Written by By Shannon Bauchman, CNN
It’s hard to believe, but the world is already a half-century removed from population trends that many people refer to as their “tipping point.”
While the total number of people on Earth is continuing to grow, the expected average number of people around the world in 2050 is over 5 billion. In 2016, the global population sat at 7.32 billion.
So it’s clear that our ways of living and thinking are changing — but with these trends so swiftly evolving, how will we know the future is here?
By 2030, more people around the world than ever before will have access to mobile phones. Credit: Shutterstock
There are some clues, like the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals — all agreed to by almost all governments on the planet and calling for more sustainable, inclusive and just development by 2030 — and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 2030 (UNSDG).
With a demographic and economic backdrop that will allow the continuation of this trend, these words are a firm idea of where we are heading, according to Carmen Del Moral-Nasca, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia School of Population and Public Health.
She explains that as the world becomes a multipolar world rather than a mono-polar world — with mostly developing countries (North and South) or an aging world — people are no longer focusing on conflicts.
“We’re talking about global public goods, that range from security to maintaining access to air, water and food, and as a result there is an increasing sense of cooperation in getting these things for our survival and protecting us,” she says.
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“People are realizing that the rich countries do not have to pay for this.”
Scenario: Future oil and other scarce materials
“It will remain difficult to accurately predict how this might unfold given the advanced stage of development in many countries and the fact that states may not agree to other’s interpretations of various treaties and the role they have to play in ensuring sustainable development,” says the UN’s Global Trends 2025, written by Jared Diamond, the University of Colorado professor behind the World on Fire series of books, whose title is based on Christian allegory.
“Most anticipated impacts will be related to current technologies.”
On the list of future worst-case scenarios, Dr. Diamond and colleagues have excluded the less-likely “devastating regional conflicts” that may result from higher oil prices and the volatility of resource prices.
“The nature of geopolitics in the 20th century makes it difficult to predict the consequences of such an outcome,” the authors say.
Instead, the authors focus on scenarios that may play out in different parts of the world, given common trends “such as the decline of democratic governments and the continued rise of authoritarianism in high-income countries, the increasing role of commodity prices in underpinning domestic economic policies, (and) the continuation of labor/environment conflicts in poorer countries.
“The outcome of these scenarios is not clear.”
Disruption and adaptation
While we’re moving away from the one-size-fits-all development model of the past, especially as it’s currently facing many challenges and compromises, there are some indicators that the world is developing a greater appreciation for its differences and a greater understanding of the value of living in a way that’s comfortable to us.
“For many people in Europe and North America, access to clean drinking water is fairly common and it’s been improved over the last 50 years,” says Dr. Jose Curras, an expert on climate change at the University of British Columbia and author of Making Sense of the Next 25 Years
That belief is already coming through in citizen behaviors, he adds.
“People are fully aware that natural resources are important. We can produce a lot with less. That’s something that’s resonating.”
But researchers are still playing catch-up with how to best adapt to the challenges ahead.
To illustrate the need to adapt, Dr. Curras cites countries that will be worst affected by climate change, like Japan and Bangladesh. “In Japan, they’re going to need to figure out how to grow faster. They can’t grow faster by using resources more efficiently, it’s not possible. They have to decide: How do we use resources in a more sustainable way?”