During the past year, Fraunhofer ISI (in collaboration with ISINNOVA) has finalised the writing of the TRIGGER project scenarios. These scenarios explore four distinct alternative worlds in which global governance and the EU’s role as a global actor have changed. As mentioned in the previous blog post regarding the TRIGGER scenarios, the workshops and testing sessions that shaped these scenarios were organised to consider changes along two axes. The first axis considers global governance systems that are either transformational, or increasingly fragmented with respect to our contemporary times. The second axis considers worlds wherein the role of the EU as an influencer within global governance is either stronger or weaker than the present.


Figure 2 - The four TRIGGER scenarios arranged in the Global Governance (Y) and EU Influence (X) matrix.

In this blog post we will review a basic summary of each of the TRIGGER scenarios, a selection of the powerful STEEP+ factors that have influenced the world’s evolution, and some of the implications each scenario implies for EU actorness. To read the scenarios in full, please download the full scenario report deliverable here.

Building with DUPLOmacy scenario world is marked by fragmented global systems, with the EU taking on a strong position of power within the emergent polycentric world. Some of the social drivers of this scenario include the EU coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic with a commitment to providing all of its citizens with just and equal access to a full range of social services, including health, access to high-speed communications networks, and fairly priced utilities. This model builds trust in the EU governance systems as a timely provider of its citizen’s fundamental needs, and is emulated by some of the EU’s closer neighbours. However, the competitive dynamics at play between China and the US make existing global governance institutions untenable, and effectively ending and reversing globalization. By 2050, global governance can best be understood as a semi-stable relationship between four relatively large geopolitical blocs, with the EU forming the anchor for the North East Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

One of the clearest differentiators between these blocs is the approach to technological governance, particularly regarding the development of Artificial Intelligence. Whereas the EU has maintained its commitment to developing its technological standards in accordance with values and principles that align with its democratic systems, such is not the case within other blocs around the world. The EU, and NEATO partners, have developed an independent defence and security apparatus – a force composed of consolidated defence assets from across the bloc – in order to protect the territory’s resources, and police the relatively soft borders that have emerged between the blocs. The ‘peripheries’ – zones between blocs wherein territorial governance remains unclear, are the site of various types of illicit exchanges, and sporadic but intense conflict. Climate change efforts were among the first casualties of the splintering global governance systems, and without a coordinated response, geoengineering efforts are asymmetric, regionally focused, and have little comprehensive impact on the underlying causes of climate change – the earth is getting warmer quickly and is on track for between 2.5 and 3 degrees Celsius change by 2100. However, by 2050, the shifts in annual precipitation have made farming unreliable at best, and the loss of key species have degraded ecosystem health in the EU and the rest of the planet. While the EU and NEATO members have taken steps to provide energy, food, water, security, and fundamental social services (health, education, etc.) for all citizens in the NEATO coalition, the increasing

The world of the Reunited Nations scenario has established a transformed global governance system in which the EU play an important role in catalysing and supporting systemic change to address climate change, power disparities, and social inequalities. By 2050, many of Earth‘s nations have unified to transform the United Nations system into a modern, nimble entity, fostering ecological justice, human and non-human rights, and the peaceful cohabitation of the planet. Given the scope of global challenges facing humanity in the 21st century – climate change, rapidly disappearing biodiversity, global health disparities, and ecological degradation, to name a few –  and the need for united, coordinated efforts to confront them, systemic reform of the United Nations was implemented following the rolling disaster of the COVID-19 crisis. No longer satisfied with the ‘petrified platitudes’ of the original UN charter, the new system is better adapted to supporting a ‘workable world.’ However, many powerful nation states and corporate entities remain reluctant to concede to the UN’s new authorities and powers – particularly if they benefited from the old structure. Looking for business advantages at every turn, the private sector is efficient at finding and exploiting loopholes in this new system, and often finds unofficial state support from one or more actors. Additionally, the powerful authorities vested in the reformed United Nations are not universally sensitised to local needs and challenges, and UN policies aimed at the long term prospects for the planet often demand individuals sacrifice material comforts and unwillingly adopt new behaviours and patterns.

