Meeting the challenges of the near future may mean moving towards a new production and consumption model, new rural-urban dynamics, and a new gender and intergenerational balance, according to the European Foresight Expert Group. The group presented the finings of its report, The World in 2025, at a conference in Brussels.
The experts identified principal trends, tensions and transitions while highlighting strategies that may help policy stakeholders make informed decisions. They also say that competition for natural resources and shifts in wealth, industrial production and populations may lead to tensions over natural resources (food, energy, water and minerals), migration and urbanization.
Looking back and looking forward at the same time to try to work out how we get on in the present is a major challenge. Moving towards a new model of socioeconomic development, we need to meet the needs of 8 billion [people] in 2025. And I think if we’re to do that, we need to make a pretty big effort.—José Manuel Silva Rodriguez, head of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Research (DG RTD)
By the year 2025, the group estimates, centers of gravity, wealth and industrial production may shift towards Asia, and the United States and Europe could likewise lose their scientific and technological edge over Asia. India and China could account for approximately 20% of the world’s research and development (R&D)—more than double their current share.
Within 16 years, the world population will reach 8 billion, says the report. Some 97% of world population growth will occur in developing countries, with the European Union accounting for less than 7% of world population.
Increased population may lead to greater scarcity of natural resources and impact the environment, according to the expert group. This can lead to tension and change in production and consumption patterns and shifts in production/consumption patterns and natural resources.
From these demographic and resource challenges, the group sees a new socio-ecological production and consumption model arising. New technologies (renewable energy sources, capture and storage of CO2, nuclear power and hydrogen and fuel cells), as well as changes in social behavior, supported by economic incentives, will contribute to a reduction in energy consumption (better house insulation, replacement of environment-damaging cars with greener options, and increased use of public transport).
Commenting during the presentation of the results, group expert Joao Caraca of the Fundacao Calouste Gulbenkian in Portugal said that Europe needed good policy in order to retain its traditionally strong position in developing cutting-edge innovation that was not just based on incremental improvements of existing technology. “You don’t really invent something new that has no market, without some other structure. [...] They need strong public policies.”
The report says while numerous scientific and technological advances will give rise to controversies in society, Europe, with its wealth of various debate and participative governance experiences, is well equipped to manage them and involve civil society in research. Global access to knowledge, though, together with the development of joint global standards and the rapid worldwide diffusion of new technologies will have a great impact on Europe’s future welfare.
Forward-looking approaches help in building shared visions of the future European challenges and evaluating the impacts of alternative policies. A qualitative and participatory method (Foresight) combined with quantitative and operational method (Forecast) allows better long-term policies like the post-2010 European strategy and the European research and innovation policies to develop. Through its Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), Socio-economic sciences and humanities theme, the European Union is funding forward-looking activities with around €30 million (US$44 million).
The expert group was launched in 2008 by DG RTD, in collaboration with the Bureau of European Policy Advisers (BEPA). Group members included representatives from think tanks, universities, industry, the European Commission and governmental bodies. Meeting five times in 2008 and 2009, the group produced two publications: one collecting the expert individual contributions; and another which highlights the conclusions, called The World in 2025 - Rising Asia and socio-ecological transition.