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


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."

Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
people'I hated him during those times'
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleMemoir extracts show iconic designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Life and Style
fashionAlexander Fury's Spring/Summer 2015 London Fashion Week roundup
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late on stage in Brixton show
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
people''Women's rights is too often synonymous with man-hating'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam