Sunday, August 23, 2009

The world in 2050: Policy options to meet global challenges

Based on two studies addressing world development for the coming 50-100 years - the UN Millennium Assessment (MEA) and an analysis by the International Energy Agency (IEA) supporting the G8 Gleneagles plans (see the presentation) - a new DIE Discussion Paper provides a critical appraisal of the scenario studies and singles out factors which are important for future development policy.

The MEA study suggests four scenarios, described by their position in a 2x2 matrix with the characteristics pro-active / reactive policy and globalized / regionalized policy at the x-y axes. The scenarios explain the possible developments determined by the policy choices made until the year 2050 and beyond that until 2100. They identify different drivers which directly or indirectly influence future development.

They speak about the climate, plant nutrient use, land conversion, diseases and invasive species as having a direct effect on the scenarios. Further the demographic, economic and socio-political development as well as the scientific and technological progress is described as indirect factors. The MEA study makes it very clear that climate change is going to be the primary factor:

"given that climate change - which is primarily driven by energy-related Green House Gas emissions - is very likely to be the predominant force adversely affecting ecosystems over the course of the 21st century, discrete policy efforts to preserve ecosystems in the absence of decisive global climate change mitigation action would seem to be as useful as re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic."

All but one scenarios will bring considerable improvements for world climate with different effects on human welfare. However compared to the reference year 2000 they all expect continued loss of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystems. To name just a few figures dependent on the policy choices:

  • demand for food crops is projected to grow by 75-85%
  • water withdrawals increase by 20-85%

Continued conversions of ecosystems are consequently caused by the pressure to meet agricultural and/or infrastructural demands. Mostly affected will be developing countries, in particular tropical and sub-tropical regions, the study predicts.

"The combination of exposure to an already fragile environment, dominance of climate-sensitive sectors in economic activity and low autonomous adaptive capacity in these regions entail a high vulnerability to the harmful effects of global warming on agriculture production and food security, water resources, human health, physical infrastructure and ecosystems."

According to the author this requires the full integration of environmental concerns into the formulation of future development strategies. Nonetheless a recent WWF review of integrated water resource management in EC development programming showed that this is done on the level of policy formulation but is inadequately implemented in policy action. The message of the scenarios for policymakers is that although upcoming challenges are serious, policy options still exists.

"If decisive and proactive action is taken, the challenges are manageable without dramatic implications for growth aspirations of developing and developed countries. The task ahead for development policy is to assist in translating this message into concrete action."

By Martin Behrens

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