Life in the United Kingdom in 2030?

A team of scientists at the British Geological Survey have considered some of the factors that are likely to influence life in the UK by 2030 and have developed a set of four scenarios which reflect this. These scenarios are designed to stimulate discussion; they are not predictions of what is really going to happen in the future.

We want your view on how changes in environment and politics will influence the UK by 2030.

The results will help guide the priorities for applied earth science research over the next 20 years.

Setting the scene

The scenarios are based on two dominant drivers:

  1. the rate at which the Earth's system changes over the next 20 years — in part related to projected changes in climate
  2. the degree to which nations adopt cooperative or competitive (protectionist) approaches to global issues such as trade, environmental protection and access to resources

The four scenarios below reflect the impact these drivers will have on the UK in 2030.

Science future scenarios

Village Pumps Sailing

What do you think will happen?

Which of these four outcomes do you think is most likely to reflect life in the UK by 2030?
Have we have missed something out, or do you think we have got the scenarios about right?

Please read the brief synopses of each scenario below. Vote by clicking on your choice and then hit the vote button.

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We will publish summaries of your responses on this website by September 2010.

All Hands to the Pumps

The Earth's system is changing rapidly, but nations are developing cooperative policies on trade and natural resources.

Environment: the Copenhagen summit of 2009 proved relatively ineffective at reducing CO2 emissions. Some events, consistent with the projected impacts of climate change on the UK, have been severe and there have been several large flood events which have caused significant damage to properties and infrastructure. Deaths associated with summer heat-waves have risen sharply. There have been substantial water shortages in South East England; several rivers have had no flow for three-month periods; a pipeline is being built to take water from northern to southern England costing £2 billion. In 2030, the Thames barrier is breached by a tidal surge, flooding parts of central London which temporarily cannot function as the centre of finance and government.

Economics and resources: Growing global populations, in conjunction with the changing climate, have put intense pressure on food and water resources; in many countries, including China, food production has fallen below the amount necessary for basic human dietary requirements. World leaders agree to cooperate to deal with the issues and convene an emergency climate mitigation summit for the G20 nations. They agree to a £3 trillion dollar investment programme to produce technological solutions to climate change. Three broad technological themes/strategies are identified: (i) geo-engineering, (ii) adaptation and mitigation and (iii) emission cuts.

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Global Village

The Earth's system is changing relatively slowly and nations are cooperating on trade and natural resource exploitation.

Environment: Greenhouse gas emissions have been stabilised through investment in alternative energies and global agreements on emission control and as a result the pace of climate change has slowed. Climate-induced natural hazards have not increased significantly, and greater focus on international development means that mitigation of climate impacts and hazards in the UK is a lower priority. The Earth System has proved to be more resilient than expected and the effects of climate change have been less than anticipated.

Economics and resources: From 2010 onwards the UK moved slowly but steadily into a period of sustained economic growth built largely on the development of green technology and alternative energy. The use of alternative energy sources has raised both old and new problems; the disposal of nuclear waste and balancing allocation of land for food and biofuel production. Natural resource sustainability has been maintained through cooperation, but unpredicted consequences have occurred, such as pressure on food resources due to the balance of agricultural production changing towards the growth of biofuels for energy production.

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Raising the Drawbridge

The Earth's system is changing rapidly. Nations compete for resources and establish protectionist policies for perceived benefits to their national interests. The UK undertook a staged withdrawal from the EU beginning in 2015; the UK now sets its own environmental legislation.

Environment: There has been a failure to implement an international agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Unpredictable feedbacks, such as destabilisation of methane hydrates as permafrost melts, have proved devastating and led to run-away change in the Earth's climate system. Summer heatwaves where temperatures reach 40°C have become common, leading to thousands of deaths each year. Flood-prone areas along major rivers in central and northern England have been inundated twice between 2020 and 2030; the government are considering major engineering flood prevention projects along the Rivers Severn and Trent.

Economics and resources: In 2030 there is no market in international carbon emission abatement. There is massive global pressure on water resources, agriculture and energy production to feed the growing population; life expectancies are declining significantly in poorer nations. Many national economies are contracting. Free market values continue to dominate international governance, but national protectionist policies increasingly limit international competition as nations aim to maintain key industries. The largest economies have bought up large swathes of poor nations' land to exploit their resources, driving up prices. Fossil fuels continue to be the main source of energy, so that oil- and gas-rich countries have become ever more powerful. Economic and political power is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few politicians and corporate leaders. In the UK there is social unrest which the government suppresses by police intervention through new anti-terror legislation.

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Sailing By

The Earth's system changes relatively slowly because of advantageous climate feedback mechanisms that were previously poorly understood, and new clean fuel technologies. The most severe predictions of climate change impacts are not being realised.

Environment: Competition and national self-interest have militated against the development of a global strategy to combat climate change. The principal responses to climate change have been coordinated at a national or regional level based on local economic and social drivers. In the years following the 2009 Copenhagen summit, a range of carbon reduction targets were agreed, but were widely considered to be too little, too late. The global economic crisis pushed climate change further down the priority list. Although cynicism regarding a global approach is now entrenched, there is recognition at a local and national level that the potential economic and social impacts of climate change are likely to be significant and have to be addressed. Therefore, new technologies for carbon abatement are still pursued.

Economics and resources: A global recession has impacted the poorest nations most severely, causing some of the more fragile economies to collapse, and leading to widespread instability across Africa and parts of South America since 2020. Oil and gas supplies are increasingly problematic due to diminishing reserves, political and social instability, and trade restrictions by Russia and China. The West, including the UK, is increasingly looking for local solutions and energy independence, thereby providing a further big push towards nuclear energy, renewables, UK shale gas and coal.. Markets in key commodities, such as food, minerals, metals etc., are also hit by global instability, causing huge price fluctuations in raw materials and down-stream products. Beneficial feedback mechanisms have had a larger impact than previously thought, and new energy production technologies are keeping levels of CO2 in the atmosphere towards the lower end of the projections made in 2010.

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Contact Dr Kathryn Goodenough or Dr Barry Rawlins for further information.


1 Schoemaker, P. J.H. Scenario Planning: A Tool for Strategic Thinking, Sloan Management Review. Winter: 1995, pp. 25-40