Climate ChangeFuture Climate Change Scenarios Unveiled: Project Distender shows how Our World Might Change by 2050

25. Juni 2024
Foto: william-bossen-unsplash

A new study reveals possible futures for our world in 2050, ranging from utopian communities to dystopian nightmares. Discover what experts project for Austria, Spain, and other regions in this eye-opening work from the EU project DISTENDER. As a project partner, Steinbeis Europa Zentrum supports the implementation of the dissemination, communication and exploitation strategy through targeted networking activities at local, regional and international level as well as through exchange with other EU projects on socio-economic risks of climate change in Europe.

In an effort to envision our world's possible futures in terms of climate change adaptation and mitigation, the DISTENDER project has developed a set of socio-economic scenarios known as Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs). These scenarios, crafted through intensive workshops with stakeholders across five core case study areas, offer a glimpse into what our societies might look like by 2050. The study spans Austria, and areas in the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, and Italy, each presenting diverse sets of narratives from utopian to dystopian futures.

Austria in 2050: A Community-Oriented Paradise

One scenario, SSP1-Sustainability, paints Austria as a country where the economy is driven by sharing rather than growth. In this future outlook, communities are tightly knit, focusing on local produce and self-reliance. Universal basic income, high-quality healthcare, and education are available to all, and the country prioritises biodiversity and nature conservation.

Diverse Futures: From Optimism to Despair

In stark contrast, SSP3-Regional Rivalry depicts a bleak future where development stalls and societal collapse looms. This negative scenario is characterised by unsustainable practices and widespread ruin, resonating across all studied regions.

Interestingly, SSP4-Inequality and SSP5-Fossil-fuelled Development show mixed perspectives. For instance, SSP4's narratives range from "Mad Max" dystopias in Italy to a more moderate disappearance of the middle class elsewhere. Meanwhile, SSP5 could either be a promising "Northern Dream" in the Netherlands, or potential disaster driven by environmental destruction in Spain and Portugal.

Comparing Narratives

The scenarios are not just speculative fiction; they are tools to help policymakers and communities prepare for various possible futures. They help showing the diversity of futures that might become a reality. By considering a range of narratives, stakeholders can better understand the possible outcomes of current socio-economic trends and take proactive steps to steer towards more desirable futures.

As the world faces unprecedented challenges, these SSPs offer a crucial framework for navigating the uncertainties of the next few decades. Whether we end up in a cooperative paradise or a fractured dystopia will depend largely on the choices we make today, and will strongly determine what climate mitigation and/or adaptation options are most effective.


DISTENDER ( DevelopIng STratEgies by integrating mitigatioN, aDaptation and participation to climate changE Risks) is developing actionable strategies for climate change mitigation and adaptation, bringing together scientists, businesses, governments, policy makers and citizens. The project is funded by the European Union’s Horizon Europe programme with 6,4 million euros from June 2022 to November 2025. The 14 project partners develop a methodological framework to bring together adaptation and mitigation strategies against the risks of climate change and to enable their creation through participatory processes of those involved in decision-making. Five EU-level case studies will test the holistic approach developed by the project against specific climate risks, and six follower case studies will be the first to replicate. Finally, a Decision Support System will be developed to help policy makers take the most out of the knowledge, tools and recommendations generated by DISTENDER and further replicate them.

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Dr. Alparslan Akkus
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Dr. Alparslan Akkus

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