amount to $1 trillion by mid-century.
  • New economic power structure: A 2017 PwC Report projects that the world economy could more than double in size by 2050, assuming broadly growth friendly policies (including no sustained long-term retreat into protectionism) and no major global civilisation-threatening catastrophes. China could be the largest economy in the world, accounting for around 20% of world GDP in 2050, with India in second place and Indonesia in fourth place (based on GDP at PPPs). Meanwhile, the EU27 share of world GDP could be down to less than 10% by 2050, smaller than India.

 

Add to these five projections the one great game changer – this is the unpredictability of the so-called “Hot House Earth”, introduced in a recent report. In the report a group of scientists argues that there is tipping point, or threshold temperature, above which natural feedback systems that currently keep the Earth cool will unravel. At that point, a line of climate events will thrust the planet into a “hothouse” state. Though the scientists don’t know exactly what this threshold is, they said it could happen with two degrees temperature increase. That is a scenario where we will see global temperatures four to five degrees higher than pre-industrial temperatures and sea levels will be 10 to 60 meters higher than today. This is not science fiction, but a realistic scenario.

32 years. Three decades. That is what we have left to avoid that these numbers become reality.

The scenario was recently supported by UN Secretary General António Guterres when giving a speech at the UN in September. Here he argued that we are currently at a crucial point: “Now we stand at an existential crossroad” Guterres said outlining that the current road will lead to what he defined as the “abyss”.

32 years. Three decades. That is what we have left to avoid that these numbers become reality. And judging from the current state of affairs, of the ambition and actual implementation of sustainable action from businesses, industries and countries this does not at all seem the unrealistic road – on the contrary, we are moving further away from the road to sustainability by the minute.