By National Intelligence Council, 2008

This publication presents a set of three interdisciplinary, global scenarios to 2025 that provide different pictures of possible futures. The National Intelligence Council, in collaboration with workshop participants, identified the following focal questions as the point of departure for the scenario development process:

-          How can the world attain a high level of sustainable economic growth given the rapidly changing geopolitical landscape of the early 21st century?

-          What will the balance of power look like in 2025 and to what degree might collaborative policies and frameworks shape the global context?

Borrowed time

This is a world in which planning for global challenges are largely glossed over until they hit.  Leaders have faith that solutions can be found and they put a lot of trust in technology as a silver bullet for environmental and climate change solutions. In response to governments limited successes though, other non-state actors (NGOs, MNCs, etc) attempt to create the solutions but find success elusive without the support of clear global state-based leadership The more powerful nations tend to be suspicious of one another and avoid any long-term commitment to joint projects (except for limited economic projects). They believe that working alone, bilaterally or through informal groupings tends to bring better payoffs for national interests. For most, particularly the newer powers continued economic growth is the top priority and they want to avoid distractions to that goal. While leaders know that the gap between the rich and poor (both between and within nations) has been widening and even causing disturbances in some countries, they believe that the solution lies in more growth. International policymaking can be characterized as cooperative where it suits short-term interests and requires little sacrifice, yet the bigger powers are not concerned about working at cross purposes if that enables the realization of their strategic goals.

Fragmented World

This is a world in which parochial interests take priority over sustainable economic growth. The lens through which state and non-state actors view and try to address global challenges (such as climate change and proliferation) is primarily one with a local focus, that is, the supply side of the equation is the first priority. ‘International cooperation’ becomes a misnomer as nations focus on what is best for them to the exclusion of international or multilateral interests. The security landscape is characterized by growing risks because of greater national focus and waning multilateral cooperation. Hence there is an increased chance that terrorism (including the possibility of biological attacks), greater numbers of displaced persons, challenges to energy security, and the threat of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East turn into full-scale crises. R&D increasingly has a strong home bias and technological diffusion dramatically slows as a climate of protectionism takes over. Climate change polices erode, reflecting a reversal from Kyoto. Overall, this is a story of progressively deteriorating environments, a world in which events outpace actions.

Constant Renewal

This is a world in which crises create the shocks needed to force fundamental changes in mindsets among people in key countries – both developed and developing – which carry sufficient weight in the global system to shape developments. It is grassroots pressure which forces change, with various political groups, NGOs, professional organizations and “people-in-the-street” coalescing to act as an orchestrated lobbying group on government leaders in order to force inter-governmental cooperation at a global level.  On the part of the leaders, a stronger international commitment “to make the system work” develops. Environmental sustainability becomes recognized as a global priority alongside maintaining global economic growth. Globalization accelerates and fewer countries are left behind. Technological innovation and R&D, supported by government, and a mix of cooperative and competitive policies becomes the norm. Leaders and pressure groups must, however, work to ensure common interests continue to take precedence. This is a world in which global cooperation is achieved through a mix of existing organizations backed up by the emergence of new global mechanisms where the current ones are found wanting.  In essence, the world “learns by doing,” seeking pragmatic solutions (without dogma) and constantly recalibrating what it should do, without leaving any hostages to fortune.  Progress is often a case of two steps forward, one step back.

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From Millennium Assessment Scenarios

By Stephen Carpenter, University of Wisconsin, USA and Prabhu Pingali, FAO, Italy, Co-Chairs of the Scenarios Working Group, Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005.

Global Orchestration

This scenario depicts a worldwide connected society in which global markets are well developed. Supra-national institutions are well placed to deal with global environmental problems, such as climate change and fisheries. However, their reactive approach to ecosystem management makes them vulnerable to surprises arising from delayed action or unexpected regional changes. The scenario is about global cooperation not only to improve the social and economic well-being of all people but also to protect and enhance global public goods and services (such as public education, health, and infrastructure). There is a focus on the individual rather than the state, inclusion of all impacts of development in markets (internalization of externalities), and use of regulation only where appropriate. Environmental problems that threaten human well-being (such as pollution, erosion, and climate change) are dealt with only after they become apparent.

