Hull Marina by Steve Morgan

Browse site:

Advanced Search



Welcome to the Futures section of the website.

While no-one can predict the future, ‘futures research’ can help us to identify opportunities and potential risks and can therefore be a vital tool in assisting policy-makers in developing strategies to manage the region’s future better.

A key function of Yorkshire Futures' work is to undertake and coordinate forward-looking research to help prepare the region for the future. The Futures Programme was set up to:

  • Gather Futures reports and data
  • Host Futures discussion events (on various topics, to stimulate debate and action around futures issues)
  • Develop scenarios.

If you would like further information regarding the Futures Programme, please Bea Jefferson, Programme Manager, email:


Northern Economic Futures: Report of Proceedings

The Northern Way has been working closely with the Spatial Economics Research Centre (SERC) on Northern Futures – a programme of research which aims to synthesise a wide ranging evidence base on the long term economic future of the North of England.

Northern Futures has brought together the work and the thinking of leading experts from academic, research and policy backgrounds alongside The Northern Way’s own research outputs to consider the development issues facing the North of England and territories like it in the coming years.

This Focus North supplement aims to summarise the outputs of the programme to date.It includes short summaries of 12 papers.
The full papers and other documents mentioned in this supplement are available for free download on the Northern Way website

The Future of Food and Farming: Challenges and choices for global sustainability

How can a future global population of 9 billion people all be fed healthily and sustainably?

The Foresight project Global Food and Farming Futures explores the increasing pressures on the global food system between now and 2050. The Report highlights the decisions that policy makers need to take today, and in the years ahead, to ensure that a global population rising to nine billion or more can be fed sustainably and equitably.

The Foresight report makes a compelling case for urgent action to redesign the global food system to meet the challenge of feeding the world over the next 40 years.

The Project analysed five key challenges for the future:

A. Balancing future demand and supply sustainably – to ensure that food supplies are affordable.
B. Ensuring that there is adequate stability in food prices – and protecting the most vulnerable from the volatility that does occur.
C. Achieving global access to food and ending hunger - this recognises that producing enough food in the world so that everyone can potentially be fed is not the same thing as ensuring food security for all.
D. Managing the contribution of the food system to the mitigation of climate change.
E. Maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services while feeding the world.

Agricultural Outlook 2010-2019: OECD and FAO

World food prices are set to rise by as much as 40% over the coming decade, amid growing demand from emerging markets and for biofuel production. Farm commodity prices have fallen from the record peaks of 2007-08, but are unlikely to drop back to previous average levels, according to the annual joint report from the OECD and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) published in June, Agricultural Outlook 2010-2019, which warns of rising hunger and food insecurity. Highlights of the report and an English Summary are available to download.

The report suggests that average wheat and coarse grain prices will be between 15-40% higher in real terms (adjusted for inflation) over the next 10 years than between 1997-2006. Real prices for vegetable oils are expected to be more than 40% higher, and dairy prices between 16-45% higher. One of the factors driving up food prices is the controversial biofuels industry.

Rises in livestock prices are expected to be less marked, although world demand for meat is climbing as increasing wealth in emerging economies alters dietary habits.

Although the report sees production increasing to meet demand (assuming “normal” conditions with no unexpected “shocks”), it warns that recent price spikes and the economic crisis have contributed to a rise in hunger and food insecurity. About 1 billion people are now estimated to be undernourished.

Zero Carbon Britain 2030: Centre for Alternative Technology

In June 2010 the Centre for Alternative Technology published a report, Zero Carbon Britain 2030: A New Energy Strategy, a comprehensive energy strategy that indicates how Britain can eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and break its dependence on imported energy by 2030 by significantly increasing energy efficiency and by installing massive renewable energy generation.

The report aims to integrate thinking across a range of sectors and identify potential for 'Powering Down' through reducing demand and 'Powering Up' renewables to 100% by 2030, with no requirement for nuclear energy. Key priorities of the report include transport, buildings, land use and policy.

Setting this report in a wider context of global interest in sustainable energy systems, INFORSE, the International Network for Sustainable Energy, has been developing Vision2050 models at global, regional and national scales, which demonstrate how countries can move towards supplying 100% of their energy needs from renewable sources by 2050.

Age Matters: Realising the potential of an ageing population

Demographic changes are going to affect many aspects of life in Yorkshire and Humber over the coming years. It is suggest that there will be 1.14 million pensioners by 2021, with a disproportionate increase in the older population in rural parts of the region in the north and east.

A study of the impact of the ageing population, commissioned by Yorkshire Futures from Experian, has just been published. This report points to the economic contribution made by older people, as members of the workforce, entrepreneurs, carers and volunteers, and as consumers. It also highlights the challenges, particularly in terms of meeting housing demands and increased needs for social care and health services. Services will need to reflect the growing diversity of the older population and an uneven spatial distribution of older people, particularly the poorest. The report includes examples of good practice in housing and service provision, and can be downloaded here.

