What if we get things right? Visions for 2030

We (the WEF) asked members of our Global Future Councils - academics, business leaders and members of civil society - to imagine a better world in 2030. Only by thinking about where we want to be tomorrow can we prompt the action we need today. Here's what they had to say.

"We're winning the fight against climate change - welcome to CO-topia"

—Ida Auken, Danish Member of Parliament, Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization

By 2030 your CO2 emissions will be far down. The air you breathe is cleaner. Meat on your dinner table will be a rare sight. Water and the air you breathe will be cleaner and nature will be in recovery. The money in your wallet will be spent on being with family and friends, not on buying goods. Nature is recovering. Saving the climate does involve huge change, but it might make us happier at the same time.

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This is what 2030 could look like if we win the war on climate change

Here is one version of CO-topia: you walk out of your door in the morning into a green and liveable city. You can choose to call upon a car. An algorithm has calculated the smartest route for the vehicle, and it picks up a few other people on the way.

Since the city council has banned private cars in the city, tons of new mobility services have arrived. It is cheaper for you not to own your own car, and it reduces congestion, so you arrive at your destination more quickly and don’t have to spend time looking for parking.

There are a lot fewer cars on the streets and the rest are electric. All electricity is green by the way.

Single use plastics are a distant memory. When you buy stuff, you buy something that lasts. But because you buy a lot fewer things, you can actually afford better quality products.

“Refuse, reuse, reduce, recycle” is the new way of looking at things. Because citizens have buying so much stuff, they have more money to spend on services: cleaning, gardening, laundry help, healthy meals easy to cook, entertainment, experiences, fabulous new restaurants. All of which brings the average modern person more options and more free time. Picking up the mantle against climate change may not be so bad after all.


Cutting violent crime in half

—Robert Muggah, Director of the Igarapé Institute, Brazil; Member of the Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization

The world has an opportunity to dramatically reduce some of the most egregious forms of violence over the next decade. To do this, we will need the same kind of energy and dedication that was mobilized to eradicate other killers like smallpox.

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The first step to halving violence by 2030 is to have a clear sense of how it is distributed in time and space. Take the case of lethal violence. There is a misconception that more people die violently in war zones than in countries at peace. While total levels of violence oscillate from year to year, it turns out that the reverse is true. The UN Office for Drugs and Crime estimates that the ratio is roughly 5:1. Put simply, many more people are dying violently as a result of organized and interpersonal crime in countries like Brazil, Colombia and Mexico than in internal conflicts in countries such as Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen. This is not to say that one type of lethal violence is more important than the other, but rather to ensure a more fact-based diagnosis.

The only way to make a serious dent in violence is by acknowledging its full scope and scale together with the factors that drive it. This must be accompanied by sustained investment in reducing the risks and improving the protection of affected areas and populations, and investing in solutions with a positive track record. In the US, for example, research suggests that a focus on reducing lethal violence in the 40 cities with the highest rates of homicide could save more than 12,000 lives a year. In Latin America, reducing homicide in just the seven most violent countries over the next 10 years would save more than 365,000 lives.


Empowering 8 billion minds with mobile technology

—Murali Doraiswamy, Professor at Duke University, Global Future Council on Neurotechnologies

The year is 2030. Imagine this: a young man called Ajay lives in India. In his teens, he experienced an episode of depression. So when, as a new undergraduate, he was offered the chance to sign up for a mental healthcare service, he was keen to do so.

Ajay chose a service that used mobile phone and internet technologies to enable him to carefully manage his personal information. Ajay would later develop clinical depression, but he spotted that something wasn’t right early on when the feedback from his mental healthcare app highlighted changes in his sociability (he was sending fewer messages and leaving his room only to go to campus.)

Shortly thereafter, he received a message on his phone inviting him to get in touch with a mental health therapist: the message also offered a choice of channels through which he could get in touch.

Now in his mid-20s, Ajay’s depression is well under control. He has learned to recognise when he’s too anxious and beginning to feel low, and he can practice the techniques he has learned using online tools, as well as easily accessing high-quality advice. His progress through the rare depressive episodes he still experiences is carefully tracked. If he does not respond to the initial, self-care treatment, he can be quickly referred to a medical professional.

Ajay’s experience is replicated across the world in low, middle and high-income countries. Similar technology-supported mental illness prevention, prediction and treatment services are available to all.


Clean air is a human right

—Jane Burston, Executive Director of the Clean Air Fund; Member of the Global Future Council on Energy

After a decade of interventions, of activists and policy-makers fighting side by side, clean air is recognized as a basic human right and cities like Delhi see blue skies throughout the year.

What changed from those dark days of 2020 to today, is the early recognition of health impacts of air pollution by governments, which spurred action around the globe.

The urgency of the situation was recognized by 2020 and governments in some of the most polluted geographies came together to share knowledge and practice on how to lower emissions. Industries took the lead in looking at their own value chains, sectors like energy and transportation became leaders in cutting out carbon and other toxic pollutants from their factories.

The steep decline of the fossil fuel industry by mid-century gave way to technology and innovation in these traditionally carbon intensive sectors. Today emissions pricing has made pollution pricey – it is cheaper and more profitable to be cleaner.


We build a fair and democratic gig economy

—Mark Graham, Professor of Internet Geography, University of Oxford, member of the Global Future Council on the New Education and Work Agenda

The real future of the gig economy that we should be looking to is one characterised by democratic ownership.

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There is no reason why gig workers shouldn’t be their own bosses. The platform cooperativism movement shines a light on some of the real potentials for worker owned- and managed-platforms for every possible service. We can also think about running platforms as civic utilities.

In many places, platforms are becoming utilities. Think for instance of Uber’s desire to become an operating system for the city. Our cities will undoubtedly need operating systems. But we should ask ourselves if we want a privately managed operating system run by an unaccountable company based in another country. Or a locally-managed, locally-owned, democratic, and accountable one.

We aren’t going to be able to turn back the clock to a world with no platforms. But by looking to strategies that involve transparency, accountability, worker power, and democratic ownership, we have in front of us the tools to move towards a less exploitative and more just platform economy. The platform economy in 2030 could be one in which consumers know more about their impacts, regulators are enforcing minimum standards, workers are exercising their collective power, and we have all found ways of building, supporting, and using democratically run and accountable platforms.


There's a new platform for peace in the Middle East

—Dalia Dassa Kaye, Director of the Center for Middle East Public Policy, RAND; Member of the Global Future Council on Geopolitics

After two decades of devastating wars in the Middle East, 2020 marked a turn-around leading to the formation of a new regional security forum by 2030 supported by key global powers, including the United States, China and Russia. The forum did not replace traditional regional rivalries or end all conflict, but leading global and regional powers recognized the risks of growing instability and the value of a region-wide mechanism for conflict prevention and management.

Until 2030, the Middle East was the outlier in the world, being the only region to lack a forum for security dialogue. Regional alignments were largely based on the balance of power logic with cooperation limited to containing common external threats, most notably Iran.

No venue existed where all regional parties could exchange threat perceptions and engage in confidence-building on areas of common concern. The short-lived Madrid process in the early 1990s had achieved some limited success but was too narrowly linked to progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace, which sadly did not come to pass.

Shifting regional alignments and a dangerous escalation led global powers to see common interests in stabilising the region through a multilateral forum. At the same time, regional leaders become more open to alternatives that favoured diplomacy over conflict, particularly as they faced difficult socioeconomic pressures at home to meet the demands of their rising youth populations. This confluence of global and regional interests provided an opening to launch a new cooperative security dialogue.


We create cities where you can walk to everything you need

—Rob Adams, Director City Design and Projects, City of Melbourne, member of the Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization

Politicians love big infrastructure projects, but do we need them? Clearly new infrastructure for expanding cities is important, but maybe there is a more important question to ask: How well are we using our existing infrastructure?

In the 1980s, when the baby boomers arrived in large numbers at universities around the world, most campuses simply expanded at great expense. One key exception was Cape Town University. Unable to expand its footprint, the university asked the above question and was surprised to find how little its infrastructure was being used. Lecture theatres, for example, were only being used for 17% of the available hours.

Over the next 30 years, Cape Town University trebled its numbers on the campus without any major building programmes, simply by reprogramming its timetable. The result was a more vibrant campus and big savings in expenditure.

Much of the infrastructure in our cities is equally underused. Freeways are designed for peak hours; schools have one session per day, usually in the morning, leaving the afternoon and evening free; and the list goes on.

A study entitled Transforming Australian Cities showed that if all future development was contained within existing metro boundaries, cities would save $110 billion in infrastructure costs over 50 years for every 1 million people added.

My vision for 2030 is a world where cities make better use of the infrastructure they have, before building new projects at huge financial and environmental cost. This would see people living in closer proximity with good access to essential infrastructure such as public transport, social services and high quality public spaces, as was the case in cities prior to the motor car and urban sprawl; cities, in other words, where walking is the dominant form of transport and the street is the dominant location for public life.


Clean electricity will dominate the energy sector

—Chen Wei Nee, Chief Strategic Officer, Sustainable Energy Development Authority, Malaysia; Member of the Global Future Council on Energy Technologies

If we get things right, by 2030 the global carbon concentration will drop to 350 parts per million from 407 parts today. By then, the energy sector will largely be electricity, and at least half of the electricity is from renewable resources. Deep de-carbonizing efforts will be demonstrated by governments and corporates, and yes, even the ordinary members of the public.

By 2030, electricity will also be democratised and people will be empowered with choices and they will choose energy sources that sustain life. Power generations will also shift from centralised structure to greater distributed renewable generations. The electricity system will be defined by further digitalisation, enabling the concept of sharing economy in the energy space.

By 2030, trading of excess solar electricity with neighbours and sharing of electric vehicles within the community will be the way of living. Children will be taught to live in harmony with the environment. All these did not happen by chance. It happened because there was sufficient willpower to deliberately shape the future of energy. It happened because the need to preserve the future of our children finally matters.


Virtual reality will protect our mental health

—Professor Helen Christensen, director and chief scientist at Black Dog Institute, Australia; member of the Global Future Council on Media, Entertainment and Culture

I see a world where technology such as smartphones improve mental health and reduce suicide risk. Sensors in smartphones combined with AI will allow software to create “buddies” that will assimilate mental health knowledge about each person, and then help them navigate safely day-to-day.

This so-called ‘digital phenotyping’ uses both passively collected data, voice analysis, cognitive indicators and self-reporting from smartphones, and it will yield these prediction and monitoring capabilities within a decade.

I predict that people around the world will have continuous, immediate and effective access to digital therapeutics for mental health. Support will be offered proactively and ‘just in time’. The clunky and rigid digital interventions we have today will be transformed into interactive games and experiences that deliver ‘therapeutic content’ enjoyably, by stealth, using technologies such as virtual reality.

I see people having access to mental health dashboards on their devices so that they can share their data - which they own - when and how they wish. I see more research into how people relate and learn to live as ‘cyborgs’ from an early age. I see the potential of social networks to be used to reduce stigma and promote understanding.


The circular economy has become the economy

—Leanne Kemp, founder and CEO, Everledger; member of the Global Future Council on Advanced Manufacturing and Production

Let me share my vision for 2030. By then, nobody talks about the circular economy; it’s just the economy.

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We wince at the grim days of the 2010s, when billions of tonnes of materials were extracted every year to meet the functional needs of society – but only a fraction was ever recycled back into our economies.

Rapidly falling technology costs created major opportunities to reduce waste. We focused on capturing more value from existing infrastructure and ‘designing out’ the impacts of pollution, climate change, toxins and congestion. We got our act together.

What was the one thing that made the biggest difference? Some will point to the youth movement that drove awareness and campaigned for action. Others will champion the new breakthroughs in technology that were unthinkable in 2020. These played a part - but we would never have got here if the world’s lawmakers had stayed on the sidelines.

After all, it was the public sector and policymakers who could strongly influence industries and could steer outcomes at a system level. The private sector wasn’t allowed to leave the public sector behind, either; the right rules were put in place to ensure that jobs were preserved, and new ones created.

Sound good? I’ll see you there.


Streets are made for people not cars

—Marcela Guerrero Casas, Founder and Associate, Open Streets Cape Town; Member of the Global Future Council on Mobility

The future of transportation, as most of us imagine it, is dominated by driverless cars - but to truly build a sustainable future for our cities, we need to reduce the numbers of cars on the roads full-stop. This can be achieved through a fairly simple, practical and proven strategy: temporarily taking cars off our streets altogether.

In the mid-1970s, the Colombian capital Bogotá saw the birth of what would become a global movement called Ciclovia, often known as ‘open streets’ in English-speaking countries, which entails the creation of car-free routes throughout the city every Sunday and public holiday.

As well as improving public health, both by encouraging people to take exercise as well as reducing traffic pollution, Ciclovia fosters a sense of inclusion and ownership of their city among its participants. It has even helped to erase barriers between historically segregated communities.

This model has been replicated all over the world, especially in other Latin American countries and in cities the length of Africa. To ensure sustainable cities all around the world, we must move away from our over-dependency on the automobile. Temporary interventions - like car-free days - work with existing assets and focus on shifting people’s perception, which will ultimately shape how we view and exercise sustainable urban planning in the long term.


An end to all preventable forms of suffering

—Jenniffer Maroa, clinical assistant professor, Department of Global Health, Washington University; Member of the Global Future Council on Biotechnology

By 2030, I envision a world free from preventable forms of suffering, especially those inflicted by infectious and non-communicable diseases. This can easily be achieved through the equitable application of new technologies such as blockchain, the internet of things and artificial intelligence (AI), which can drive the development of innovative tools to make healthcare delivery more accessible, affordable and - importantly - more precise to all of humanity, and particularly to people in low and middle-income countries (LMICs).

For example, using AI to develop algorithms that take into account the influence of genetic diversity and environment on drug responses would go a long way towards increasing positive outcomes and reducing adverse drug effects. Using blockchain technology to track ‘open data’ agreements, meanwhile, will benefit individuals or communities that participate in research studies. Thus, accessibility to affordable and innovative precision healthcare products such as drugs, vaccines and precise prevention guidelines should significantly reduce the level of suffering caused by disease.

Unfortunately, the technologies described above that could accelerate my vision remain poorly accessible by LMICs despite their potential to hasten development in these regions. The factors hindering their uptake are multifaceted and, in some cases, historical. We need to increase awareness and knowledge around these technologies, while creating culturally relevant guidelines to guide their uptake and reducing the costs of implementation. This will, in turn, promote their adoption and reduce the likelihood of any disparity that might be created by uneven access to these technologies globally


Technology supports the challenges of our ageing populations

—Genjiro Miwa, co-founder, president and CEO, Megakaryon Corporation

Many developed countries are facing a combination of declining birth rates and increased longevity. This poses challenges to many social systems that have taken a pyramid-shaped population structure - a broad section of younger people supporting a small pinnacle of the elderly - for granted.

Some of the problems, such as pensions and health insurance systems, are well recognized and may be solved by redistributing benefits and costs under political initiatives. But there are other issues that cannot be solved this way.

One example is the shortage of blood for transfusion. Tens of millions of patients receive blood transfusions worldwide every year thanks to blood donors - most of whom are from younger generations. In Japan, 80% of the patients receiving blood transfusions are over the age of 60, whereas 90% of blood donors are younger than 60. By 2030, a more than 10% shortage of blood for transfusion is expected, and this gap will continue to worsen.

A shortage of blood is something redistribution cannot solve even with a social consensus. To compensate for this expected shortfall, a project to mass-produce platelets and other blood components from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) is currently under development at my biotech start-up, Megakaryon, which I founded with the support of the Japanese Government.

There are other areas where technological innovation may offer solutions to the challenges presented by our ageing populations, such as robotics assisting in caring for older people. These challenges, however, are unavoidable and technological moon shots need time. The next 10 years will be critical for our preparations. We will only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out in 2030. Japan is set to be the first country where the population tide goes out and can be considered as a showcase for the problem.