Order from Strength

This scenario represents a regionalized and fragmented world concerned with security and protection, emphasizing primarily regional markets, and paying little attention to the common goods, and with an individualistic attitude toward ecosystem management. Nations see looking after their own interests as the best defence against economic insecurity. They reluctantly accept the argument that a militarily and economically strong liberal democratic nation could maintain global order and protect the lifestyles of the richer world and provide some benefits for any poorer countries that elect to become allies. Just as the focus of nations turns to protecting their borders and their people, so too their environmental policies focus on securing natural resources seen as critical for human well-being. People in this scenario see the environment as secondary to their other challenges. They believe in the ability of humans to bring technological innovations to bear as solutions to environmental challenges after these challenges emerge.

Adapting Mosaic

This scenario depicts a fragmented world resulting from discredited global institutions. It sees the rise of local ecosystem management strategies and the strengthening of local institutions. Investments in human and social capital are geared toward improving knowledge about ecosystem functioning and management, resulting in a better understanding of the importance of resilience, fragility, and local flexibility of ecosystems. There is optimism that we can learn, but humility about preparing for surprises and about our ability to know all there is to know about managing socio ecological systems. Initially, trade barriers for goods and products are increased, but barriers for information (for those who are motivated to use it) nearly disappear due to improving communication technologies and rapidly decreasing costs of access to information.


This scenario depicts a globally connected world relying strongly on technology and on highly managed and often-engineered ecosystems to deliver needed goods and services. Overall, eco-efficiency improves, but it is shadowed by the risks inherent in large-scale human made solutions. Technology and market-oriented institutional reform are used to achieve solutions to environmental problems. In many cases, reforms and new policy initiatives benefit from the strong feel for international cooperation that is part of this scenario. As a result, conditions are good for finding solutions for global environmental problems such as climate change. These solutions are designed to benefit both the economy and the environment.

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By Millenium Project, World Federation of UN Associations

Water Works

Water crises led to water negotiations that built trust that peace was possible and boosted political negotiations. Momentum increased with new youth political movements, the "Salaam-Shalom" TV series complemented by Internet peace phone swarms, tele-education in refugee camps, the Geneva Accords complemented by parallel hardliner negotiations, joint development with Arab oil money and Israeli technology, participatory development processes, new oil pipelines from the Gulf to the Mediterranean, and a unique "calendar-location matrix" for time-sharing of the holy sites. UN troops enforced agreements with non-lethal weapons, and new forms of international collaboration cemented the peace.

The Open City

The new Pope challenged Jewish and Muslim religious leaders to solve the question of governance in Jerusalem. Politics, power, and media all played a role in reaching a proposed solution that was ultimately codified in a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly. The threat of a fatwa ended the suicide bombings; when the bombings stopped, so did the Israeli retaliatory missions. Education of young Muslims gradually changed; schools that once taught hatred moderated. On the question of refugees, the Israelis were concerned about being overwhelmed and outvoted by Palestinian immigrants in their democratic society. The issue promised to be inimical but a compromise restricted the right to vote to people who had lived in Israel for more than seven years. Finally, a historic proposal came to the UN from Israel-it traded guarantees of Israeli security for establishment of a permanent Palestinian state.


Dove" was a secret, contested Israeli plan to de-escalate and unilaterally renounce retaliation in order to demonstrate that Palestinians were aggressors. At the same time, a secret debate was taking place among extremist Palestinians on whether to escalate to more lethal weapons. Those against escalation said "If we desist, Israel will be seen as the aggressor." So each side had reasons for wanting to stop but seemed frozen by circumstances. The tide changed when 27 Israeli pilots said they would not participate in future air raids, initiating the "Refusnik" movement. What happened next was like a chess game. The Israelis got a guarantee that the bombing would stop; the Palestinians got an agreement that the Israelis would withdraw to the pre-1967 borders. A series of non-aggression treaties and agreements stated that Israel had a right to exist. Jerusalem became an open city, with its own democratic government. Immigration quotas were established. Foreign capital flowed into the area. New businesses were established, and unemployment among the Palestinians dropped sharply. It was a self-fulfilling cycle: the move toward peace sparked the environment for peace.

