SOER 2010 — assessment of global megatrends

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Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

What is the SOER 2010?

This ‘thematic assessment’ is part of The European environment — state and outlook 2010 (SOER 2010), the flagship report of the European Environment Agency (EEA). Its main goal is to provide information on the state of, trends in and prospects for Europe’s environment, including causes, impacts and potential responses. It is aimed primarily at policy makers, in Europe and beyond, involved with framing and implementing policies that could support environmental improvements in Europe. The information can also help European citizens to better understand, care for and improve Europe’s environment.

The SOER 2010 ‘umbrella’ includes four key assessments: (1) a set of 13 Europe-wide thematic assessments of key environmental themes (including this assessment); (2) an exploratory assessment of global megatrends relevant for the European environment; (3) a set of country assessments of the environmental situation in individual European countries; and (4) a synthesis — an integrated assessment based on the above SOER 2010 assessments and other EEA activities.

Why assess global megatrends?

Europe is bound to the rest of the world through an enormous number of systems — environmental, economic, social, political and others — enabling a two-way flow of materials and ideas. Europe contributes to global environmental pressures and accelerating feedbacks through its dependence on fossil fuels, mining products and other imports. Conversely, changes elsewhere increasingly affect Europe, both directly as in the case of environmental change or indirectly through, for example, intensified socio-economic pressures.

This assessment of global megatrends focuses on the impact of global pressures on Europe. A global-to-European perspective is relevant for European environmental policy making because Europe’s environmental challenges and management options are being reshaped by global drivers such as demographics, technologies, trade patterns and consumption.

Many of these changes are interdependent and likely to unfold over decades. They can significantly affect Europe‘s resilience in the long term. Naturally, such changes also offer unique opportunities for action. But effective measures require better information and better understanding of a highly complex and evolving situation.

This assessment groups a rich diversity of information on global drivers of change into a number of identified social, technological, economic, environmental and political (governance) megatrends. It summarises key developments in the form of succinct information sheets. The analysis also attempts to trigger a discussion about how we should monitor and assess future changes in order to better inform European environmental policymaking.

There are many ways to assess global megatrends and a number of diverging views are valid. The diversity, complexity and uncertainty inherent in the analysis require a broad, diverse approach to building up the information base, including stakeholder consultation and the use of existing academic and other expert information.

The approach used for this assessment has included:

  • A public call for evidence on global megatrends of relevance for Europe’s long-tem environmental context. The call was launched in June 2009 via the EEA website and disseminated to relevant research networks and mailing lists. It generated a list of relevant studies that helped further prioritise topics for the analysis.
  • Setting up an external advisory group to guide the progress of the work, comprising representatives of international and national organisations in the field of environmental assessment as well as the EEA’s Scientific Committee members.
  • Reviews of academic and non-academic information sources in the form of eight targeted background reports produced between autumn 2009 and 2010.
  • Consolidating the information base following the STEEP (social, technological, economic, environmental and political) framework for classifying drivers of change.
  • Structuring the information base into information sheets including indicators.

The complexity of interlinkages and the manifold uncertainties inherent in megatrends require an exploratory, qualitative approach, underpinned by empirical data. This does not rely solely on quantitative modelling, although model results are used in the analysis. Current approaches to risk analysis and quantitative forecasting are problematic since the systems addressed and their dynamics are not well understood, assumptions are often non-transparent, and necessary data are not always available.

Subsequent chapters of this assessment provide analysis of the 11 most relevant megatrends, selected according to the criteria of relevance, novelty, data availability and feasibility within the time frame of the assessment. They also summarise the links between megatrends and Europe’s priority environmental challenges, and reflect on possible implications for policymaking.

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