State of the Future report: Humans are doing OK, but nature suffers as a result – and we’ll pay for it

Report warns that across the world, water, essential for survival, is running low – with water tables falling in every continent

A A A

The future's bright – but only if we rise to the challenges which threaten environmental catastrophe, a major new report warns this week.

Future generations are destined to be healthier, wealthier, better educated, and are set to live longer lives, but it will be at an untold cost to the environment unless action is taken to prevent it.

"The global situation for humanity continues to improve in general, but at the expense of the environment," says the authoritative State of the Future report. "We are winning more than we are losing – but where we are losing is very serious.... It is clear that humanity has the ideas and resources to address its global challenges, but it has not yet shown the leadership, policies, and management on the scale necessary to guarantee a better future."

The report – backed by organisations such as Unesco, the Smithsonian Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation, and drawing on contributions from hundreds of experts around the globe – concludes that the world is "improving better than most pessimists know", while "future dangers are worse than most optimists indicate".

The outlook for the next decade is positive, it says. The report details an index based on analysis of 30 factors, ranging from education and health to freedom, the environment and wealth. It began in 1993, and while it "indicates a slower progress since 2007... the overall outlook is promising".

However, it warns that across the world, water, essential for survival, is running low – with water tables falling in every continent. Civil wars and refugee numbers are on the rise, income gaps are "increasingly obscene", youth unemployment has reached "dangerous proportions", and half the world is "potentially unstable", according to the report by the Millennium Project think tank, formerly part of the World Federation of United Nations Associations.

The world is also under threat from organised crime – representing an army of criminality so vast in scale that it takes in £1.8trn a year, around twice as much as the world's military budgets combined.

Although poverty is being reduced faster "than many thought was possible", the divide between rich and poor "is growing faster than many want to admit". Half of the world's wealth is owned by only 1 per cent of the population. This inequality needs to be addressed "if long-term instability is to be avoided".

And the flipside of progress in education means that a new generation is becoming "less tolerant of the abuse of elite power than in the past", with growing youth unemployment meaning "more people have more time to do something about this abuse".

The report warns: "Unless these elites open the conversation about the future with the rest of their populations, unrest and revolutions are likely to continue and increase." And "an increasingly educated and internet-connected generation is rising up against the abuse of power around the world and demanding accountability".

Another driver of change will be the world's growing population, set to increase by a billion in little more than a decade. This will result in "unprecedented demand for food, water, energy, and employment".

Natural resources "are being depleted faster than nature can resupply them", and: "Unless we improve our economic, environmental, and social behaviors, the next 100 years could be disastrous."

Among the recommendations are that the US and China agree on a 10-year environmental goal to reduce climate change, and a worldwide strategy to fight against organised crime.

"It is reasonable to be cautiously optimistic," says Jerome Glenn, director of the Millennium Project and a co-author of the report. "Collective intelligence systems are quickly improving to eventually make us act smarter, wasting less time," he added.

The report's authors conclude: "The world needs hardheaded idealists who can look into the worst and best of humanity to create and implement strategies of success."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions