Complex network of European and global developments impacts sustainability

26 May 2020

Article: 54/2106

A European Environment Agency (EEA) report analyses the effects that a wide variety of rapid and long-term societal developments have on the environment in Europe, and provides insights on their impact on EU sustainability ambitions.

The report argues that varying global and European trends point not only to continuing sustainability challenges and new risks, but also towards opportunities for positive change. For example, new technology might save resources and alleviate environmental pressures but it can also lead to increasing demand for energy and natural resources. As such, achieving sustainability goals requires a transformation of Europe’s core systems of production and consumption through policies such as the European Green Deal (EGD), as well as wider changes in norms and priorities across all levels of society.

The report states that the complexity of known trends, together with the emergence of new developments in an increasingly interconnected world, point to the value of recognising the presence of deep uncertainties around future developments and the need to act differently. For Europe, responding to existing challenges and new risks calls for more anticipatory governance and engaging with actors across society, for example through strategic foresight processes.

The report points out those emerging developments with unknown implications can range from new security threats to changing values and more digital lifestyles. Another category of change drivers are ‘wild cards’, which, though seen as unlikely, could bring about highly disruptive changes, such as the dramatic decline in pollinators, potentially threatening the global food supply.

Source: EEA, 19 May 2020