Published 4 years ago.
About a 10 minute read.
Image: Yuri B/Pixabay
Look, we could all just wait and see where these historic waves take us. But I prefer that we all work proactively to ensure that a better, thriving future is the one we choose.
Where will we be in 2030?
I don’t usually play the futurist game — I’m more of a “presentist,” looking at
the data we have right now on fast-moving megatrends that shape the
world today. But a client asked me to paint a picture of what the big trends
tell us about 2030. And I’d say we do have some strong indications of where we
could be in 11 years.
The directions we go and choices we make will have enormous impacts on our
lives, careers, businesses and the world. Here are my predictions of how nine
important trends will evolve by 2030 — listed in order roughly from nearly
certain to very likely to hard to say.
There will be about 1 billion more of us, and we will live longer. The world
should reach 8.5 billion people by
up from 7.3 billion in 2015. The fastest growing demographic will be the
elderly, with the population of people over 65 years old at 1
2030. Most of those new billion will be in the middle class economically, as the
percentage of citizens in dire poverty continues to drop (a rare sustainability
win). Even as the middle swells, however, the percentage of all new wealth
accruing to the very top of the pyramid will continue to be a major, and
destabilizing, issue. That said, the other megatrends, especially climate
change, could slow or change the outcomes here.
Two-thirds of us will live in cities. The urbanization of our
increase, creating more megacities as well as small- and medium-size
metropolises. Countervailing forces will include a rising cost of living in the
most desirable cities. The effects will include the need for more big buildings
with better management technologies (big data and AI that makes buildings much
more efficient), and we will need more food moved in from where we grow it to
where we eat it — or rapidly expand urban
Our world will become even more open — and less private. It’s hard to imagine
that the trend to track everything will be going anywhere but in one direction:
a radically more open world. The amount of information collected on every
person, product, and organization will grow exponentially, and the pressure to
share that information — with customers and consumers, in particular — will
expand. The tools to analyze information will be well-developed and will make
some decision-making easier; for instance, it will be easier to choose products
with the lowest carbon footprints, highest wages for
and fewest toxic
But all these tools will shatter privacy in the process.
The climate will continue to change quickly and feature frequent, extreme
weather everywhere. Yes, there’s still uncertainty about how everything will
play out exactly, but not about whether the climate is changing dramatically
and dangerously. Significant inertia in both atmospheric and economic/human
systems allows for a more confident prediction of what will happen in just 11
years. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made
how critical it is to radically alter the path of carbon emissions to hold the
world to 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. But that’s not likely to happen with
current levels of commitment in global governments: The important Paris climate
in theory, agrees to hold warming to 2
But in practice, what countries have committed to so far will only hold us
to no more than 3 degrees of
By 2030, we are very likely to already be at or approaching the 1.5 mark.
The results of climate change will be unrelenting. Many highly populated coastal
areas will be in consistent trouble, as sea levels
The natural world will be much less rich, with drastic to catastrophic declines
in populations of many
major to total losses of ecosystems such as
Droughts and floods will stress global breadbasket regions and shift where we
grow major crops. The Arctic will be
the summer (this will allow ships to move freely in this region, which is
technically good for shorter supply chains but a Pyrrhic victory at best).
Between seas, heat and shifts in water availability, mass
likely have begun. By 2030, we will have much better clarity on how bad the
coming decades after that point will be. We will know whether the melting of the
major ice sheets will be literally inundating most coastal cities, and if we’re
truly approaching an “Uninhabitable
in our lifetimes.
We will be forced to more aggressively confront resource constraints. To keep
volumes of major commodities (such as metals) in line with economic growth, we
will need to more quickly embrace circular models: sourcing much less from
virgin materials, using recycled content and remanufactured products, and
generally rethinking the material economy. Water will be a stressed resource,
and it seems likely that many cities will be constantly in a state of water
shortage. We will need more investment in water tech and desalination to help.
