Jorgen Randers and the new limits to growth: a forecast for 2052

5 November 2012

Jørgen Randers: "We already live in a manner that cannot be continued for generations without major change."
Jørgen Randers: "We already live in a manner that cannot be continued for generations without major change."

Forty years ago Jørgen Randers, a 27-year-old PhD student at MIT, coauthored The Limits to Growth- a trailblazing study into how humanity would adapt to the limits imposed by the Earth's finite resources that became the best-selling environmental book of all time.

This year Professor Randers - who is in Australia and speaking at Sydney Ideas this week - updated that 1972 study with a new report that argues humankind might not survive if it continues on its path of over-consumption and short-termism.

In his latest report, titled 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years, he argues humanity has already overshot a number of limits imposed by the Earth's finite resources. "The most worrisome overshoot is caused by climate gas emissions," he says.

"We already live in a manner that cannot be continued for generations without major change. Humanity has overshot the earth's resources, and in some cases we will see local collapse before 2052 - we are emitting twice as much greenhouse gas every year as can be absorbed by the world's forests and oceans."

Using painstaking research, and drawing on contributions from more than 30 leading scientists, economists and sustainability experts, he concludes that:

  • While the process of adapting humanity to the planet's limitations has started, the human response will be too slow, putting the world on a dangerous track toward self-reinforcing global warming in the second half of the 21st century.
  • CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere will continue to grow and cause a 2°C rise in temperature in 2052; temperatures will increase by 2.8°C in 2080, which may well trigger self-reinforcing climate change.
  • The current dominant global economies, particularly the United States, will stagnate. Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa and ten leading emerging economies (Indonesia, Venezuela, Mexico, Vietnam, Turkey, Iran, Thailand, Ukraine, Argentina, and Saudi Arabia) will progress.
  • China will be a success story, because of its ability to act.
  • There will still be three billion poor in 2052.
  • Falling fertility as a result of rapid urbanisation means global population will peak at 8.1 billion in 2042 and then decline.
  • Global GDP will grow much slower than expected because of easing productivity growth in mature economies, easing pressure on conventional resource limits (for example oil, food, water).

The new report says the excessively short-term political and economic model that most countries have adopted is the main cause of future problems. "We need a system of governance that takes a more long-term view, that puts more emphasis on our children's and grandchildren's interest," says Professor Randers.

"Today's young will have to pay dearly for their parents' pensions and national debts, while also facing high unemployment and expensive housing. It won't seem like a fair deal and I expect the youth to rebel."

The report was commissioned by the Club of Rome, the international think-tank that aims to stimulate debate on achieving a sustainable future. It updates the issues first raised in The Limits to Growth, which created shockwaves by questioning the ideal of permanent growth.

Professor Jørgen Randers works on climate issues and scenario analysis at the BI Norwegian Business School. He lectures internationally on sustainable development and climate, is a non-executive member of a number of corporate boards, and is the author of many books and scientific papers.

Event details

What: The Limits to Growth - From Forecast to Reality, a Sydney Ideas lecture

When: 6.30pm, Tuesday 6 November

Where: Foyer, New Law Building, Camperdown Campus. See map and directions 

Cost: This event is free and open to all, with no registration or booking required.

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