Title: Walled Gardens: towards 2050
Approx. Reading Time: 38 minutes
Author: Peter Kingsley, Simon Tilford
January 2050. The world is no longer ‘globalised’. Nor is it entirely localised. Faced with existential risks, the major powers look inward, self-sufficient and resilient in a hostile natural world. As many predicted decades ago, climate change has divided the world’s geography into islands of relative stability and security to the north and south. In stark contrast, millions of people along the coasts of equatorial regions are still facing existential battles and fighting for survival.Read Essay
Held in the United Arab Emirates, COP28 was always going to be controversial, but it confounded sceptics in one crucial regard: it was the first COP to officially acknowledge that fossil fuels are the root cause of climate change, heralding the beginning of the end for the fossil fuel era. Unfortunately, it failed to get countries to agree on more ambitious emissions cuts, leaving the world on track for a temperature rise of 2.8˚C.
There is a perfect storm emerging at the intersection of social media, generative artificial intelligence, elections and global security. There have been warnings, but policy, regulation and technological ‘guardrails’ lag the rate of innovation. Disinformation has won. Digital platforms may ultimately split into two: the ‘toxic swamp’ of the public internet and myriad ‘communities of trust’, where accuracy and information integrity rule. The split may be too late to protect democracies.
Every era has a time signature. For decades, the neoliberal Western consensus was based on a cultural belief in progress and hope—a linear narrative. This consensus hangs by a thread. In the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, the Russian invasion of Crimea, growing alarm about climate chaos and wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, the time signature has changed. Fear and nostalgia-based nationalism is creating the system conditions for global conflict and war.
Record-breaking temperatures since early 2023 have led some scientists to warn that global warming is accelerating. Others are sceptical, arguing that what has happened is within the range expected by climate models, while many believe it is too soon to tell. Disagreement over the climate outcomes should be of critical concern to policymakers. We cannot afford to wait to find out who is right.
Title: Antarctica Succumbs
Approx. Reading Time: 10 minutes
Author: David Drewry
The Antarctic sea ice belt, almost the last preserve of the climate status quo, appears to be melting in similar dramatic fashion to the Arctic. The consequences will be far-reaching. Professor David Drewry explains how this will disrupt global ocean circulation, nutrient cycling and ocean productivity; accelerate ice sheet melt—and with it sea level rise—and reduce the amount of heat absorbed rather than reflected back into the atmosphere. Bar a dramatic reduction in global temperatures, the process is irreversible.Read Essay
Title: Adaptation: the long-term climate change strategy
Approx. Reading Time: 8 minutes
Author: David Drewry
Professor David Drewry argues that governments are dangerously fixated on climate mitigation to the detriment of adaptation. National mitigation plans have unrealistic projected emissions reductions that assume highly ambitious infrastructure transformations in a short space of time. As result, there is next to no chance of keeping global temperature increase to 1.5oC, with 2.5oC being more likely. It is now essential that we start preparing our societies and economies for what will be far-reaching climate disruption.Read Essay
Title: The Latest Middle East Explosion and its Global Consequences
Approx. Reading Time: 12 minutes
Author: Mathew Burrows
Rarely have trends reversed themselves with such lightning speed. Until recently, the received US wisdom on the Middle East saw a pattern of détente and reconciliation, undoing years of turmoil and conflict. The Gaza War, triggered by Hamas’s terrorist attack on 7 October, has already spread to the West Bank and southern Lebanon and Syria. Mat Burrows argues that if the United States gets more directly involved in the fighting, it could reverse the attempt by successive Administrations to retrench from the region, with far-reaching global implications.Read Essay
Title: A World Beyond 1.5°C: why a new narrative is needed
Approx. Reading Time: 8 minutes
Author: Laurie Laybourn
There is growing debate over whether the goal of limiting global heating to 1.5°C is still possible. Fundamental changes to societies are needed to reduce emissions and restore nature—changes that many segments of society oppose. It is now highly likely that the world will breach 1.5°C. Laurie Laybourn argues that a new narrative is needed—one that better captures the existential threats to stability and life, and that seeks to reduce risks as quickly as possible.Read Essay
Scenarios are models. They describe alternative possible futures. At their best, they explore extremes, because history tells us one thing about the future: failure of imagination is a primary source of risk and catastrophic failure. In this update of Dark Ages, one of our reference scenarios, we explore a descent into chaos, a story of climate and biosphere collapse, state failures, economic crisis, mass migration, humanitarian disasters and perpetual wars. Too little, too late. Like Orwell’s 1984, it serves as a warning, not a prediction. This story has momentum. Is this the world we want?