The transformation of our grid, our roadways and our buildings to zero-carbon
technology will be surprisingly far along. Here’s some good news: Due to
continuing drops in the cost of clean technologies, renewable energy is
dramatically on the
making up more than half the global new power capacity every year since 2015. By
2030, effectively no new additions of generating capacity will come from
fossil-fuel-based technologies. Electric vehicles will be a large part of the
While estimates about the share of EVs on the road by 2030 range from the teens
to nearly 100
(assuming early retirement of internal combustion engines), nearly all sales of
new vehicles will be EVs. This will be driven by dramatic reductions in the cost
of batteries and strict legislation banning fossil-fuel
will also see an explosion of data-driven technologies that make buildings, the
grid, roadways and water systems substantially more efficient.
The internet of
will have won the day, and every new device will be connected. Proponents of the
have long projected that by around 2030, affordable AI will achieve human levels
of intelligence. AI and machine
will plan much of our lives and make us more efficient, well beyond choosing
driving routes to optimize traffic. Technology will manipulate us even more than
it does today — Russian interference in US elections may look quaint. AI will
create some new kinds of jobs but will also nearly eliminate entire segments of
work, from truck and taxi drivers to some high-skill jobs such as paralegals and
There’s an open question about how we’ll get important things done. I’m thinking
specifically about whether global governments and institutions will be working
in sync to aggressively fight climate change and resource pressures, and tackle
vast inequality and poverty — or whether it will be every region and ethnic
group for itself. Predicting politics is nearly impossible, and it’s hard to
imagine how global policy action on climate and other megatrends will play out.
The Paris Agreement was a monumental start, but countries — specifically the US
— have lately retreated from global
in general. Trade wars and tariffs are all the rage in 2019. It seems likely
that, even more than today, it will be up to business to play a major role in
The rise of nationalism and radicalism may increase … or it won’t. Even less
certain than policy is the support, or lack thereof, of the mass of people for
different philosophies of governing. In recent years, populists have been
elected or consolidated power in countries as varied as the US, Brazil and
Hungary. And yet, in recent weeks, citizens in countries including
Turkey, Algeria and Sudan have pushed back on autocracy. Will that
Laying out strategies for companies to navigate this likely future world is a
book-length conversation. But let me suggest a few themes of action to consider:
Engage everyone in the sphere of the business world on climate. A
dangerously changing climate is the biggest threat humanity has ever faced.
But it’s not all set in stone … yet. Companies have an economic incentive
and moral responsibility to work hard to reduce the damage as much as
possible. Engage employees (stamp out climate denial), talk to consumers and
customers about climate issues through your products; and change internal
rules on corporate finance to make investment decisions with flexible hurdle
rates that favor pro-climate spending. Most importantly, use influence and
to demand, at all levels of government, an escalating public price on
— and publicly admonish industry lobbying groups that don’t.
Consider the human aspect of business more. As new technologies sweep
through society and business, the change will be jarring. Those changes and
pressures are part of why people are turning to populist leaders who promise
solutions. Business leaders should think through what these big shifts mean
for the people that make up our companies, value chains, and communities.
Embrace transparency. To be blunt, you don’t have a choice. Each
successive generation will expect more openness from the companies they buy
from and work for.
Listen to the next generation. By 2030,
will be nearing 50, and they and Gen
will make up the vast majority of the workforce. Listen to them now about
their priorities and values.
Predicting the future means projecting forward from what’s already happening,
while throwing in expected inertia in human and natural systems. It can give us
an impressionistic picture of the world of the future. Our choices matter a
great deal, as individuals and through our organizations and institutions.
Business, in particular, will play a large role in where the world goes.
Employees, customers and even
increasingly demand that the role of business be a positive one.
Look, we could all just wait and see where these historic waves take us. But I
prefer that we all work proactively to ensure that a better, thriving future is
the one we choose.
This post first appeared in MIT Sloan Management
on May 7, 2019.
Published Aug 16, 2019 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
Andrew Winston, founder of Winston Eco-Strategies, is a globally recognized expert on how companies can profit from solving the world’s biggest challenges.