Joseph Lewis
December 2022

Can global cooperation fight back against megatrends?

two people shaking hands over a table

This article is part of our Future of ES23 horizon scanning & foresight project on the future of the environmental sciences. Find out more about the project and how you can get involved.

Megatrends are global level observable patterns of progress and change, so it is troubling to look across lists of megatrends and discover that many are full of global environmental challenges, or the significant social and economic pressures which cause those challenges. It speaks to the scale of severity associated with these environmental challenges that more than one has now reached the point of being referred to as a ‘megatrend’.

At the beginning of the IES’s Future of ES23 foresight project, we are reflecting on the megatrends which will set the background for the environmental sciences for years to come. For the foreseeable future, two major and interlinking environmental crises will invariably play a role: climate change and biodiversity loss. 

In this blog, the IES reflects on the two major UN environment summits at the end of 2022 – the UNFCCC COP27 climate summit and the UNCBD COP15 biodiversity summit – and asks whether or not international cooperation has the potential to effectively respond to environmental challenges that have reached the level of megatrends at the global scale. In that context, the IES considers how we can achieve transformative change.

What happened at COP27 and COP15?

Reflecting on international cooperation on environmental challenges

Although global cooperation on contemporary environmental challenges may be criticised for not always delivering on its goals, it is easy to forget how far we have come and the successes we have already been able to make when it comes to global environmental cooperation.

Can the global community reverse megatrend-level environmental challenges?

There are many reasons to be optimistic about the future of global cooperation in the face of environmental crises. The collective human population has a considerable power to address the systems of production and consumption which embed unsustainable pressures on the natural world. Empowered by interdisciplinary environmental science across borders, we are well-equipped with the understanding and tools we need to create transformative change.

Despite that optimism, we must recognise the scale of the challenges we face. Several environmental crises are now among the most well-recognised megatrends, so we cannot underplay the extent to which they will shape the future of the human and natural world. 

In that context, there are practical steps we can take to ensure that the megatrends causing – and caused by – environmental crises are properly addressed:

  • Environmental science must play a role in predicting the future and preparing us to adapt to life under linked environmental crises – the future of environmental sciences is to play an increasing role in supporting decisions made across society;
  • Our approach to change must be transformative, looking beyond incremental or atomistic changes which do not address the systems embedding climate and nature pressures;
  • We must recognise the consequences of our decisions for the natural world and the potential for our choices to achieve multiple benefits for people and the planet.

What next?

As action increases on a global scale, the importance of megatrends and their global response becomes ever more interconnected with the future of the environmental sciences. In that context, scientific and political cooperation remains of paramount importance.

If you want to support the work of the IES to shape the future of the environmental sciences, you can join as an affiliate, or if you’re a professional in the environmental sector working with science, consider becoming a member of the IES.