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Environmental Outlook 2018: Background document Horizon scanning

Issue 29-11-2018This research was carried out as part of the ‘Environmental Outlook 2018’ and provided the necessary scientific underpinning.

The second building block in the Environmental Outlook 2018 is Horizon scanning. As a foresight process it helps to timely identify contextual developments and assess their threats and opportunities for the environment in Flanders. This may involve new and unexpected issues (e.g. weak signals), but also persistent problems, emerging (micro)trends or changing (mega)trends. The ultimate objective of this foresight process is to help make (environmental) policy more robust, also in the longer term.

In this background document, the six previously identified megatrends (report on Megatrends: far reaching, but also out of reach? (2014)) are first validated and updated:

  • Changing demographic balances;
  • Accelerated technological developments;
  • Growing scarcity of raw materials and resources;
  • Growing multipolarity in society;
  • Climate change;
  • Increasing vulnerability of systems.

These megatrends are still highly topical and their impact on society and the environment has become even more pronounced, also in Flanders. Megatrends increase the need for systemic solutions (see Building block 3 and 'Background documents for the Environmental Outlook 2018: Systems').

In addition, a number of broad societal developments ('thematic key uncertainties') were identified and documented, which will help determine which systemic solutions and – together with the megatrends – the context in which and the way in which systemic solutions can be implemented in view of transitioning to ecological sustainability. The following three clusters of developments (seven societal developments) can be distinguished:

  • Shifts in value creation: shift from financial/economic to (more) social/ecological added value creation (1);
  • Shifts in mental models, norms and values: from individual interest to (more) social interest in relation to consumption (2); from objective, uniform to subjective, variable information flows (3); and towards a more critical perspective on the role of technology in society (4);
  • Shifts in organisation and steering: from central to (more) decentralised production systems (5); from a globally to a (more) locally oriented (policy) approach to problems (6); and from a top-down oriented society to more bottom-up initiatives (7).

To illustrate how horizon scanning can be useful in the choice and implementation of systemic solutions, these seven societal developments were combined into four contextual scenarios: Business as usual, TecologyEcolocal and Ecosense. In each scenario, for the societal systems energy, mobility and food, possible developments until 2050 were explored and the potential impact of these developments on the ecological sustainability of the respective systems was illustrated.

Read the English summary of the Dutch background document ‘Horizon scanning’

Study commissioned by MIRA, Flanders Environment Report

researchers: Annick Gommers, Katelijne Verhaegen (Kenter); Merel Claes, Jo Goossens, Philippe Vandenbroeck (shiftN)

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