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People & Demographics

Population growth and increasing longevity by 2047 will strain resources of food and medicines, even as urban centers continue to expand.

  • Although overall growth rate will continue to decline, by 2047 the world is projected to have a population of 9.6bn, an 28% increase from 2017.

World population size and growth rate (Our World in Data)

  • The global middle class is projected to climb to 51%, compared to 42% in 2017 and 20% in 1987.
  • Almost 22% of the world’s population will be over the age of 60, almost double the proportion from 2017.

Representative spending and tax profiles by age (World Economic Forum)

  • “Population ageing implies greater age-related public spending relative to tax revenues.” – World Economic Forum
  • The average global life expectancy in the years 2045-2050 will be 76.95 (74.70 for men and 79.27 for women) – compared to 71.96 average in 2017.
  • Proportion of global population living in cities will continue to grow to the range of 64% to 70% (up from 55% in 2017, and 42% in 1987).
  • Displacement of people is expected to be exacerbated by climate change. The most widely cited estimates for climate change-induced migration by 2050 is 200 million people globally.

Almost 22% of the world’s population will be over the age of 60, almost double the proportion from 2017.

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Lifestyle & the World of Work

As technologies change and workplace roles and requirements shift, education will be forced to change dramatically to ensure employment and keep up with job demand. Global impacts from climate change will alter lifestyles and pose health problems.

  • The world will require 1.8 billion new jobs by 2050 to achieve a 75% level of employment.
  • On our current path it is estimated that gender wage equality will not be achieved until 2059 or even 2095. This will likely still be an issue in 2047.
  • Proportion of the world’s population with post-secondary education is projected to increase to 17% by 2045 (compared to 10% in 2015 and 4.7% in 1985).

Projected world population by level of education (Our World Data)

  • Education systems will be challenged: One report suggests that by 2030, over 50% of colleges will collapse, due to rising costs, growing demand for online courses, increasing discontent with undergraduate degrees, and a decline in jobs demanding cognitive tasks.
  • Other aspects of lifestyle will be challenged as well: According to the WHO, climate change is expected to cause 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress, and another study says that up to 5 billion people could face climates that exceed historical bounds of variability by 2050.

Sources & Further Reading:

On our current path it is estimated that gender wage equality will not be achieved until 2059 or even 2095.

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Lifestyle & the World of Work

More people have access to education, health and services and less live in poverty. However, our lives are not always healthier and happier. Challenges persist, including gender inequality and nutrition.

  • Just under 11% of the global population live on less than $1.90 a day (the global poverty line), a substantial reduction from nearly 35% in 1987. The reduction led to the Millenium Development Goals being titled ’the most successful global anti-poverty push in history’.
  • Yet 2.8 billion people – 38% of the world’s population – still have no sewer access and 85% of the global population have access to electricity. One in three people suffer from some form of malnutrition.
  • Consciousness of health and the environment is changing Western lifestyles. People are shifting to plant based diets – in the UK 44% of people are committed to cutting down or cutting out meat and in the US the plant based foods market topped $5 billion in sales.
  • In 2016, the ‘Global Gender Gap’ was 68% – the gap is widest in the areas of economic participation and opportunity (59%) and political participation (23%).
  • Globally, women hold only 4% of CEO and board chair positions, and make up 15% of board seats.
  • “Despite the progress made in reducing poverty, the number of people living in extreme poverty globally remains unacceptably high.” – World Bank

Manufacturing vs Service jobs in the US (Business Insider)

  • In Europe and the United States, 20-30% of the working age population engage in independent work – a third of whom do so out of necessity rather than as a preferred choice.

Globally, women hold only 4% of CEO and board chair positions, and make up 15% of board seats.

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Connectivity

As global GDP continues to climb, economic power will shift towards China, India and other emerging markets. Cryptocurrency has the potential to change the way money works and the way financial markets operate, and artificial intelligence will utilize the data collected by our devices today to contribute to sustainable development.

  • Global GDP is estimated to be $171 trillion in 2047, more than double the GDP in 2017.
  • China and India will grow to become the #1 and #2 ranked countries for GDP in 2050, in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP), with the United States falling to rank #3. Emerging markets will dominate the world’s top 10 economies.

Gross domestic product (Trillion 2005 USD PPP)

  • “India is expected to become the fastest growing economy among Brazil, Russian, India, Indonesia, China and South Africa (BRIICS), with an average annual increase of 5.9 % in 2010–2050” – European Environment Agency
  • Growth of decentralized cryptocurrency based on blockchain technology has the potential to make bank transfers faster and more efficient and provide increased stability to financial systems.
  • Artificial intelligence is considered central to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by capitalizing on the large amounts of data generated on behavior, human health, commerce, communications, migrations, etc.

 

China and India will grow to become the #1 and #2 ranked countries for GDP in 2050.

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Connectivity

Urbanisation and increasing penetration of technologies offer opportunities for socioeconomic growth, but challenges of inequality, growth of slums and climate change impacts must be addressed.

  • Global GDP is over $75 trillion, more than four times the GDP in 1987 and set to more than double by 2047 at $171 trillion.
  • 55% of the global population live in urban areas with cities which account for 80% of global GDP, this has grown 15% since 1987.

Urban population (% of total) (World Bank)

  • “The current model of urbanization is unsustainable in many respects. A new agenda is required to effectively promote cities and human settlements that are environmentally sustainable, resilient, socially inclusive, safe and violence-free, economically productive.” – UN‑Habitat Executive Director, Dr Joan Clos

  • Mobile and digital have arrived: 67% of the population (5 billion people) use mobile phones and there are 7.3 billion mobile phone subscriptions.
  • Mobile money has changed access to banking for significant parts of the world. During 2016, the registered mobile money accounts surpassed half a billion, and in December alone $22bn in transactions were processed.
  • The number of social media users passed the 3 billion mark in 2017, representing 40% of the global population. The largest platforms are Facebook (2 million monthly users) and YouTube (1.5 million monthly users).
  • Monthly global mobile data traffic is 10 billion gigabytes (downloads and uploads). This represents significant growth of 70% between Q1 2016 and Q1 2017, and 12% between Q4 2016 and Q1 2017.

Mobile money has changed access to banking for significant parts of the world.

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Climate Change

Though looming possibilities of what the weather will look like in 2050 are a dark spot on the horizon, there is optimism about the capability of humanity to continue pushing the bounds of renewable energy by 2050.

  • WWF envisions that by 2050, 100% of the world’s energy will come from sustainable renewable sources, including bioenergy.
  • In the US alone, some forecast that electric vehicles will make up 65% to 75% of new light-duty vehicle sales by 2050, while a former Shell CEO suggests that electricity-powered vehicles will account for as much as 40% of the worldwide car market by 2050.
  • Climate change is expected to increase severe flight turbulence by 149% by 2050
  • The World Meteorological Organization envisions what the weather will look like in 2050 by hosting television weather presenters from around the world, based on best available information today.
  • The latest climate models predict that the world’s oceans could rise five to six feet by 2100. Many Pacific islands are under risk of being partially or totally submerged by rising seas. The World Bank estimates that 18 to 80% of one village in Kiribati may be underwater by 2050 and leaders there are planning for “migration with dignity” with the purchase of 6,000 acres of land in Fiji and relocating 75 citizens a year to New Zealand.

Costal states at risk from global sea level rise (Huffington Post)

  • There are wide-ranging estimates of climate change induced migration. Forecasts vary from 25 million to 1 billion “environmental migrants” or “climate migrants” by 2050, defined as moving either within their countries or across borders, on a permanent or temporary basis. 200 million is the most widely cited estimate.

In the US alone, some forecast that electric vehicles will make up 65% to 75% of new light-duty vehicle sales by 2050.

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Climate Change

Carbon emissions continue to rise but the growth of renewable energy hints at a tide about to turn. By this time, the world has committed to the Paris Agreement which aims to limit global warming to below 2°C.

  • In 2013, global CO2 emissions were at nearly 36 million KT per year. A significant increase from 20.9m KT in 1987.
  • In 2015 there were 1.1 billion cars on the road – 2 million (0.2%) of which were electric.
  • At the Paris climate conference in December 2015, 195 countries adopted the first ever universal, legally binding global climate deal which set out an action plan to limit global warming to below 2°C. By October 2017, 168 of the signatories have ratified the agreement into local legislation, including India which has committed to generate 40% of the country’s electricity from non-fossil sources by 2030 and China, which aims to peak its CO2 emissions by 2030.
  • In 2016, institutions representing $5 trillion committed to divest from fossil fuels – double the amount of assets represented 15 months previously.

Fuel shares in world primary energy supply (2015) (IEA)

  • “Provisional data predicts a rise of 0.2% in emissions in 2016 – tentatively suggesting CO2 emissions from fossil fuels may be showing signs of peaking.” – Global Carbon Project
  • In 2015, 13.4% of the world’s total energy supply came from renewables. For the first time, renewables accounted for more than half of the net annual additions to global power capacity, overtaking coal.

In 2015, for the first time renewables accounted for more than half of the net annual additions to global power capacity, overtaking coal.

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Our World

On current trajectories of climate and environmental pollution, the ocean and the resources it provides are expected to suffer significant harm, while also causing damage to humans and property. If richer diets continue to grow alongside population growth, demand for food will increasingly put forest and natural landscapes at risk.

  • If trends continue, population growth and richer diets will require the world to produce roughly double the amount of crops we grow by 2050.
  • In the absence of new forest conservation policies, tropical forest of the size of India (289 million hectares) will be cleared by 2050.
  • It is estimated that by 2050 approximately 90% of the world’s coral reefs will die due to climate change (even if the targets set by the Paris climate agreement are achieved).

Threat to coral reefs from ocean acidification in the present, 2030, and 2050 (WRI)

  • By 2050 it is estimated that the ocean is expected to contain more plastics than fish by weight if no action is taken.
  • Rising seas are on track to double the frequency of serious flooding incidents by 2050.

Sources & Further Reading:

By 2050 it is estimated that the ocean is expected to contain more plastics than fish.

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Our World

We realize the impact of human activity on the natural ecosystems on which species and human populations rely on as it becomes increasingly visible, with key crises including deforestation, coral bleaching and desertification.

  • Forest covers just 30% of the world’s land while land for livestock covers 45%. 8 million km2 of agricultural land has been added since 1987.
  • 32% of plastic escapes collection at end-of-life and leaks into natural systems. 12 million tonnes of plastic enters our oceans each year.
  • Our use of plastic continues to surge, we buy a million plastic bottles a minute.
  • Over 2015-2016, we saw the third major coral bleaching event to be recorded (following others 1998 and 2010). This was the most widespread recorded in history and was driven by rising sea temperatures, with coral in every major reef region experiencing bleaching. 93% of reefs in Australia’s great barrier reef were affected. Almost a quarter of coral in the Great Barrier reef is now dead.
  • Arctic sea ice continues its steep decline – in 2016 it’s minimum size was 4.6m miles2, compared to 7m miles2 in 1987. It reached a maximum of just 14.4m2 compared to 1987’s maximum of 16.3m2.
  • In 2017, the global sea level is at 85.9mm – a 40mm increase versus 2007.

Sea height variation (NASA)

  • “As much as 40 per cent of the world oceans are heavily affected by human activities, including pollution, depleted fisheries, and loss of coastal habitats” – UN

12 million tonnes of plastic enters our oceans each year.

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People & Demographics

The global population is bigger and living longer than ever before. We face demographic challenges, such as ageing populations, the displacement of people and modern slavery.

  • The world population has grown by 50% compared to 1987: We are 7.5 billion in 2017.

  • More than 8% of the population is over 65.
  • Average global life expectancy has grown. Over 2015-2020, it is 71.96 on average (69.6 for men and 73.8 for women).
  • At the end of 2016, a record high 67.75 million people were displaced. Europe, in particular, is challenged by the flows of refugees and migrants.
  • In 2016, war, violence and persecution have uprooted more men, women and children around the world than at any time in the seven-decade history of UNHCR.

New displacements by conflict and disasters in 2016 (International Displacement Monitoring Centre)

  • On any given day in 2016, 40 million people were victims of modern slavery, including 25 million people in forced labour and 15 million people in forced marriage. There are 5.4 victims for every 1,000 people.

On any given day in 2016, 40 million people were victims of modern slavery.

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People & Demographics

Relative to today, there were less of us, living less well and living shorter lives.

  • World population reached 5 billion. British environmentalist Norman Myers wrote in the Guardian newspaper that “it is a matter of commiseration for the rest of us. Every day there is more evidence that the planet is groaning under its efforts to support its present burden of humankind.”

  • Average global life expectancy was 63.7 (62.6 for men and 66.9 for women). In the next 30 years it would increase by 7 years.
  • About 2 billion people – 40% – of the world’s population lived in urban areas.
  • The number of megacities was 10 – it would triple by 2017. Many of 2017’s megacities were only half their size, including Delhi, Shanghai, Beijing, Cairo and Dhaka. There was not one megacity in China in 1987, today there are 15.
  • Urban population growth has accelerated in less developed regions as rural populations decline.

Population growth in urban and rural areas (Research Gate)

  • At the end of 1987, 13.4 million people were displaced. Germany had the highest number of refugees in Europe while conflict created significant numbers of refugees in Iran, Pakistan, Sudan and Somalia. This number is less than a quarter of today’s displaced people.

Sources & Further Reading:

Every day there is more evidence that the planet is groaning under its efforts to support its present burden of humankind.

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Lifestyle & the World of Work

Poverty and low education levels meant little opportunity for many in the developing world.

  • Globally, less than 5% of people had attended some form of post-secondary education and 21% had attended secondary education. In 2017, over 725m people have some form of post-secondary education – 10% of the global population. However, roughly the same number of people, 767 million, have no education.
  • Though the US manufacturing sector was in decline, it still employed 17.5 million people. Today it employs around 12 million.
  • The decline of the US manufacturing sector would give rise to a new global dynamic, with economies in Asia coming to dominate world manufacturing.

Manufacturing employees (FRED data)

  • Pay inequality was significant. In the US, women earned 65 cents for every dollar earned by a man.
  • There were 11 women CEOs in Fortune 500 companies. This would drop to 8 in 1996 before rising to 32 today.
  • People in the US and Europe consumed higher levels of red meat than today, while China’s booming economy allowed hundreds of millions of people to afford to eat meat more often, leading to it being the biggest consumer of pork today.

Sources & Further Reading:

Though the US manufacturing sector was in decline, it still employed 17.5 million people.

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Connectivity

Technology, believe it or not, was on the rise. It offered some opportunities for socioeconomic growth, but the challenges of inequality, growth of slums and climate change impacts started to emerge.

  • ‘Brick’ mobile phones were all the rage with 2.5 million connected in 1987 – a tiny fraction of the 5 billion today. However, they make a new iPhone look cheap: the NEC 9A cost £1,795 (£4,800 based on inflation rates).
  • Fax machines would continue their rise until the late 1990s. The rise of email (and its spam folder) would replace fax over the next three decades although strangely, in Japan, 59% of households still have and use fax machines for business and personal communications.
  • The connectivity of the world wide web was spreading fast, and 1987 marked the birth of some of the most recognisable websites and tools used today:
    • The apple.com domain came online
    • Microsoft purchased a small company called Forethought, the developer of what we know today as Microsoft PowerPoint.
    • McAfee created VirusScan and the McAfee company.
  • Bill Gates became the youngest self-made billionaire. He predicted in an interview that the world of 2017 would be filled with flat panel displays, diverse forms of interactive entertainment, highly advanced voice recognition software and the ability to access vast quantities of information at the touch of a button.

 

1987 marked the birth of some of the most recognisable websites and tools used today.

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Climate Change

A shrinking ozone layer was the top focus of environmental concern while scientific evidence of man-made global warming was relatively new.

  • The Montreal Protocol was signed and its phase out plan for ozone-damaging chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) was introduced. It would become one of the most successful UN agreements to date, still achieving successes in 2017 such as 2016’s agreed phase-out of damaging hydrofluorocarbons beginning in 2019.
  • The hole in the ozone layer was over 10 million miles2. It would continue to grow before retracting as the impacts from the Montreal Protocol took effect. Today it is 8.9 million miles2 (considered moderate). It is predicted to be fully closed by 2030 based on current progress.
  • Renewable sources accounted for just 0.6% of electricity production. The Brundtland report called for coordinated research, development and funding to ensure the rapid development of renewable energy.
  • Oil, gas and coal dominated as primary energy supply sources, but the renewable energy revolution gained pace in 2017 according to DNV GL.

