Europe is bound to the rest of the world through an enormous number of systems — environmental, economic, social, political and others. Such networks enable complex flows of materials and ideas across the globe, producing uncertain feedbacks and knock-on effects over time. Greenhouse gas emissions in Europe today can affect the climate in distant locations and far into the future. Land management choices on the other side of the world can influence food and energy prices in Europe. Global communication and trade networks fuel innovation — sometimes boosting efficiency, sometimes creating new environmental pressures. Most of these interactions are intimately linked and set to unfold over decades. All are likely to have important implications for living standards and well-being.
The European environment's status, trends and prospects have always depended in part on events outside its borders. Yet the growing importance of global networks and flows has augmented this interdependence, creating complex challenges for traditional governance systems framed within national or regional territories. To design effective ways to manage the environmental changes ahead, societies and governments need to understand the global drivers at work and their potential implications.
With this challenge in mind, the European Environment Agency in 2010 produced its first assessment of emerging global trends as part of its five-yearly flagship report on the European environment's state and outlook (SOER 2010). The exploratory analysis summarised 11 global megatrends grouped into five clusters — social, technological, economic, environmental and governance. Introducing the issues succinctly, it sought to trigger a discussion about how Europe should monitor and assess future changes in order to better inform environmental policymaking. In preparation for its next report on the European environment's state and outlook (SOER 2015), the EEA has initiated an update of the assessment of global megatrends, analysing each of these drivers in a little more detail than previously in terms of their impacts on the European environment and well-being. During the second half of 2013 and 2014, the EEA is reassessing the 11 megatrends and publishing the updates separately on its website. The chapters provide the basis for the analysis of megatrends included in SOER 2015 and will be consolidated into a single EEA technical report in 2015. The present chapter addresses megatrend 4: 'Accelerating technological change'.
Again, it needs to be emphasised that the complexity of highly interconnected human and natural systems introduces considerable uncertainty into projections and forecasts. As much as anything, the assessment of megatrends aims to encourage readers to acknowledge this interdependence and uncertainty. In so doing, it may help point the way towards systems of planning and governance better adapted to meeting the challenges ahead.