The Rome Scenarios

The Rome Scenarios took shape in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. The city was in shock. Heavy fortification surrounded the US Embassy and even restaurants closed.

Updated for the fourth time from first principles, the scenarios explore three alternative futures and pathways to 2050. Each one starts with the possible extreme short-term outcomes to the COVID-19 crisis. The pandemic has reset national, global and sector prospects, creating new initial conditions that will shape the long-term future.

‘Dark Ages’, ‘Walled Gardens’ and ‘Renaissance’ form an integrated strategic framework—a package that also includes active monitoring of weak signals and likely wild card events.

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The Rome Scenarios Menu

Title: Imagine the World to 2050
Approx. Reading Time: 5 minutes
Author: Peter Kingsley

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The Rome Scenarios

Imagine the World to 2050

The Rome Scenarios, now updated, range from the chaos of ‘Dark Ages’ to ‘Walled Gardens’ – a world of enlightened and inclusive nationalism. ‘Renaissance’ describes a multi-lateral vision of a world of mutual understanding that many people might like to create for future generations.

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Title: Dark Ages: 2050
Approx. Reading Time: 29 minutes
Author: Peter Kingsley

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The Rome Scenarios

Dark Ages: 2050

The signs were there. Looking back from 2050, the world was in a fragile state, even before the financial crisis of 2008, the pandemic of 2020-2023 and the long depression that followed.

The COVID-19 crisis exposed the fragility of a hyper-connected world and fuelled the descent into chaos. Millions were to become victims as the virus spread in successive waves. The economic depression that followed reverberated around the world for decades.

The crisis had deep roots: inequality, austerity, cultural division, escalating trade wars and economic stagnation. Geopolitical rivalries and mutual hostility, particularly between the US and China, created a global leadership vacuum, undermining attempts at unity at the very time it was vital.

Even before the outbreak, overstressed financial markets were already on edge, pervaded by hidden complexity and the looming risks of global warming to asset values and stability. The destructive power of state-backed propaganda, mass-scale media manipulation and secret cyberwar fuelled the fire.

One of the lessons was that despite progress in medical science, the systemic weaknesses were political and cultural. Amidst the uncertainty, few leadership demonstrated imaginative decision-making. Some regions and countries, like Taiwan, South Korea and New Zealand acted quickly, tracking, tracing, mass-testing and isolating suspected cases. They demonstrated that lockdowns alone were not enough. Integrated strategies were vital.

They created the initial conditions for relatively rapid post-pandemic recovery. In contrast, countries like the US, UK and Sweden, critically weakened by delay and failure to take bold decisions, were permanently scarred.

The full impact of global warming and the collapse of the biosphere that gathered pace throughout the 2020s accelerated the breakdown in civilisation. Terrorism and violent extremism, coupled with the pitiless sight of mass migration, crossed boundaries, driven by failing states and major coastal cities ravaged by global warming. By 2050, the vision of a coherent, multinational world order is long gone. The world is at war. The battle is now for survival.

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Title: Renaissance: 2050
Approx. Reading Time: 33 minutes
Author: Peter Kingsley

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The Rome Scenarios

Renaissance: 2050

January 2050: the dawn of a new era. The regeneration of the natural world has momentum, bringing an end to the destructive impact of the industrial era and ecological disaster. In just three decades, the world’s geography has been transformed.

The adage is that it takes a crisis for visionary leaders to emerge and a crisis to create the system conditions for radical invention. It was not to be until the pandemic of 2020 that the conditions were met. After the chaos of the early 2020s, torld leaders looked over the precipice. Facing a dark future of war and violence, or isolationism behind hard borders, they chose to work together for the common good.

Shared fears of existential risk and the realisation that the costs of urgent collective action—cultural and financial—were outweighed by the benefits began to transform the world order. A multi-lateral sense of vision and purpose emerged.

International politics became more concerned with global stability—a shared sense of purpose in combating public health and global warming than zero-sum competition. A sense of mutual global responsibility became the cultural norm.

Populist nationalism in the West came and went, as the narrative of peaceful human progress re-asserted itself. It is tempting to say that isolationist politics have long taken a back seat. It was never so simple. Only pandemics, socio-economic chaos and accelerating ecological disaster could trigger the change in direction.

In part, this was made possible by the principles of an open, global commons centred around virtual services and the networked distribution of inventions. The world is now in the midst of a renaissance, enabled at one extreme by borderless, macro-scale and systemic innovation, urban re-engineering and mass automation. On the other, cultural creativity and individual human bio-enhancement hold the promise of well-being and ever more extreme longevity.

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The Rome Scenarios

Walled Gardens: 2050

Time to look back and survey a world of post-industrial walled gardens for some, mass-migration and survival conditions for others. Globalisation in reverse.

The rules-based international system was shattered long ago, as the US administration turned to attack global institutions from within. Multiple alliances—NATO, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the G20 and the UN were critically weakened amidst geopolitical hostilities. Political, economic and financial isolationism long had momentum before COVID-19 pandemic began. The global crisis was the watershed.

By 2030, reality dawned: although climate change was a global threat, the impacts of the changing weather and looming crises were highly localised—unique to individual cities and regions. Regeneration of the biosphere was in everyone’s interests, but international political differences could never be reconciled.

A new narrative emerged: green, post-industrial nationalism. The exception to the isolationism of the 2020s was investment in climate and the environment. Even in a world of everyone for themselves, innovation in water, energy, food and agriculture became rare high points of international collaboration and knowledge sharing. The result: virtualised, remote service and cautious, shared invention, combined with local implementation.

The world is no longer globalised. Nor entirely localised. Faced with existential risks, the major powers, faced with continuing climate crises and mass-migration had turned inward. Ambitions of military control and cultural domination gave way to cautious mutual respect and co-existence.

Global warming has not only changed the world’s geography, but divided it into islands of relative stability and security to the north and south. In stark contrast, millions along the coasts of equatorial regions face existential battles for survival. The dominant images of the next decade will be of yet more desperate humanitarian disasters as the full impact of biosphere crises continue to be felt.

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