A real-life crystal-ball: Exploring the policies needed for 2050

Photo: Icaro Cooke Vieira/CIFOR
Photo: Icaro Cooke Vieira/CIFOR
This article was written by a social reporter. It has not been edited by the Forum organisers or partners, and represents the opinion of the individual author only.

Predicting the future isn’t easy, just ask the makers of Back to the Future II. Their leftfield vision of 2015 from the ‘80s amused the internet for days earlier this year.

However, our generation’s prediction of the next 30 years has much higher stakes attached.

In 2050 we’ll have over 9 billion people to feed and the effects of climate change to take into account. The question isn’t so much “Will we fly hoverboards to work?” but more “Can we feed ourselves without destroying our planet?”

When the generation of 2050 look back at our predictions and policies from 2015, they may not be sharing internet memes, but writing obituaries of a lost chance to save the planet as we know it.

“Climate change has the potential to affect all of us at multiple scales; nearby and in the present, far away in the future, individually and collectively” says Keith Wiebe, Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

With his collaborators he is working on a model that predicts the effect of climate change on agriculture and food security across the world. The global view can help local policy makers take the right action now to minimize the effects for those living in 2050.

The logistics of the IMPACT model are eye-watering. It makes calculations based on factors such as population growth, income changes, technology changes, world market forces and climate change. It incorporates all this into a global economic model including 300 distinct regions, and over 60 agricultural commodities.

They are not trying to make a single forecast of one future, but scenarios for various alternative futures based on decisions we make now.

These scenarios have helped countries such as Colombia finalize their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), the key policy commitments being discussed at the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris.

“We put all our information in Colombia into the model and it helped us make a decision if our INDC is balanced,” said Rodrigo Suarez Castaño, Climate Change Director of the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development.

The model predicts the main drivers of land use changes in Colombia, where there’s a high pressure for deforestation, and decisions over livestock and pasture-land use will be crucial.

The next step will be a better analysis of the future scenarios for specific regions in Colombia.

“A country does not live in isolation. Therefore in order to plan properly you have to account for those forces that come from the global market,” said Alex De Pinto of IFPRI.

“We need to look 20-30 years into the future to ensure that today’s policies are truly feasible run [sic] and will not crumble under political or economic pressures. You have to have strong domestic support for these policies to work long term, and this is particularly true for mitigation policies where often the gains can be acquired slowly but lost very quickly.”

“Policy makers now have the tools to make decisions based on solid research.”