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What lies ahead?

By 2032, many of the same questions that were being posed at the turn of the century remain unanswered. The world has achieved much in terms of modernization and economic growth, presenting new opportunities for millions of people. Yet fundamental questions are still being raised about the sustainability and desirability of this pattern of development. Environmental standards continue to fall and pressures on resources remain severe, raising again the spectres of economic uncertainty and conflict. Social stresses threaten socio-economic sustainability as persistent poverty and growing inequality, exacerbated by environmental degradation, undermine social cohesion, spur migration and weaken international security.

Policy First
Decisive initiatives are taken by governments in an attempt to reach specific social and environmental goals. A coordinated pro-environment and anti-poverty drive balances the momentum for economic development at any cost. Environmental and social costs and gains are factored into policy measures, regulatory frameworks and planning processes. All these are reinforced by fiscal levers or incentives such as carbon taxes and tax breaks. International 'soft law' treaties and binding instruments affecting environment and development are integrated into unified blueprints and their status in law is upgraded, though fresh provision is made for open consultation processes to allow for regional and local variants.

Opinions differ as to where the world is heading. Depending on which indicators the observer chooses to focus upon, arguments can be made for either side. Many argue that the cases of breakdown already seen in some social, environmental and ecological systems portend even more fundamental and widespread collapses in the future. These same groups express particular concern that efforts have not been made to develop the institutions that will be needed to handle these predicaments. Others point out that we have been able to handle most of the crises we have faced and that there is no reason to assume we will not do likewise in the future.

Most people stick to their daily routines, leaving the big questions to others. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose; the more things change, the more they stay the same.

In the early years of the century, there are signs of a great desire and demand for coordinated leadership from the local to the global level, not only among governments, but also in industry and among NGOs and other citizens' groups. The terrorist attacks on the United States and the subsequent retaliation lend immediacy to the calls for policy reform to come to terms with economic, social and environmental concerns that many see as the root causes of these actions.