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The Future of Spaceship Earth

What will the planet look like in 2050? What does the future hold for your part of the world? Will we meet the SDGs? Gaze into the future with DNV GL’s new Spaceship Earth forecasting model to answer these questions and more.

Do you want to know what your future holds? DNV GL certainly does – having an eye on the long term is critical to its business of certifying and verifying the “fitness for purpose” of assets (like ships and rigs) and infrastructure (like trans-national power grids and pipelines) that are intended to last for 20 to 40 years and beyond. Mere trends and guesswork isn’t enough, DNV GL needs to be more certain. So its researchers created their own crystal ball, after surveying more than a dozen well-established forecasting models.

How better to test this model than through certifying the fitness for purpose of the greatest ship of all – spaceship Earth?

The Spaceship Earth. Credit: GettyImages

Credit: GettyImages

The term spaceship Earth was coined over 100 years ago, and refers to our planet as a spaceship hurtling through time and space on a long mission to sustain life as we know it. With the exception of energy from the sun, there is no resupply of anything from outside sources.

In the longer term, as we add to the number of crew members, difficult choices have to be made between the short-term ease of pollution and the apparent cost and hassle of recycling. The urgency of agreeing a sustainable flight mode for our spaceship has never been greater.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

The new Sustainable Development Goals offer a practical framework for business to contribute to societal needs.

The new Sustainable Development Goals offer a practical framework for business to contribute to societal needs. DNV GL tested whether we’d reach the goals in its Future of Spaceship Earth report.

The world has, however, now agreed on a long term desired future – in the form of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030 adopted by member nations in September 2015. But if that is the desired performance of our collective spaceship, will it deliver?


This was the question DNV GL set out to answer with the first Spaceship Earth forecast. It drew on a great deal of research in building the model, paying particular attention to forecasting models relevant to the 17 SDGs.

In the end, DNV GL opted mainly to use the 2052 model designed by renowned futurist Jørgen Randers (co-author of the seminal Limits to Growth study in 1972), supplemented by the Dynamic Integrated Climate-Economy (DICE) model by Yale University’s Professor Bill Nordhaus and the Threshold 21 (T21) model run by the Millennium Institute in Washington DC.

So, what will our world look like for our children’s children?


Click to expand Figure 1.1 from the Future of Spaceship Earth report. Image: DNV GL

Based on this modelling, DNV GL has found that none of the SDGs will be met worldwide. However, many of the goals will be met across large parts of the developed world, and in many emerging economies. Elsewhere, substantial progress will be made. Our report tells us where the world needs to ramp up its efforts to have a chance of meeting the goals.

This trajectory holds true beyond the timeline of the SDGs (ie 2030) through to 2050. By then, from the perspective of human development – indicators like health, wealth, welfare, education and so on – the planet will be in a lot better shape than our contemporary world. However, DNV GL’s modelling shows that averages will obscure inequalities, and that the number of underprivileged people at the half-century mark is likely to be at least as high as at present.

2050 viewed from an environmental perspective is a much less happy picture. While the rate of environmental degradation will slow, significant damage will have been done. Emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) will likely have stayed high enough to ensure the earth will warm to 2.5C above preindustrial levels – way above the levels contemplated at COP 21 in Paris late last year.

Make your own forecast

But don’t just take DNV GL’s word for it. They have published the backbone of their Spaceship Earth forecast online in spreadsheet format covering five world regions, and you’re invited to play with it – adding your own assumptions and what if? numbers. The model builders estimate that most users will be able to use the model within about half an hour of playing with its parameters.

Also available on the Spaceship Earth website are graphs and other materials that DNV GL used, in addition to its basic model, to assess the SDGs. You’ll also find the first Future of Spaceship Earth report with the full SDGs analysis, as well as the executive summary.

DNV GL will refine and add to its long term forecast over time, and invites user input into this process. It will also source opinions from a number of world-class experts, adding substance to the assessment of each SDG’s likelihood of being met. DNV GL plans to reassess the SDGs every two to three years, and will also update its recommendations on the work that needs to be done to bring the SDGs closer to fulfilment.


This article originally appeared on our DNV GL Guardian Sustainable Business partner zone.

5 Comments Add your comment
Avatar Stein B Jensen says:


how different is this modelling tool from the Global Calculator developed by a DECC team in 2015. The first version of this was only for the UK and was developed in 2009 – 2010.


Why this website do not have other languages?

Hi there,

Our blogs on dnvgl.com are in English, but our website is available in many languages. Just enter “DNV GL” and whatever language you’re seeking in an internet search engine to see if there’s a local site relevant to you.

Kind regards,
DNV GL / Emily

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Great, thanks for your input Greg!
Kind regards,
DNV GL / Emily

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