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Global Futures and Foresight – how will the world look beyond 2020?


Elina Kiiski Kataja


The UK think tank Global Futures and Foresight has published a report – The Future – on the key global drivers of change within the next few decades. Sitra’s Elina Kiiski, writing on, examines the report’s main findings.

What makes the report particularly relevant is that it is actually a synthesis of more than 150 reports on the future.

The next few decades are also of interest to today’s policy makers. Jyrki Katainen’s government is expected to release its foresight report in the spring 2013. Sitra is participating in drafting the report together with the Academy of Finland and Tekes in a project headed by the Ministry of Employment & Economy and the Prime Minister’s Office.

The report will centre its approach around Finland’s sustainable growth and welfare in 2030. This work will be further discussed in the blog. While we wait for that, let us have a look at how GFF sees the future of the world in 2020–2050, a period that coincides with the focus of the Finnish government’s foresight work.

Interestingly, in the previous blog Jari Kaivo-oja presented a take on the same themes discussing The Shift – The Future of Work Is Already Here (2010), written by Professor Lynda Gratton of the University of London, and made a number of his own observations on these trends. GFF’s views echo Kaivo-oja’s in many places and continue the debate he initiated on drivers of change and the latest trends analyses. Below is a summary of the report and the full report is available at the GFF website.


In the past 50 years, we’ve doubled the number of people living on our planet, reaching seven billion people this year. In the next 40 years we are expecting that number to increase by another two billion.


As a direct consequence of this population growth, we are forecasting that our global economy will triple in size by 2050, and already by 2030 it is set to have doubled. Much of this growth is among the emerging economies of the world, including China, Brazil, India, Mexico and Russia.

As a consequence, by 2020 the E7 – the seven major emerging economies – will be a larger economic bloc than the G7 countries, who have for the past 60 years led the world economically and, to a great extent, politically. By 2050 China will have the largest economy with a GDP of over $24 trillion, whilst the United States’ economy is expected to reach $22 trillion and India the third largest economy at $8 trillion.

Political authority

Apart from the economic influence that will shift from the US and Europe to Asia, political authority will shift to these fast growing emergent nations. Turkey and Indonesia are included in the E7 and have populations that are predominantly Muslim. Equally, China and India are predominantly atheist and Hindu, respectively. As political and economic power shifts away from the predominantly Judeo-Christian populated countries towards Asia, new governance, based on different values and beliefs, will begin to impact on how business and the world are run.

The middle class

As populations and economies grow in new regions, it will mean that an increasing number of people will be entering the middle class. Over 70 million people are entering the middle class every year and most of these are from emerging economies, most of them within the E7 countries. However, this will take place on a global scale using increasingly scarce resources and will mean great effort and challenges regarding sustainability.


By 2025, 20 of the world’s largest 50 cities will be in Asia, up from only eight in 2007. In 2010, the urbanisation of the world reached 50 percent and by 2050 it is predicted that 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities.


All this concentration into our cities comes at a high price in terms of the infrastructure and resources that are required to sustain their populations. Over $40 trillion is required to be spent in the next few decades to provide the infrastructure so that cities remain habitable for such a huge number of people. We will need to develop new, innovative measures to provide food, water, waste management and all the other materials and services required by city dwelling populations.


China is expected to consume a third of all global energy used by 2035, much of which will need to be provided by renewable energy sources if we are to avoid the worst affects of global climate change. What we must do is become dramatically more effective in managing how we use energy, recycle our waste and materials and how we consume. Many cities will experience a boom in cleantech services as part of the rapidly expanding response to this problem.


As we gain in confidence in being able to effectively collaborate with outside firms and individuals, we are letting go of functions and processes, such as research and development, and increasingly outsourcing and crowdsourcing them to others to manage for us. Innovation and creativity are two areas where we will increasingly invite others to help us.


Mobile technology take-up has overtaken desktop technology for the first time, putting more emphasis and importance on the internet presence of individuals and companies. The future will be much about making sense of the mass of information available on the internet[TR1] , including who to engage with. The internet is expected to have grown by the amount of content that existed in every book in the world just 10 years ago.

Peerindex and Klout are online tools that are profiling individuals and organisations and scoring their authority, reach and following. Companies may base their recruitment decisions on a person’s ability to build influence online, while equally the performance of companies is increasingly dependent on their online presence on the whole. If this is a trend, then our messaging, its content, frequency and audience will become increasingly important to us, individually and as companies.


An increasing amount of work will be carried out within global networks, and it is predicted that there will be an increase of 50 percent in international assignments by 2020. Climate change will, however, put restrictions on travel. Increasingly we will use video, avatars avatareja  and immersive technology to supplement our need to travel. The EU will face the challenge of a decreasing workforce. As the working population across the European Union is set to fall by 68 million in the next 40 years, we will have to be clear about what is automated, which functions require human interaction and how we facilitate those interactions.


Work itself is changing, with new jobs coming on-stream that did not exist 10 years ago, as a direct consequence of urbanisation, increasing life expectancy, new technologies, globalisation and climate change. We expect that service-based job roles will increase substantially. To maintain our workforce we will increasingly hire women, the aged and disabled people and probably have three or even four generations of employees in our firms for the first time in any numbers. The diversity of our workforce and the roles we will ask workers to perform, in massively changing circumstances, will put even greater pressure on them than they experience today. The direct costs related to stress at work are now estimated to be as high as 4 percent of the EU’s GDP.


By 2020 public debt in the UK is set to reach 83 percent of GDP, 114 percent in France and 97 percent in Germany. This compares to just 55 percent in India. Governments in Europe are facing a formidable challenge in handling public debt. The retirement age needs to be raised in several countries, and in the future we are likely to work until the age of 70. Governments are rapidly turning to the ‘Cloud’ and the internet to service the needs of their citizens. The working population will start to shrink from 2012 unless a dramatic change in migration policy is forthcoming. Another interesting point is the EU setting policy towards car-free cities in Europe by 2050.

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