The Global Opportunity Reports aims to demonstrate that the great sustainability challenges facing societies today do not have to be seen only as risks to lifestyles and businesses as we know them. They can be seen as wakeup calls for us to start building a better world.
These are what we call opportunities. They are strategies or avenues of action that stakeholders in business, politics, finance or civil society can choose to travel when addressing global risks. The report intends to showcase how a fairly simple and reproducible process can challenge our mindsets and inspire us to see risks as opportunities.
Three things define the term ‘opportunities’ in the Global Opportunity Reports:
First, opportunities are always inspired by a risk or challenge of global importance and address this. We do not presume to make the point that the opportunities highlighted in this report are the only valid strategy choices, but we do believe that each of them offers considerable value to societies.
Second, opportunities are defined as opportunities for societies, not just for individuals or businesses. This does not imply that they can not also represent opportunities for individuals or businesses – most often they will – only that the opportunities must first and foremost generate significant benefits for societies at large.
Third, opportunities must be sustainable. They must put societies on a more sustainable trajectory. In this respect we define sustainability as it was originally phrased in the Brundtland report: “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Below you will see the five risks that have inspired the analysis in the Global Opportunity Report 2015 and the 15 opportunities they have inspired. In the report we present the opportunities indepth and describe how they have been received by more than 6,000 private and public sector leaders participating in the survey.
Extreme Weather are meteorological events of great destructive power including but not limited to heat waves, sudden heavy downpours, tropical cyclones, flooding and droughts. Extreme weather is by far the most costly type of natural disaster, and flooding is the main source of both human and economic losses.
Continued Lock in to Fossil Fuels refers to the inertia created by large economical and infrastructural investments. In the energy system lock-in to fossil fuels inhibits public and private efforts to introduce alternative energy technologies. Today the share of fossil fuels account for 87% of all energy use and despite growing investments in renewable energy, this figure has been constant the last twenty years.
Unsustainable Urbanization is a risk all over the world. While urbanization in itself is not a problem, uncontrolled city growth can be a hazard to health, the economy and the environment if the ongoing urban expansion is not planned properly taking into account environmental, social and economic needs of the population as well as climate mitigation and adaptation.
Lack of Fresh Water is becoming a risk as the accelerating demand pushed by demographic pressure and increasing competition for water reserves results in the risk of water resources not meeting demands. Demographic pressures, the rate of economic development, urbanization and pollution are all putting unprecedented pressure on the worlds water resource.
The Continued Rise in Chronic Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes and chronic lung diseases are not passed from person to person, but are mainly a consequence of environmental and lifestyle influences. NCDs affect an increasing number of people globally. While some are able to cope – especially in the more affluent regions – most are suffering from a range of detrimental effects including loss of life expectancy or quality, lower (to no) income, loss of education and weakened family ties.
Select a risk to filter opportunities below:
Although creating a safe and livable environment in the face of extreme weather is one of the most pressing challenges facing societies in the 21st century, tools are available today to minimize the impacts. Early warning systems can predict when and where extreme weather events like tropical cyclones or meltwater floods will hit, providing millions of people with the extra time they need to protect themselves, their families and their possessions.
Today, institutional investors in the OECD countries alone manage assets worth almost 80 trillion USD. If just a fraction of this large volume of capital were directed towards investments in infrastructure resilient to extreme weather, both societies and investors would benefit. For instance, local and national governments would receive the help they need to meet the vast capital costs of investments required to protect cities and infrastructure from increasingly frequent extreme weather events. At the same time, institutional investors would get the chance to invest in asset classes with a steady income stream in the long term. These assets also have a low association with other classes of assets, thus lowering investors’ overall risk profile.
Combating extreme weather need not be costly. In fact, adopting a deliberate sustainability approach towards measures taken to build resilience against extreme weather can generate a variety of co-benefits for a small additional cost. Relevant initiatives range from investments in public transport and renewable energy generation to creating city parks or developing coastal wetlands, which would also protect fresh water resources. What ties all of these components together is the wealth of potential benefits that could result, including better cityscapes, increased biodiversity and reduced public health expenses.
Implementing a range of regulatory initiatives can accelerate the transition to cleaner energy generation. These include redirecting fossil fuel subsidies, favouring low-carbon products through trade regulation, and setting a price on fossil fuels that reflects their true costs. If implemented in a concerted manner, these initiatives could act as a strong vehicle for shifting demand away from fossil fuels towards low-carbon alternatives.
Autonomous off-grid or micro-grid renewable energy generation technologies are gaining momentum in both emerging and developed economies. Distributed energy generation is very well placed to meet the needs of the 1.4 billion people who lack access to energy worldwide. However, there is also growing interest in decentralized energy within developed countries. This suggests that the viability of distributed energy generation will not become redundant in low-income communities as they grow richer. In Germany, for example, households and farmers are now the major players in renewable energy generation, with utilities today owning only 12 percent of the country’s renewable energy assets.
The consumer demand for greener product and service options can drive a shift towards a more sustainable economy. Changing consumer behaviour can result in, for example, an increased uptake of renewable energy in households and selection of consumer products made with the use of renewables.
In developing countries, most of the people migrating from rural to urban areas move to relatively small cities. These “emerging cities” are currently less burdened by overcrowding than many existing megacities. As they grow, far-sighted planning and investments can ensure that they are developed in a safe, productive and environmentally friendly fashion. This can result in more liveable cities, but it can also dramatically reduce the capital costs of accommodating the influx of new arrivals. Indeed, focusing on developing the emerging cities in a compact, green and connected manner can reduce the capital costs of infrastructure investment by 6 percent (or 3 trillion USD globally) between now and 2030. This would simultaneously create impressive annual returns due to energy savings, higher productivity and reduced healthcare costs.
The concept of smart cities encompasses the planning, designing and operating of cities in ways that foster efficiency, liveability and sustainability. Making urban areas “smart” demands both traditional disciplines like city planning and architecture (which can realize the gains of more efficient buildings and transport systems), but also new technologies such as smart grids, sensors and big data. Lastly, developing a smart city also requires collaboration with the people and companies based in the area.
Providing the inhabitants of rural areas and small towns with the proper living conditions and opportunities to prosper will both combat poverty and reduce the incentive to migrate to cities. Directing efforts towards a suite of development strategies targeted at villages and small towns in rural areas can create the basis of economic development with a low environmental impact and slow down the influx of people to sprawling megacities.
Making use of traditional water management techniques along with modern irrigation technology can dramatically reduce the amount of fresh water used in agriculture. This would also ease the pressure on fresh water sources, leaving more for domestic and industrial uses while increasing crop yields at the same time.
Developing new sources of fresh water can help to meet the needs of populations and industries in areas where traditional sources cannot meet the growing demand. Although increased water efficiency and conservation can go a long way, existing fresh water resources cannot adequately meet demand in arid parts of the world (especially in large cities).
Smart regulation can significantly influence fresh water availability and consumption. As a public good, water is often heavily regulated. Reforming these regulations can reduce consumption in several ways and even result in more water being available for households and industry.
Mobile technologies, digital communications and social media are powerful tools that can be used to prevent NCDs by creating networks for health access, giving both patients and doctors new tools for prevention and treatment. Prominently, mobile health (mHealth) initiatives that use mobile phones to gather and deliver health information have significant potential in this field.
Early childhood and adolescence offer an unparalleled opportunity for investment in human capital, including the prevention of NCDs. Over half of the 36 million annual NCD deaths result from behaviours that started or were reinforced during adolescence, highlighting the long-term health potential of focusing efforts on nurturing a healthy generation.
Much of the global NCD burden can be prevented if healthy options were the natural ones with regard to the many daily choices that all people make. Making it easy for people to enjoy healthy diets and engage in sufficient amounts of daily physical activity are important aspects of this approach.