We overhaul economic policy to move beyond GDP

—Jerome Jean Haegeli, Group Chief Economist, Swiss Re; Member of the Global Future Council on the New Economic Agenda

For the global economy to be successful over the next 10 years, a different mix of economic policies is needed. It is high time to act.

A public policy rethink is overdue in three major dimensions. First, less is more in terms of central bank action. Targeted fiscal stimulus and more supply-side reforms need to do the heavy lifting now. We should remember Reagan’s supply-side economics and not just believe blindly in Keynes’ demand stimulus. Second, we need to respond decisively to the inevitable economic consequences of climate change and demographics. Third, economists' toolkits need to take into account key societal factors. Focusing on aggregate macro variables, like GDP and the consumer price index, is not a recipe for future economic success. This is even more true against the current backdrop of an ageing and ever more unequal society, and political polarisation.

We have a lot to gain if we draw the right lessons from the past decade. The current economic realities of many societies are not pretty. Public policies need to take into account their distributional consequences. Living standards increase for everyone when conducive public policies allow and empower individuals and corporations to thrive. As such, we have an inherent self-interest in departing from the status quo. For societies to be better off in 10 years' time, the focus of our public policy needs to change.


Quantum materials will service humanity's problems

—Suchitra Sebastian, Associate Professor, Department of Physics, Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge



'Old age' care starts when you're young

—Yvonne Arivalagan, Global Future Council fellow (longevity)

If old age represents the accumulation of every advantage and disadvantage built up throughout a person’s life, whether economic, social, environmental or behavioural, then surely the solution to healthy ageing lies in a whole-life approach. However, concerns about a patient’s financial, social and emotional health often emerge too late, and well after a serious medical diagnosis. A holistic, multi-disciplinary and person-centred model of care can ensure dignity, comfort and well-being during the final phase of a patient’s life.

My vision for 2030 is that these comprehensive and wellness-oriented aspects of care are integrated much earlier in each person’s life, and become part of primary care. As the global burden of disease shifts towards non-communicable diseases, much more can be done around the world to enhance the capacity of the primary care sector to care for a person’s overall welfare. This approach would include addressing socio-economic constraints and their impact on lifestyle choices (such as diet, exercise, alcohol and tobacco consumption), mental health issues such as depression, stress and loneliness, and other social or environmental barriers, all of which are proven to have significant repercussions for the ageing process.

As an easily accessible point of contact the healthcare system for millions of people, primary care providers hold the key to shaping the ageing process for the better. Beyond preventative healthcare and screening for early disease detection and management, how can sound policies empower primary care providers to offer services like lifestyle counselling or tailored care plans that promote better health proactively? It is time for policymakers and industry leaders to reimagine the way societies structure, finance and deliver primary care to promote healthy ageing for all.


We use technology to make policies based on evidence

—Jason Lange, executive director, Office of Best Practice Regulation, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet of Australia

Legislators and regulators require strong policy development tools to capitalize on the opportunities that come with technological advancement. These include policy redesign and fit-for-purpose regulatory and enforcement actions - all while balancing opportunities, impacts, risks and security aspects.

To maximise the benefits of science and technology, elected decision-makers need access to evidence-based analysis which walks them through the impact of proposed policy changes. Defining problems clearly using thorough cost-benefit analysis and studies of distributional impacts will be central to understanding and taking advantage of innovative technologies.

Regulators should work with affected stakeholders, industry leaders and technology partners to incorporate technological innovation into their decision-making processes. Involving stakeholders at the design phase will help to both test assumptions with affected parties, and to map-out expected behavioural responses.

Finally, timely publishing of impact analyses is essential to ensure that decision-makers can shape public policy based on early and regular feedback, and that stakeholders can be well-informed of decisions that government has taken.


