This report – the first of the Cohort 2040 project and published with the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) – explores the huge challenge that emerging leaders of the millennial and younger generations could soon inherit. It argues they will have to be better prepared to continue the struggle for a more sustainable, equitable and resilience world under worsening conditions.
Historical efforts to slow the environmental crisis and adapt to its inevitable impacts have been insufficient.
The consequences of the crisis – such as extreme heat and its knock-on effects for health and economic stability – are growing. The continued failure to realise rapid, transformational action means these effects will get worse.
This briefing paper explores the potentially severe challenge for future leaders.
It focuses on the generation who are currently around their early- to mid-30s and already emerging as leaders. This generation are around the median age of the global population and are half the average age of current world leaders (62). Therefore, they could be leading in the 2040s and 2050s.
A continued failure to act on the environmental crisis means emerging leaders will inherit three increasingly severe burdens, all of which are already significant for current leaders:
- mitigation: overcoming political barriers and delivering transformational change to realise rapid reductions in emissions and the destruction of nature
- removals and restoration: sucking increasingly large quantities of emissions from the atmosphere and restoring damaged ecosystems
- adaptation: ensuring resilience in the face of worsening environmental shocks.
The ability of future leaders to overcome these burdens could be increasingly undermined by:
- the accelerating destabilisation of nature, from increasingly severe extreme events, such as heat and drought, to growing non-linear changes in environmental systems
- the cascading consequences for societies, including severe impacts in terms of food security, poverty, economic stability and conflict.
In sum, the confluence of these factors could create a critical ‘crunch point’ for future leaders where the ability to overcome a set of inherited burdens is undermined by worsening environmental impacts and the destabilisation of societies. This ‘cohort 2040 challenge’ could present an unprecedented challenge for future leaders in decades to come.
A failure to adequately respond to this challenge could lead to runaway, catastrophic changes to the environment. Alternatively, increasing the pace of transformational change to sufficiently sustainable, equitable and resilient societies under worsening conditions could ensure the world navigates through the crunch point.
Future leaders should better anticipate and be prepared to face this challenge – the focus of the Cohort 2040 project.
This report is published through the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).