Adaptability limit to climate change: the earth by 2300 

Climate change could make much of the world too hot for human habitation by AD 2300, if we continue to burn fossil fuels. A recent paper suggests that heat stress may mean that humans would be unable to adapt or survive in some parts of the world. Animals, including livestock, would be similarly affected. Heat stress is the combination of rising temperatures and increased humidity, and although it is often assumed that humans will be able to adapt to global warming, there is a physical limit to such adaptation. Populations faced with heat stress would have two options: to rely on extensive use of air conditioning, or to relocate to a cooler climate.

The area of land that might be made uninhabitable by heat stress could dwarf that affected by rising sea levels. Warming of 7 °C would make some regions uninhabitable, but with 11–12 °C warming, which the researchers suggest could have a 50% chance of happening in the long term, the majority of the human population could be affected. The paper is published in the US-based Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Climate change and UK droughts: The Met Office

In May the Met Office published news of two studies on climate change, one on increasing ocean temperatures, and the other on droughts in the UK. The first study, on the heat content of the oceans from 1993 to 2008, shows that the upper layer of the global ocean has been warming steadily over this period, indicating a strong climate change signal. Warming of the ocean accounts for about one-third to one-half of global sea level rise, since seawater expands as it heats up.

The second study, on how climate change could affect the frequency of extreme droughts in the UK by 2100, used the drought of 1976, one of the worst on record, as a benchmark. The researchers running the Met Office climate model found a range of possibilities in their projections, with the majority indicating that similarly severe droughts will become more common, occurring once a decade in the worst scenario.

In 2010 we may be heading for a drought year; figures from the Met Office for the first five months of this year have shown how rainfall totals across the UK for this period have been the lowest for over 40 years.

Horizon Scanning and Scenario Building - Scenarios for Skills 2020: UKCES

Horizon Scanning and Scenario Building - Scenarios for Skills 2020, published in March 2010 by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), addresses the question: “What will be the drivers and impact of change on the employment and skills landscape in England by 2020; what are the challenges and opportunities for government and employers?”

The research set out to investigate the future trends and drivers and prioritise their impact on future skills requirements. It also identified early indicators of new and emerging industries and sectors. A number of factors have the potential to cause disruptive change; and beyond 2020 there could also be a number of truly transformational changes. It is vital that the UK skills system is able to respond quickly, for example by up-skilling the existing workforce and ensuring that older workers can access new skills.

The report identifies as the most pressing challenges: dealing with uncertainty; improving the employment and skills system; raising the ambition of employers and individuals; dealing with unspoken assumptions about the future; and understanding technology life-cycles within industrial and skills policy.

Other recent work on peak oil

November 2009 saw the publication of a paper by a research team at the University of Uppsala, “The Peak of the Oil Age”, analysing the supply predictions in the 2008 report of the International Energy Agency (IEA). The Swedish researchers concluded that the IEA’s underlying assumptions are unrealistic, and that world oil production is will start declining in the very near future, if indeed we have not passed the tipping point of peak oil already. In the same month, a whistleblower alleged that the problem of impending peak oil production had been deliberately downplayed over a long period by the IEA for political reasons.

In another academic paper published in February 2010, researchers in Kuwait published a paper forecasting that world crude oil production will peak in 2014.

Closer to home, in March 2010 a research team from the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, Oxford University, published a paper on world oil reserves. The authors conclude that the age of cheap oil has now ended, and they also suggest that 2014 is the likely year when demand exceeds new supply. They say that the world's oil reserves have been exaggerated by up to a third.

And the oil multinational, Royal Dutch Shell, predicts in its Shell Energy Scenarios to 2050 that the output of conventional oil and gas is close to peaking, and that after 2015, supplies of easily accessible oil and gas will no longer keep up with demand.

The Oil Crunch - Wake-Up Call for the UK Economy: ITPOES

In February 2010 the second report of the UK Industry Task-Force on Peak Oil and Energy Security (ITPOES) was launched. The Oil Crunch – A Wake-Up Call for the UK Economy suggests that within five years, oil shortages, insecurity of supply and price volatility will destabilise economic, political and social activity. The coming crisis could be even more serious than the credit crunch.

The Task-Force warns that the UK must not be caught out by the coming ‘oil crunch’ in the same way it was with the credit crunch, and that policies to address peak oil must be a priority. Their message is that we are leaving the era of cheap energy, and we have to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. The “easy oil” that makes up most of existing capacity is declining fast, and the new capacity coming on stream – often from “not-so-easy” oil such as from deep-sea drilling, and from “unconventional” sources such as tar sands and shale – will not be replacing it fast enough from 2011 onwards.

Global Oil Depletion: UKERC

The Perfect Storm paper highlighted energy shortages as one of its key drivers, and the question of "peak oil", which has been debated for many years, is a significant component of future energy shortages. Peak oil production is the point at which the depletion of existing reserves can no longer be replaced by additions of new flow capacity. Some believe that crude oil production will meet rising demand for decades to come, but an increasingly vocal group - including many experts from within the oil industry - claim that a production peak is imminent.

