Future world: addressing the contradictions of planet, people, power and profits

Where to begin with shaping a world view? Our new paper on global trends aims to provoke debate as part of the process of developing IIED’s new five-year strategy. Read it and tell us what you think.

Camilla Toulmin's picture
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7 June 2013

Young people in Okola, Cameroon, cluster around a Global Positioning System that they are using to create a community map with geographical features.

In April 2014 IIED begins a new five-year strategy and we’re starting a discussion now on what our ‘world view’ should be. This view will inform how we operate and where, who we work with and what areas we focus on in the next strategic period.

IIED believes that change is more likely to happen when policies are informed by evidence-based research, coupled with grounded practice, targeted influence and effective partnerships. The new strategy is a great opportunity for us to build on what we know, collaborate with new organisations, take existing partnerships further, and create spaces for people to come up with ground-breaking ideas.

Challenges in a future world – tell us what you think

So, where to begin with shaping a world view? We’ve produced a paper to provoke debate, called Future World? Addressing the contradictions of planet, people, power and profits structured around six topics we think will be critical for the next 15-20 years.

  1. The impact of growth in demand on the planet, people and resources. We look at the trends in economic growth and the factors affecting it, population changes, the globalisation of consumption and increasing demands on food, water and energy resources. What impact will all this have on marine and land environments?
  2. Society, values and livelihoods. This sets out the need to shift from individual to collective good –from ‘me’ to ‘we’ and looks at the threat to political and social stability of low levels of employment and disillusionment with politics and politicians, and the persistence of a pro-market ideology.
  3. Climate change. All nations now recognise the need to adapt to climate change and build resilient systems. But huge power is still held by national and corporate vested interests. How can we get the message across about cutting greenhouse gas emissions? Should we focus on getting a carbon price agreed and, if so, what governance mechanisms are there to implement it?
  4. Urbanisation. Population growth is becoming largely an urban phenomenon. Getting city development ‘right’ will make a difference to equality, prosperity and greenhouse gas emissions. But will these cities be inclusive and take advantage of the potential environmental benefits of urban density?
  5. Economics, markets, financial flows. With ‘rich’ economies in long-term recession and China’s growth slowing, what will the knock on effects be? We consider corporate power, the significance of the informal sector and alternative models of growth.
  6. Technology and innovation. Recent events show how transformational new technologies can be. Equally some of the major problems we face require a marriage of local knowledge and ‘high-tech’ science. We ask whose knowledge and priorities count in research and development investment and who ‘owns’ research, so that all can benefit from technological advance.

We’ve also looked at how these topics play out at local levels through some examples of practical initiatives designed to combat negative trends and create positive solutions. These range from legal reforms in Mali to protect local land rights, and providing local government in Nepal with the funds to tackle climate change adaptation, to India’s biometric database designed to implement a social welfare system accessible to all, whether they have official paperwork or not.

Post-2015 agenda

IIED’s next strategic period will be framed by the post-2015 development agenda, and in particular the UN Sustainable Development Goals, currently being negotiated by the world’s governments. We gave the High Level Panel seven out of ten for their recent recommendations to replace the Millennium Development Goals but there’s still some way to go.

The goals have the potential to steer international collaboration in a better direction. But to meet this potential, at the same time as reducing poverty and the harmful impact of humans on the environment and resources, will require an enormous shift in attitudes, commitment and policies.

Working with partners remains central to our work

IIED partners are central to the way we work, and key to our work having impact. With our partners – rooted in communities, local organisations, and specialists in their field – we can make the connection between what people experience in their daily lives and the policies being formulated at the national, regional and international level. That’s why, whatever the shape of our 2014-19 strategy, it will involve working in partnership.

Stories to inspire

We know that the future world picture we’ve assembled may seem a little depressing. The problems galvanise us to take action. But that’s also a good reason to open up the discussion: if we’ve been too gloomy about the trends we’ve identified, then tell us where the story is different. If there’s an inspirational development project or a dynamic organisation that seems to be getting it right in terms of practical responses to these trends, then we’d like to hear about it in the comments below.

Tell us what you think

We’re consulting with staff, partners and other people who know us well on how they see the world and the challenges ahead, but we’d like to hear what you think of this world picture, which we’ve drawn from a variety of sources.

Read what we’ve said about the trends, the way they may develop and give us your response. Comments in the next few weeks will be considered in the beginnings of our strategy formulation.

Key questions

We’ve set out a picture of a world in crisis in the Future World paper: a story of resource scarcity and planetary boundaries within which humanity can continue to thrive. Do you agree with this perspective? If not, what other approaches would you suggest?

Should the debate instead be around who manages, distributes and controls resources?

Are you from a community-based organisation? What are the key issues you face and do you think they are addressed in the Future World paper?

If we considered the debate from a local or community-based perspective, how would it change the analyses and prospects?

Thanks very much for taking part in the discussion. Once finalised in early 2014, we will share our strategy with you.

Download Future world? Addressing the contradictions of planet, people, power and profits

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