Nationalism, Migration & More Drive Global Challenges; Leaders Must Step Up, Says Report

A new report urges world leaders to stop addressing global sustainability challenges for the short term and to instead seek to change entire systems. The world is at a “perfect storm” of converging trends that will significantly impact our future, and world leaders must collaborate in order to change course, according to Forum for the Future’s report The Future of Sustainability 2019: Driving systems change in turbulent times.

Collaboration must come in “new, innovative, and even radical ways” in order to avoid climate change disaster, according to the report.

Social, economic and environmental shifts will be affecting sustainability in key areas, according to the report. These include:

Rising nationalism

We may be leaving the globalist era and moving into a period of fragmentation and competition, according to the report. Such a “divisive narrative” could threaten to undermine progress in sustainability. Smart navigation of the shift will be crucial to maintaining effective action on sustainability.

The “plastic kickback”

Despite almost unprecedented attention and activity, responses to pervasive plastic pollution have so far largely failed to address the root causes and consequences. “We remain desperately addicted to this cheap, ubiquitous material,” the report states. Efforts must be combined with a focus on radical innovation and behavior change to tackle the “throwaway” culture.


Migration reached its highest point since WWII in 2018, and climate change will become a major driver of it in years to come, potentially sparking a humanitarian crisis and protectionism. Global migration of at least 100 million people, driven by climate change, has the long-term potential to exacerbate geopolitical instability, leading to greater inequality and the need for a radical change in mindset to cope with transient populations.

Climate change has been identified as a major factor behind the Central American migrant caravan heading towards the US border.


Biodiversity is in free fall, according to the report. “More urgent, scaled up and systemic action is needed to protect and enhance biodiversity, with new ways of reflecting nature’s value and importance to our survival,” it states.

The extinction rate of species is now thought to be about 1,000 times higher than before humans dominated the planet.

The ‘onlife’

In 2018, the US repealed net neutrality. The move could allow internet service providers to censor online content or charge extra for services, creating a “fast lane” that could unfairly penalize poorer households and small businesses.

With half the world online in 2019, an almost unregulated space could have potentially serious consequences for society and our ability to create change.

Next steps

These and other trends form the “operating context” of the 2020s, according to the report.

The report offers six broad-strokes suggestions for how climate leadership from the world’s largest economies can begin to address these challenges:

  • Recognize the true scale of the problem
  • Build empathy and foster connections beyond our fields
  • Identify and address root causes
  • Align on goals
  • Understand your role in the system
  • Experiment, learn, share, be open, and collaborate




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