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By Patrick Dixon, Global Change, 2011

Major challenges to the future of Europe lie ahead. If the great experiment succeeds, it will create an economic, political and military force to pose real challenges to the United States, with its enlargement to 25 countries and a population approaching 500 million. Recent expansion has already added 23% to the EU's land area and had included 75 million additional citizens, with a combined economy of $9.3 trillion, approaching that of the U.S.

The Most Likely Future for Europe

The most likely scenario for the future of the European Union over the next decade and a half will be slow but steady progress towards integration, held back by the rich diversity of cultures and economic crises. A Greater Europe cannot be built without strong EU governance and visionary leadership, yet these are the two issues which are notably missing at present.The European Parliament does not command the same sense of respect as national Parliaments, nor the connection with ordinary people. This is a serious problem. Who makes decisions in Europe anyway? Is it EU councils of Ministers who are appointed by their own governments? Is it elected representatives of the people (MEPs)? And that is the heart of the problem.What happens when an economic crisis unfolds rapidly - affecting different nations in conflicting ways?  What happens if a nation behaves irresponsibly, in ways that create instabilities and liabilities for other members of the Euro Zone?.

The Future of Europe: Challenge of Tribalism

Culture differences are profound and deeply sensitive to the future of the European Union. Take language for example. In France there is great resentment about the dominance of the English language and it is illegal to play too many English songs on the radio. It is hard to imagine such a profound division between different States of America.Passions of large numbers of people within the EU can be easily inflamed by insensitive decrees from Brussels, or by "unfair" treatment by one country of another. Disputes over budget deficits, overspending, beef, lamb, asylum seekers, chocolate, Iraq and so on are not just superficial. They often hide very long, historical issues and profound resentments. Finding a way through will mean finding a common EU voice, a clear moral lead from a commanding EU figurehead who will bring confidence and clarity. The current system of a 6 monthly rotating leader is unsustainable, confusing, destabilising and makes effective leadership impossible.

The Future of Europe: Challenge of Rapid Enlargement

The European model is changing forever with rapid expansion to the East, doubling the number of countries and embracing nations that are extremely poor in comparison. Governance will be complex (we don't even have an elected President), and so will be the culture mix. Face the facts: ethnic cleansing is a daily reality in Europe - even in the UK. Every night somewhere in Belfast we see sectarian attacks and every morning the removal vans arrive to take another family away to another location. It is the same in Bosnia, and Kosovo, both part of old Yugoslavia, yet another part of the same old nation is entering the EU: Slovenia. So here we have nations rushing to become one, who cannot even stop people in the same street butchering each other because they want to be so different. So expect growth, extension, vast economic trading areas, and with it growing tensions, economic tensions, xenophobia and resentment.

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Patrick Dixon, Global Change, 2011

The most likely scenario for the future of the European Union over the next decade and a half will be slow but steady progress towards integration, held back by the rich diversity of cultures and economic crises. A Greater Europe cannot be built without strong EU governance and visionary leadership, yet these are the two issues which are notably missing at present.

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Andreas Faludi and Jean Peyrony, European Journal of Spatial Development, September 2011

The Barca Report advocates for developmental policies to be ‘place-based’: integrated as far as they affect ‘places’. The debate on territorial cohesion is equally concerned with integrating relevant policies and actions. This requires well-established democratic institutions and adequate responses to the demands of technical systems and of markets. Following Lisbeth Hooghe and Gary Marks, the respective arrangements are described as Governance Type I and Type II. All levels of government, including that of the EU, partake in both types, but relations between them are problematic, particularly in the context of Europe 2020: Will this EU strategy be mainly a matter for DirectorateGenerals and their various clients pursuing their policies (Governance Type II), or will Cohesion policy, with its more integrated and decentralised approach, involving many levels of government and stakeholders (Governance Type I) form platforms for integrating them? This paper presents four scenarios; each based on a combination of strong/weak Governance Type I and Type II, which are labelled as the ‘Anglo-Saxon’,‘Saint-Simonian’, ‘Rhineland’ and the ‘European’ Scenarios. The authors prefer the latter, but the best one can hope for in the short term is for this option not to fall by the wayside.

