Arup 2050 PA e1576664983675

2050: Arup’s four potential futures

What will the world look like in 2050? The advisory giant has produced an extensive 68-page report looking at four plausible scenarios based on the intersection between our planet’s health and societal conditions, with an aim to inform decisions on the design and planning of the built environment.

Here’s an edited extract from the report

Four futures

Post anthropocene – a period when technology and AI construct the world

Both people and planet are on the path to a regenerative world. Society consumes resources at the rate at which they can be replenished, populations are diverse, and societal structures are balanced.

  • Circular processing measures are in place and most nations abide by them. Full life cycle and ecological resource assessments are mandatory for all new products
  • Everyone has, and knows, their carbon quota and daily spend; AI provides daily updates, and state governments penalise overspend
  • Artificial intelligence is pervasive across municipal systems which are smart and flexible. Natural capital, green tech, and resilience are highly subsidised
  • Cities around the world have transitioned from being in conflict with nature to something approaching symbiosis
  • Urban spaces are inclusive with affordable housing and accessible green space. Green infrastructure is prioritised over grey with a focus on resilience


Climate action and biodiversity recuperation are the top line of every national and transnational agenda.

  • Protected lands have expanded worldwide, and significant resources have been allocated to restoring ecosystems
  • The effects of climate change can still be felt, and sea levels continue to rise, yet the impacts are less severe than expected
  • Extreme urban densification, driven by urban growth boundaries for land-use regeneration, led to a premium on space. As a result, many low-income individuals are living in small, yet sustainable, apartments – an average of 8m2 per person
  • Utilities are state-owned and vertically integrated. Energy generation is clean and large-scale
  • Access to green spaces and natural features is restricted. Compact living spaces in dense urban areas preserve nonurban land

Arup 2050 Greenocracy

Extinction express

Climate change and the inexorable consumption of Earth’s resources has resulted in fundamental destabilisation of natural systems. Resource, energy, water and food shortages are pervasive across the world. Environmental consciousness is largely non-existent.

  • The established world order has shifted, and the global centre of power has moved to the East. China has a strong economic presence and position globally and dominates the research and manufacturing of technologies
  • Clean air is accessible only to those who can afford it. Large-scale air domes have been erected over many of the world’s most prominent cities, to create safe havens for some segments of their populations
  • Previously high income, high status tech work is widely automated, and the world has seen a resurgence in low-paying service jobs
  • Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence are mainly implemented for individual and corporate gains
  • Many coastal cities face frequent and extensive flooding, displacing millions

Arup 2050 Extinction Express

Humans Inc.

For most people, life is as good as it’s ever been. The planet, on the other hand, is not as healthy. In many ways, this period reflects a business-as-usual trajectory from 2020: the condition of humanity has continued to improve at the expense of the environment.

  • The Netherlands, most of Scandinavia and Germany are a few places that have started trying to mitigate their impacts on the planet by introducing carbon-free transport weeks complete with penalties and fees for those who do not comply
  • Major cities across the world repeatedly experienced flooding of their subway systems during the rainy seasons, another consequence of prioritising adaptation over mitigation
  • A failure to maintain and update critical infrastructure for potential climate shocks and stresses has left many countries reeling with ailing infrastructure
  • Reliance on fossil fuels is sustained yet renewables continue to increase in the share of generation
  • Government spending on housing and city services is high, yet extreme weather events impact service provision

Arup 2050 Human Inc

After checking out the full report, take a look at our piece on what else the profitable £1.6bn turnover planning-to-engineering advisory group has been up to as it tries to seed technology throughout its 13,000-strong organisation.

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