In this scenario, the EU has strengthened itself internally, through a variety of internal service capacity building projects that have captured popular support and thwarted nationalistic messaging.  Now with a more unified voice, the EU is able to exert a stronger influence on global governance by bolstering existing institutions and their efficacy. A structured, transnational approach has reinforced the EU’s position as a partner of the growing Global South, resulting in a series of mutually beneficial trade and cooperation exchanges. The EU’s strengthened global position has allowed it to aggressively pursue a sustainable, eco-conscious, and humanitarian development agenda – shaping global governance in line with climate change strategies. Unfortunately, these new partnerships and policy pursuits often risk alienating some of the EU’s traditional allies, and corporate lobbying has increased substantially across the Union. Technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Genetic Engineering play pivotal roles in this world, but the governance regimes that regulate their deployment form a contested area of global governance and cooperation.

In this version of the world in 2050, global wealth has been severely concentrated in the hands of very few state powers, individuals, and private organisations. This has fractured the efficacy of global governance mechanisms and institutions, weakened the power of democratic states, and reinforced divisions between social classes. Disparities exposed and amplified during the COVID-19 crisis, continued to worsen as one crisis rolled into the next – a prolonged economic downturn, widespread civil unrest that only exacerbated the pandemic, and led to a rash of regional conflicts. Furthermore, without concerted global efforts to address environmental issues, the effects of climate change have increased in severity, spurring increases in climate refugees and further conflicts over resources. Global economic superpowers (primarily the states and companies of the US and China) are non-responsive to the external effects of declining ecological health and societal stability. The European Union’s strength has been undermined, as its member states, themselves highly unequal in prosperity and influence, struggle to find common ground for policy and action. The EU membership has shifted dramatically, and its total number of member states has decreased – with many of its less wealthy states leaving the Union, and a couple of new members joining as a way of concentrating wealth and collective power to support relative sovereignty.

With the decline of many state powers’ efficacy around the world, urbanisation has accelerated, as cities leverage infrastructure innovations and regional resources to attract various types of capital, often adopting and advancing technocratic solutions to local ecological degradation. However, a neo-feudalist system emerges across much of the world, as metropolitan areas leverage their outsized markets and security forces to exploit surrounding suburban and rural areas for labour and resources. Cities are well known for their ubiquitous surveillance, systemic biases, and myopic partnerships, but they are also high technology hubs and cultural dynamos. Networked cultural institutions – known as enclaves – have sprung up globally, offering essential services (food, shelter, alternative healthcare systems, cultural consumer goods, network access, etc.) for their members, and providing some counter balance to negotiations with elite corporate and state entities. These ‘enclave’ cultural communities are able to rally hundreds of millions of supporters from their global membership, and often compound socio-political issues at the local and regional level.

In the year 2050, global governance has transformed into an effective, stable constellation of actor-network powers operating under a planetary systems approach to decision-making and action. The emergent global powers are composed of organisations and institutions from both the public and private sector, and they have established strong principles for multi-stakeholder alliances with common concerns for the health of human and non-human ecosystems of Earth. All actor-network operations and decisions are informed by multi-dimensional monitoring of systems and balanced with economic and cultural sensitivities to regional conditions. Utilising network dynamics, and their capacity to channel energies and resources efficiently, these actor-networks govern civil service provision (e.g. healthcare, education, utilities, communications, transportation, etc.) under a sufficiency-based model of economic and social prosperity. Effective technological regulation and deployment falls under the domain of each actor-network and is semi-orchestrated − allowing for regional independence within the guidelines of effective environmental caretaking. While the EU has seen its functional and political power diminished, its legacy and influence remain within the governance policies set forth in the Gaia Caretakers Accords. Globally, individual nation states have seen their direct governance power greatly diminished. However, in the EU, many national ministries, industrial sectors, and companies remain powerful nodes of the transnational actor-networks.

The COVID-19 crisis, followed by the resulting global economic recession and slow recovery, sent a strong message to the citizens of the world – resiliency is best organised at a local level, with a place-based approach to decision-making, combined with the operational support of actor-networks. Where state powers failed, private sector suppliers and logistics chains proved critical to helping communities survive both health and economic crises. Alternative economies began to emerge following an extended economic depression, and regional ecological systems became valuable assets. Climate change related shifts in regional ecosystems were accompanied by large scale emergency events – Iberian drought, Mediterranean heat waves, and forest fires across Central Europe. Service partnerships between private sector actors and regional became more entwined, constituting in new networks of resource and service management. Open Source Machine Learning was widely deployed by private actors to increase efficiency – data was publicly available for transparency and monitoring. Land-, sea-, and space-based sensor arrays were deployed to gather data on Earth systems’ health, activity, and mutual influence. Human systems began adapting to planetary boundaries and the sensitivity of critical ecological systems.