A new kind of capitalism takes root

—Sonja Haut, head of strategic measurement and materiality, Novartis

In 2030, a new economy is established that addresses the needs of all stakeholders – communities, vendors, customers, employees and company owners. This new breed of new capitalism is enabled thanks to a new way of assessing the performance of companies based on a valuation of their overall impact - a change in which policymakers and standard-setters have played a crucial role. Governments, stock markets and businesses fully embrace the new order that has given rise to a thriving new type of public-private partnership.

This new type of public-private partnership has allowed mankind to effectively address major challenges and to resolve some of them; extreme poverty belongs to the past, as do increasing CO2 emissions levels and the huge volumes of plastic in the ocean. There have been improvements in tackling other challenges, too; forced labour, child labour and corruption - to name a few - have been significantly reduced.

The new way of assessing business performance is based on standardized, comprehensive and simple impact-valuation metrics. These enhance the usual financial statements with other dimensions like society, human rights and the environment, leading to a ‘total impact’ rating that is used by management and investors alike. Governments appreciate ‘total impact’ as key information in understanding the relevance of a sector and individual business, beyond the GDP and employment figures that were the dominant measures of wealth contribution 10 years ago. ‘Total impact’ is a simple way of assessing how much a sector or a business contributes to social coherence, citizens’ wellbeing, environmental protection and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Consumers and investors appreciate the transparency that ‘total impact’ provides for each product.

Impact valuation expresses what matters in monetary terms, allowing the full range of stakeholders to agree what 'good' looks like - in the economy and in society.


Cutting poverty in half with information technology

—Iván Mantilla, vice minister of connectivity in Colombia

In 2030 the diversification and sophistication of productive activities, enabled using information and communication technology (ICT), will have contributed to a 50% reduction of poverty around the world.

The first decade of the 21st century showed us that the use of ICT has positive effects on the productivity of individuals, households and the economy in general.

The World Bank found that, for developing countries, an increase of 10% in the fixed internet penetration rate was associated with an average increase of 1.38% in the GDP growth rate between 1980 and 2006.

Other studies, meanwhile, have found that when broadband is introduced, GDP per capita is between 2.7% and 3.9% higher than when it has not yet been introduced. Inspired by these international results, Colombia’s National Planning Department (DNP) found in 2018 that increasing the average download speed in Colombia by 1 Mbps is associated with a 2.9% increase in GDP per capita. With this purpose, progress has been made in broadening the access, use and appropriation of ICT. Public efforts to do so were focused on the poor and other vulnerable populations, as well as on rural and remote areas.

Therefore the rapid progress made in closing the digital divide and ensuring the almost half of the world's population who lacked access to the internet in 2019 were connected, was the key element in leading social and economic development up to 2030. This allowed us to enhance the great capacity of innovation, generation of added value and diversification of human ingenuity that - supported by technologies such as artificial intelligence - increased its efficiency and effectiveness. All this was achieved by making sure no one was left behind.


Hyper-transparency is making corruption a thing of the past

—Alison Taylor, managing director, Business for Social Responsibility

In 2030, a primary goal of business is to earn and retain public trust. A narrow focus on shareholder value and regulatory compliance is widely deemed hopelessly regressive, and companies understand that they operate in a hyper-transparent environment in which everything they say or do will instantly become public knowledge. Questions of corporate purpose are no longer approached as marketing exercises, so companies that cannot explain and measure how they provide value to society are failing.

Corporate anti-corruption efforts are no longer formulaic attempts to deflect regulatory pressure, and now address all forms of abuse of entrusted power for private gain. Public disgust over global corruption has forced a reframing of the anti-corruption environment, and governments and businesses have had no choice but to meet the moment by creating meaningful beneficial ownership registries, broadening corporate due-diligence requirements to encompass human rights, and building institutional accountability.

Meanwhile, the role of accountants, lawyers, and other gatekeepers in facilitating corruption has become clear, and new ethical standards have been created. It is now considered unacceptable to avoid taxes, conduct backdoor lobbying, and operate via hidden ownership structures. The systemic impacts of corruption are far better understood. Companies see cooperating to solve profound global challenges as the only way for them to survive and thrive over the long term.


Technology in space underpins security on earth

—Daniela Genta, Airbus Defence and Space; Member of the Global Future Council on Space Technologies