 In October 2009, the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) launched its report, Global Oil Depletion: An Assessment of the Evidence for a Near-Term Peak in Global Oil Production. The report argues that conventional oil production is likely to peak between now and 2030, with a significant risk of a peak before 2020. It suggests that we are entering an era of increasingly expensive oil as resources get harder to find, extract and produce, although there is too much geological, political and economic uncertainty to predict an exact date for peak oil. 

Climate Forcing of Geological and Geomorphological Hazards: Royal Society

Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano has been wreaking havoc on European air travel in recent weeks, and scientists are concerned that the volcano may trigger an eruption by its much larger neighbour, Katla, as it did during its last eruption in 1821-23.

It is timely, then, that April saw the publication by the Royal Society of a volume of scientific papers on the possible role of global warming in triggering seismic events such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A; the Preface, by Professor Bill McGuire, can be downloaded free). This addition to the range of threats posed by climate change was widely picked up by newspapers such as The Guardian.

Significant warming of the atmosphere in the distant past can be linked to changes in geological activity, and it may be that in the decades and centuries to come, climate change will again increase the risk of earthquakes and eruptions. Melting glaciers and rising sea levels change the pressures on the earth’s surface, which could make seismic shifts and ruptures more likely. Climate change does not simply involve the atmosphere and hydrosphere, but can also affect the Earth’s crust and mantle.

OECD: Reports on Water Pricing and Sustainable Management

Still on the subject of water, the OECD has also recently argued that water is a finite resource that must be valued at a higher price in order to change the wasteful habits of consumers, and to raise funds to maintain water supply systems. Government subsidies for agricultural production, for example, can encourage wasteful water use and pollution. The World Bank estimates that about 700 million people are living in countries experiencing water stress or scarcity, and that by 2035, 3 billion people will be living in conditions of severe water stress.

Just before World Water Day on 22 March, the OECD, which represents the world's major economies, published three reports calling for water prices to rise: Pricing Water Resources and Water and Sanitation Services; Sustainable Management of Water Resources in Agriculture; and Innovative Financing Mechanisms for the Water Sector.

Raising prices is controversial, however, and protecting the poor should have a high priority. People on low incomes in Hungary and Mexico, for example, sometimes pay over 4% of their disposable income on water and wastewater services. Balancing financial, environmental and social objectives in water pricing policies remains a challenge in most OECD countries.

Global Water Scarcity: Risks and Challenges for Business 

Future water scarcity continues to be a major concern. A new report by WWF and Lloyd’s 360 Risk Insight, Global Water Scarcity: Risks and Challenges for Business (26 April), points to the growing threat to businesses and existing business models from water scarcity, as populations continue to grow and climate change increases. Accessible freshwater is a finite resource, and freshwater ecosystems are in rapid decline globally because of over-use, pollution and the proliferation of poorly-planned dams. 

The threat will be not only to businesses operating in areas of water scarcity, but also to their business partners elsewhere, as the significance of “embedded water” is increasingly realised. The report identifies strategies for companies to manage water risk, and to influence others in their supply chains. Initiatives such as developing water footprinting methods, company water stewardship standards, and guidelines for engaging with governments to improve public policy on water resources, are highlighted. Businesses will have to look to their long-term futures if they are to become as much a part of the solution as governments and non-governmental organisations. 

Global Water Security: Engineering the Future Alliance

In April 2010 The Perfect Storm’s message has been reinforced, with the publication of Global Water Security: An Engineering Perspective, by the Engineering the Future Alliance. Although the UK is notoriously wet, it is estimated that two-thirds of all the water used by its population – its “water footprint” – is “embedded” in imported food and other goods.

“Embedded water" is the water used in growing and processing. Embedded in a pint of beer, for example, is about 74 litres of water. A cup of coffee embeds about 140 litres, a cotton T-shirt 2,000 litres, and a kilogram of steak 15,000 litres.

The UK's reliance on embedded water is exacerbating water shortages in other countries. The engineers argue that the UK must take the lead by tackling its own water footprint through managing its own water resources sustainably, and also by managing the virtual water embedded in its imports.

Foresight: Land Use Futures Report

February 2010 saw the launch of a major report from the Government’s Foresight Programme on Land Use Futures in the UK. This examines the likely challenges over the next 50 years, and looks at the opportunities to use and manage land differently so that UK society continues to enjoy a good quality of life in the future. The project team worked with leading experts to produce an evidence base to assist Government and other policy-makers. 

The Perfect Storm: Professor John Beddington

Perhaps one of the most important futures publications in 2009 was a paper by the UK Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor John Beddington, entitled Food, Energy, Water and the Climate: A Perfect Storm of Global Events? Future shortages of energy, food and water are interlinked drivers which, set against a background of man-made climate change, could have catastrophic effects globally by 2030. The paper was widely reported by the media, and Professor Beddington continues to speak on this topic.


Sign up for e-news

Subscribe today

Be the first to know about our latest news, research and upcoming events.

Subscribe to our RSS feed

Be notified of updates

Sign up now and we'll deliver timely information direct to you.

Learn from What Works

Search the database

The latest best practice in research, case studies and evaluations from the region and beyond.