In a time of surprises and uncertainty, the future appears unpredictable, even frightening. Attention is easily drawn to the latest crisis and to the present moment. But building a fair, sustainable and inspiring future requires a shared understanding of the longer-term big picture of change. What has already changed? What is changing right now? How are the changes interconnected? What are the obstacles to change? What is possible? This report answers these questions with the help of megatrends.
Megatrends are a series of phenomena that describe broad arcs of change. They often occur at the global level and are often expected to continue in the same direction. Megatrends shed light on the phenomena around us that are currently prominent.
Sitra’s megatrends 2023 describe the big picture of change through five themes: nature, people, power, technology and the economy. Nature’s carrying capacity is eroding as we are in the midst of an ecological sustainability crisis. There is a growing urgency for ecological reconstruction, which means transitioning to a society that improves the state of nature and human well-being. Well-being challenges are growing as changes in the operating environment influence people’s daily lives. The population is ageing, becoming more diverse and concentrated in growth centres, with implications for the size of the working-age population, the funding of the welfare state, the adequacy of social and health services, democracy and the uptake of technology. General uncertainty about the future is exacerbating mental health problems.
The battle for democracy intensifies and societies are under strain as crises accumulate. Geopolitical power struggles have returned with a vengeance, and the rules-based world order and trust in the institutions that underpin it is wavering. At the same time, there are disputes about the ground rules of the digital world, the resources required by new technologies and, more generally, technological trends, meaning that competition for digital power gears up. Technology and data are increasingly embedded in people’s daily lives and data is increasingly collected and exploited.
The economic foundations are cracking as global inequality increases and the ecological sustainability crisis unfolds. Increasing extreme weather events and the collapse of the ecosystem services are eroding economic conditions and wealth is being concentrated in the hands of an even smaller number of people, creating an increasingly urgent need to reform the economy.
The recent major crises – the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with its manifold consequences – have made the interdependence of our world more tangible than before. While the challenges seem great, a different future is possible. In Sitra’s vision, Finland will succeed by building a fair, sustainable and inspiring future where people can thrive within the planet’s carrying capacity. We can adapt to the limits of the Earth’s carrying capacity by investing in the ecological reconstruction of society and everyday life. We can reform the economy to be more transformative, based on the principles of sustainable and responsible development. We can strengthen democracy through greater participation and empowerment. This all requires future-oriented thinking and the capacity for change.