Climate Futures analyses the social, political, economic and psychological consequences of climate change describing how different global responses could lead to five very different worlds by 2030.

Explore the scenarios

Studies of climate change often focus on the direct environmental impacts of a changing climate. Climate Futures was designed to look as broadly as possible and consider the human dimensions of climate change as well as the environmental ones. The project aimed to provide a powerful set of scenarios – plausible, coherent future worlds - for businesses to plan their strategic response to a changing world and to provoke debate about the sort of world we want to see.

We developed Climate Futures back in 2008 in collaboration with researchers from Hewlett Packard Labs, and the project led the company to set up a new sustainable innovation team.

Pierre Delforge, manager of Energy and Climate Strategy, HP, said:

“The Climate Futures scenario work is a key tool to help visualise how the world, society and markets may evolve as regards customer needs and behaviours, policy regulations, cost of energy and commodities, and technology innovations.”

Chandrakant Patel, Director of HP’s Sustainable IT Ecosystem Lab, said:

“We are using Climate Futures in our work with business strategists throughout the company. The research behind it contributed to our decision this year to make sustainability one of the five areas of focus for HP Labs and launch the Sustainable IT Ecosystem Laboratory."

The scenarios are being used by a number of organisations. Unilever has built them into a sustainability training programme and a design consultancy in New Zealand is using them to promote sustainable innovation.

Forum is also using them as a basis for further work. Fit for the Future is designed to help the UK National Health Service understand how it can become a low-carbon healthcare provider.

The scenarios

Efficiency First

Rapid innovation in energy efficiency technologies has created a consumerist, low-carbon world. Yet society balances precariously on a fine point, with ever-increasing reliance on new innovations to mitigate continuing climate change. Massive desalination plants in the Middle East and North Africa soak up energy from the sun to irrigate the desert for resource production. Wilderness exists only in a few pockets of the world.

Service Transformation

High carbon prices have resulted in businesses rethinking their models and selling services rather than products. Individual car ownership is prohibitive but the public transport system is highly efficient. Collective laundry services have replaced washing machines. A 'share with your neighbour' ethos exists and global carbon emissions decline for the first year in history

Redefining Progress

People are rethinking what it means to lead a fulfilling life. Meaningful jobs are valued and stronger links with local communities are cultivated. People are attracted to simplicity and focus much more on quality of life than economic prosperity. Climate change is well understood and viewed as one part of unsustainable living. 

Environmental War Economy

Governments have left it late to deal with climate change and have been forced to rationalise whole industry sectors and take control of many aspects of citizens' lives. They build dams and powerful sea wall defences to protect land from the raging oceans, yet growing numbers of environmental refugees must find new countries willing to accommodate them. Greenhouse gases are beginning to decline, but the cost to individual liberty has been great.

Protectionist World

The world is divided into protectionist blocs, and countries wage violent wars over scarce resources like water. Communities are divided and cyber-terrorists take advantage of the flux, paralysing communications networks and targeting collapsed states.

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Media coverage: 

  • Reuters, Exotic climate study sees refugees in Antartica, 13 October 2008
  • The Daily Telegraph, Climate change study predicts refugees fleeing into Antarctica,13 October 2008
  • The Sydney Morning Herald, From energy efficiency to war: thinktank sees 2030 climate future, 13 October 2008
  • Business Green, Businesses urged to follow Schwarzenegger's lead or face disaster, 13 October 2008
  • Mint, Future grim if emissions unchecked, warns report, 14 October 2008