  • The Golden Age of Flying was over and it was slowly becoming a more accessible transport. There were 13.6m passenger flights in 1987. Less than half of today’s 34.5m.

Renewable sources account for just 0.6% of electricity production.

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Our World

Environmental action focused on themes such as whaling and deforestation could not have forecast the level of problems today.

  • In 1987, a law was passed restricting the dumping of plastics into the ocean. The Marine Plastic Pollution Research and Control Act (MARPOL) went into effect on December 31 1988, making it illegal for any U.S. vessel or land-based operation to dispose of plastics at sea. It was part of an international treaty, where countries representing at least half of the shipping fleet agreed to prevent “pollution by garbage from ships”. Ships dumping waste is no longer the problem. By 2017, there would be more than five trillion plastic pieces weighing more than 250,000 tonnes.
  • Palm oil production was under 11m tonnes per year. By 2017 this would reach 53.67m tonnes.

Palm oil production (WWF)

  • Over 90% of the orangutan habitat in Borneo and Sumatra has been destroyed since 1987 as a result of deforestation. Today, a rainforest area the equivalent of 300 soccer pitches is destroyed each hour. Palm oil plantations are the leading cause of deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Sources & Further Reading:

Over 90% of the orangutan habitat in Borneo and Sumatra has been destroyed since 1987 as a result of deforestation.

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Making the future the cause of our present.

About SustainAbility & the sustainability movement

SustainAbility was founded by activists John Elkington and Julia Hailes in 1987, the same year that the Brundtland Commission (the UN World Commission on Environment and Development) published Our Common Future and its foundational definition of sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” SustainAbility has helped define and evolve the sustainable development agenda and the role of business within it since.

Founders John Elkington, Julia Hailes and the SustainAbility team circa 1987

In 1988 John and Julia wrote the Green Consumer Guide which sold over 1 million copies worldwide. Business was just waking up to social and environmental issues, usually through controversy.

Later, John introduced the concept and coined the term “triple bottom line” (otherwise noted as TBL or 3BL), at its core an accounting framework with three parts: social, environmental (or ecological) and financial.

We pioneered in areas now common to business, including engaging with stakeholders and reporting on impacts (positive or negative), and continued to build our think tank of independent, agenda-shaping research and advocacy that enables companies to transform how they think and do business.

With greater connectivity, and awareness – and even the mainstreaming of the term “sustainability” – we have been helping our clients to identify and prioritize issues across their value chains, to develop and roll out strategies to address them, and to partner with stakeholders, supporting them to set and achieve ever-more ambitious goals.

The SustainAbility class of 2017

Throughout our history, we have worked with business and its stakeholders to foster trust – a fundamental enabler of a more just and sustainable economy, leadership – the courage and ability to go first and farthest, to rally others to do what’s required; and innovation – new ideas, new tools, and whole new ways of creating and delivering value.

About this infographic

At the milestone of 30, we set out to create a fun interactive infographic charting how the developed world has changed in that time and is changing. We look at how people have changed the world – from our landscapes and physical world to the economy and broader society. We consider changes in our climate, lifestyles, where and how we work, how we access and use energy, how we are connected and communicate, what we eat, and global migration. And we explore the opportunities and possibilities of a regenerative and equal future where we meet, and possibly exceed, our 2030 Global Goal obligations and harness these developments for the better.

We invite you to scroll through our interactive infographic. Reflect on 1987 (the year of our founding), today and a possible 2047. What do you remember from 1987? What surprises you? What do you hope for 2047?

Click on the pulsating dots to read and view the data that helped build up our pictures of these eras. And share your thoughts using the social media links provided.

With thanks to:

  1. Denise Delaney
  2. Kate Newbury-Helps
  3. Jonathan Sim
  4. Franki Wiley
  5. Matt Wood

Created by: Wolf&Player

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