War in Ukraine and the Middle East. Tensions over Taiwan. Pervasive state and non-state conflict in cyberspace. ‘Everything wars’ spilling over into proxy attacks on corporate interests, trade, financial markets and core infrastructure. Despite warnings of fundamental threats to security and the international order, world leaders may be sleepwalking into catastrophe as they fail to imagine the systemic impacts of multiple, interconnected crises on their own future.
The climate and nature crisis fundamentally threatens global health. Rising temperatures and nature loss have direct human health impacts, such as increasing heat-induced mortality, as well as indirect ones, such as damage to food and water security. Framing the climate and nature crisis as a health emergency would be an effective communications tool and a good basis for policy-making.
Expectations for the annual UN climate conference—COP28—are low. Nations must agree on new global greenhouse gas emissions reductions plans and how to provide support to the most vulnerable nations. Yet a host of issues—the power of fossil fuel interests, the cost-of-living crisis, strained national budgets and weak international cooperation—continue to obstruct progress. Escalating climate impacts promise to create further obstacles.
Governments should not assume that the only solutions to technological problems are ones we already know, especially when these have fatal flaws. There are potential solutions to hard-to-abate sectors that we are yet to explore, and that are not technological and environmental dead ends. Similarly, there could be ways of capturing and storing carbon dioxide that do not involve punitive costs and almost impossible timeframes.
The ideology of ecofascism can be traced back to the Nazi concept of ‘blood and soil’: a belief that the Aryan race was somehow tied to the land, and that manifested in a romanticisation of rural life. As environmental issues become impossible for far-right politicians to ignore, we can see it raising its head again.
Jorge Luis Borges’ 1941 short story
Throughout the 1980s, industrial policy fell out of favour as developed market economies embraced the long era of globalisation and neo-liberalism. That era is now com-ing to close in the face of competitive challenges posed by China, global supply chain instability, and climate change and insecurity. Industrial policy is back.
The UK is dangerously unprepared for current levels of climate change, let alone those made inevitable by continued global temperature rises. The government has consistently failed to spearhead adaptation and no sectors can comfortably handle current changes. Transformational adaptation—which simultaneously protects populations while reducing emissions—must become a central strategy.
Amid the growing chaos and uncertainty pervading everything, from climate risk to geopolitical instability and runaway artificial intelligence, resilience is the concept high on many leadership agendas. Yet resilience is a contested, ambiguous, and in some ways outdated word. What constitutes resilience in a future of chaos and catastrophic—even existential—risk?
In the face of worsening climate crisis, more people are questioning whether the world can afford economic growth. However, ending growth would be unlikely to put the world on a more environmentally sustainable course. Conversely, assuming that growth will simply turn green as the price of renewable energy falls is misplaced. Growth can be green, but the world is a long way from making it so.
Roughly half the Amazon’s carbon store is in its soil. The other half is in its trees, billions of which have been felled to make room for mining, logging, farming and ranching. Parts of the Amazon—mostly in its southeast—have become a carbon source rather than a sink. A global agreement certifying the provenance of products from the region could form part of the solution. Another would be for Brazil to take a cue from the parts of the Amazon that are cared for by Indigenous peoples.
Political, media and technological landscapes are dominated by contests about the future—a defining feature not only of culture, but of power. Political, corporate and Big Tech leaders battle over their own visions of ‘technologies of the future’ to create hope and aspiration, and to set agendas. For populist leaders like President Putin, Prime Minister Modi, former-President Trump and many more, the contests are fought not on the battlefields of imagined futures, but also in the re-imagined past—a world of history, myth and false memory.
While the likelihood of an asteroid wiping out life on Earth has been much exaggerated in fiction, scientists have begun to take the prospect of a catastrophic impact seriously. NASA has been investigating the viability of deflecting the path and momentum of smaller space rocks, but as yet there is no solution to the bigger one. Indeed, in 2018, Stephen Hawking wrote that he considered an asteroid collision to be the biggest threat to the planet.
The delay to decisive and urgent climate policy action means that the necessary transformation will now be more disruptive than it needed to be and, hence, more politically challenging. Climate policy can either become another wedge issue, feeding culture wars and exacerbating the politics of distraction, or an existential one that societies can unite around. For a host of reasons, our politics are poorly placed to deliver the latter.
If central banks continue to raise interest rates, they will soon be adjusting them down again in the face of rapidly weakening demand and, hence, inflation pressures. However, going forward the world faces 4D inflation pressures, driven by de-carbonisation, decoupling, defence and demographics. Maintaining inflation at 2 percent in this context could be economically and politically costly. Pressure will mount to raise inflation targets or to move to the targeting of nominal GDP growth.