In the federal reports on sustainable development, the Federal Planning Bureau aims to describe the ‘expected development both in the event of an unchanged policy and in the event of a policy change along the lines of relevant hypotheses’ within the framework of sustainable development. Ad hoc methods have been developed in order to build up such scenarios. The choices made emphasise acknowledgement of scientific uncertainty, risk assessment and very long-term projections (up to 2050).
Generally speaking, the outlooks are aimed at helping both the federal government and civil society to have an idea of which sort of development would be desirable and which measures should be taken to make it happen. By so doing, they contribute to the ongoing social debate on which road to choose for development.
Various scenarios have been designed, based on different risk assessments as well as on the extrapolation of observed trends for production and consumption patterns, the fight against poverty and social exclusion, the protection of the atmosphere (mainly the fight against climate change) and the protection of the marine environment. For each of these themes, three scenarios have been identified. The long-term effects of each of them has then been assessed using long-term global models (see section 4 of Towards sustainable development?, first federal report on sustainable development, 1999).
The relevance of such an exercise lies in its ability to indicate what the main economic, social and environmental effects might be of different types of approach towards the risks.
Systematic conceptual framework
This approach was then complemented with the addition of a systematic conceptual framework based on the analysis of complex systems. Three scenarios were developed within this framework, each reflecting a different vision of the policies that would be necessary in order to steer society towards a sustainable development (see section 4 of A step towards sustainable development, second federal report on sustainable development, 2003).
A series of topics were then integrated in this consistent and transparent conceptual framework:
production strategies of businesses;
ethical financing of businesses;
the social economy;
the use of information and communication technologies;
fishing and biological diversity in the marine environment;
the use of genetically modified plants;
energy production and consumption;
mobility and transport of persons;
health at work;
‘Backcasting’ is a method aimed at designing scenarios of sustainable development. Backcasting takes as a starting point a vision of a desirable future, e.g. the situation considered as desirable in 2050, and examines the possible ways to achieve it (see section 5 of Comprendre et gouverner le développement/Ontwikkeling begrijpen en sturen, third report on sustainable development, 2005). The situation deemed desirable in the long term is described in terms of objectives based on international agreements related to sustainable development. These agreements reflect a vision of a sustainably developing world as expressed by the international community to date through its declarations and commitments in this field.
So far, this vision of sustainable development has been translated into a first series of strategic actions which make up a foundation for building scenarios of sustainable development. This will be the subject of the next federal report on sustainable development.