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Ivan Illes presentation prepared for the Conference "Europe's Regions Shaping the Future - the Role of Foresight" Brussels, 24-25 September 2002

Three possible scenarios, based on "deepening versus widening“ for EU enlargement and regional development, are introduced: Big bang enlargement, Failure of enlargement, and Unfinished Enlargement. The first two scenarios demonstrated the problems and potential drawbacks of a European enlargement that is either imposed on the people or not truly implemented at all. Both scenarios showed that foresight in these two scenarios could diagnose the problems at best, but would not assist the regional communities to improve their economic and social welfare, The last scenario, though incomplete in the efforts to provide full integration, did include potential pathways for positive development and economic growth.

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National Intelligence Council, 2004

At no time since the formation of the Western alliance system in 1949 have the shape and nature of international alignments been in such a state of flux. The endof the Cold War shifted the tectonic plates, but the repercussions from these momentous events are still unfolding. Emerging powers in Asia, retrenchment in Eurasia, a roiling Middle East, and transatlantic divisions are among the issues that have only come to ahead in recent years. The very magnitude and speed of change resulting from aglobalizing world—apart from its precise character—will be a defining feature of theworld out to 2020. Other significant characteristics include: the rise of new powers, newchallenges to governance, and a more pervasive sense of insecurity, including terrorism. As we map the future, the prospects for increasing global prosperity and the limited likelihood of great power conflict provide an overall favorable environment for coping with what are otherwise daunting challenges. The role of the United States will be an important variable in how the world is shaped, influencing the path that states and nonstate actors choose to follow.

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Fiona Wishlade, John Bachtler and Carlos Mendez requested by the Directorate-General for Internal Policies of the Union, European Parliament, 2011

This study provides a critical analysis of EU Cohesion Policy reform perspectives for the post-2013 period. On the basis of a literature review and budgetary modelling, the study offers an assessment of the policy’s strengths and weaknesses, the main reform ideas and counter-positions,including the implications of different reform proposals. Recommendations are derived to inform the position of the European Parliament in the upcoming negotiations on the legislative package of regulations.

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Espon Project 3.2

The main objective of the project is to develop spatial scenarios which should on the one hand be prospective, capable of prognostics with reference to a laissez-faire scenario on themes of the ESPON and policy orientations of the ESDP. On the other hand the scenarios should as well be proactive testing alternative objectives and provide insight for recommendations on policy adjustments/changes in EU policies that would favour a balanced and polycentric territory and territorial cohesion within an enlarged European Union. The time horizon for the spatial scenarios is set to 2015 (mid term) and 2030 (long term).

Download this file (ESPON_Spatial_Scenarios.pdf)ESPON_Spatial_Scenarios.pdf[ ]

Millennium Project
Global Futures Studies & Research

The Millennium Project was founded in 1996 after a three-year feasibility study with the United Nations University, Smithsonian Institution, Futures Group International, and the American Council for the UNU. It is now an independent non-profit global participatory futures research think tank of futurists, scholars, business planners, and policy makers who work for international organizations, governments, corporations, NGOs, and universities. The Millennium Project manages a coherent and cumulative process that collects and assesses judgments from over 2,500 people since the beginning of the project selected by its 33  Nodes around the world. The work is distilled in its annual "State of the Future", "Futures Research Methodology" series, and special studies.

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Shell International, 2005

The three forces drive towards different objectives: efficiency, social cohesion and justice, and security. While societies often aspire to all three objectives, the forces display elements of mutual exclusiveness—one cannot be at the same time freer, more conformant to one’s group or faith, and more coerced. Three distinct scenarios are shown:

Low Trust Globalisation

Globalisation carries on, but the world does not evolve towards a laissez faire economy as Shell canvassed in 2001 Business Class, or previously in People Power, Just Do It! And New Frontiers. Market incentives are at work in all aspects of the economy and society, but so are efforts to deal with insecurity and distrust. In Low Trust Globalisation, the state plays a major role in providing security to the nation and in overseeing the process whereby trust in the market is preserved through satisfactory opportunities to seek redress for market abuses or dysfunctions. This involves a stronger coercive and discretionary power for the state and the independent regulatory agencies. The dual crisis of security and trust in the marketplace leads to a new form of global order in which security concerns become globalised, structured within global networks where strong states such as the US assert their dominant power. At the same time, globalising markets constrain policy choices for government, who seek to intervene to support their respective national competitive advantages in global markets. In this scenario, the EU sees its political integration process stall and possibly reverse. Russia pursues economic and administrative modernisation while political reform stalls. Meanwhile, China sees the legalistic world of Low Trust Globalisation as an opportunity to achieve integration with the global market in ways that minimise foreign pressures and let her achieve some extraterritorial influence. Real politic – combined with strong market incentives – provides a good foundation for global governance in this scenario. Nevertheless, international politics is far from harmonious, and alliances tend to be formed on an opportunistic basis.

Open Doors

This is a world, like Low Trust Globalisation, in which globalisation progresses further. It is also a world in which civil societies in different countries are reassured that their fundamental values can be affirmed and strengthened, not only domestically but across borders, and in conjunction with market forces. However, for all its emphasis on web-like technologies, cooperative links, seamless transnational operations and citizens’ empowerment, this is not a laissez faire world. Many governance institutions behind Open Doors are of a private and voluntary nature. States and regulators, however, develop a special knack for fostering and channelling these private initiatives. Participation and the opportunity to be heard become widely accepted elements of good governance, in the corporate as well as governmental setting. In this world, companies’ reputations depend not on decisions in court, but on opinions in society. Customers, stakeholders and companies are inclined to rely on networks within which bad reputation is quickly spread on a peer-to-peer basis. While endeavouring to smooth the business cycle, governments generally pursue a prudent policy stance. Over the entire cycle, however, fiscal policy is generally aimed at achieving balanced budgets in order to avoid crowding-out effects in capital markets. Government welfare provision in Open Doors is based on redistributing opportunities rather than assets. It is focused, for instance, on retraining people who have fallen into unemployment, rather than on granting unemployment benefits indiscriminately. Multilateralism is seen as an important tool in overcoming the differences in regulations between jurisdictions that hamper free flows of people, information, capital, goods and services. In the world of Open Doors, “free trade” encompasses regulatory rules, regional development policies and aid plans as in the EU. People become remarkably mobile, with no-frills airlines helping to define new global standards of openness and accessibility. A pragmatic network of global institutions emerges to support this combination of global market and global civil society. This is nothing like a “world government”, although a number of UN institutions reform and play important roles, and some common institutions do develop.


This is a world in which the dual crisis of security and trust is not solved, fostering the development of “gated communities” – in society and internationally. Distinct social groups, while tight-knit and highly trusting internally, are distrustful of outsiders. Efficiency takes a back seat to security and solidarity. Governments often promote nationalism – under the name of patriotism – in the pursuit of social cohesion. Religious affiliations have a direct impact on political debate. The process of globalisation continues, but at a more measured pace, with a number of countries opting for some form of protection against what they see as the inherent dangers of international integration. Problems are often dealt with through national rules, which differ from country to country, and which form a global patchwork of regulations. This scenario is a heterogeneous world of many different flags. Investors are naturally sceptical about global markets. States are proactive in regulating the market and in providing public goods and services. Flags reinforces conventional state-to-state relations. The world is emphatically inter-national, rather than truly global. In Europe, the benefits of harmonised rules that came with the often decried ‘Brussels directives’ are often diminished by populist policies in favour of national champions and local business practices. Sovereignty is opaque, in that events within a state’s borders are held by governments to be entirely internal matters. States pragmatically pursue a mix of multilateral deals, bilateral agreements and regional pacts. Differing national rules and standards, as well as protectionist demands, restrict the global mobility of investment and capital, and diminish trade and migrant flows.

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