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10 Jul, 2012

Deutsche Post DHL Study on “The World in 2050” Outlines Five Future Scenarios


Bangkok, 10 July 2012: With its release of the study of the future, “Delivering Tomorrow: Logistics 2050”, Deutsche Post DHL is taking a far-reaching look into the future of trade, business and society. The study examines five different scenarios of life in the year 2050. These five visions of the future are based on a detailed analysis of the most critical factors – including trade and consumption patterns, technological and social trends as well as climate change – and estimate their probable impact on people’s behavior and values in 2050. (Click here to download the study).

“The pace of change has rapidly accelerated in recent years,” Frank Appel, CEO of Deutsche Post DHL, said at the presentation of the study in Berlin. “In this complex economic, political and social climate, it has become practically impossible to make linear forecasts. In a world that is becoming harder and harder to predict, we have to expand our horizon and think about alternatives. We can devise robust strategies and set the right course only if we have gained an understanding of different perspectives.”

The development of the study was supported by 42 highly respected experts including Klaus Töpfer (former German Environmental Minister and Director of the U.N. Environmental Program), Fatih Birol (Chief Economist of the International Energy Agency) and Michael ten Hompel (Managing Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics), as well as leading representatives of such organizations as the World Economic Forum, the Gesellschaft für Konsumforschung (GfK), the Rocky Mountain Institute, the Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and Greenpeace International.

The central finding of the study is a comprehensive collection of five credible visions of the future. They outline how different the world could appear in 2050 in terms of the degree of globalization, the extent of economic and social development, predominant technology standards and environmental conditions. The study describes five far-reaching, occasionally radical, versions of life in 2050. All scenarios share a common element: the broadly transformed role of logistics. Overall demand for logistics services does indeed climb in most of the five alternative scenarios. But the particular requirements placed on logistics providers and the special challenges they face vary widely from scenario to scenario.

The study, which is complemented by a series of multifaceted essays regarding various aspects of the future, is the third research project conducted in the Group “Delivering Tomorrow” series. By publishing this groundbreaking series of studies, Deutsche Post DHL is striving to engage others in a dialogue about core issues that will shape the world in future decades. “As the leading provider in this key global industry, we consider it part of our responsibility to intensively explore social and business issues that will shape the future,” Appel said in describing the rationale for the series of studies. The series began in 2009 with an examination of customer expectations in 2020. A year later, it delved into another important trend of the future – the shift to more sustainable logistics.

The methodological starting point for developing alternative scenarios of the future in this year’s study was an in-depth analysis of key factors and their linking to those trends that could mold the world in future decades. Unlike classic, isolated analysis and projection methods, the scenario technique used here with the help of the leading experts outlines the possible directions that the most important parameters could take and links them to scenarios. These possible directions were then discussed and evaluated during workshops. With this approach, various development paths over the next four decades and several complex versions of the future could be systematically and comprehensibly identified.

An overview of the five scenarios:

Scenario 1, Untamed Economy – Impending Collapse

The world is characterized by unchecked materialism and mass consumption. This non-sustainable way of life is fed by the relentless exploitation of resources, a development that stokes climate change and causes natural disasters to mount. In a world characterized by tumultuous growth, demand for logistics and transport services climbs sharply. A global transportation supergrid ensures a rapid exchange of goods between centers of consumption. But as climate change advances, supply chains are increasingly disrupted, a development causing additional challenges for logistics companies.

Scenario 2: Megaefficiency in megacities

“Megacities” have emerged as the world’s power centers. They are both the main drivers and beneficiaries of a paradigm shift toward “green” growth. To overcome the challenges of expanding urban structures, such as congestion and emissions, megacities have become champions of collaboration. Robotics has revolutionized the world of production and services. Consumers have changed their habits: Products are now usually rented, instead of purchased. Highly efficient traffic concepts have relieved congestion. A global supergrid with mega transporters, including trucks, ships and aircraft, as well as space transporters, has opened important trade connections between the megacities of the world. The logistics industry has been entrusted to run city logistics, utilities, and system services for airports, hospitals and shopping malls.

Scenario 3, Customized Lifestyles

This scenario describes a world where individualization and personalized consumption are pervasive. Consumers are empowered to create, design and make their own products. Newly developed 3D printers play a major role here. This leads to a rise in regional trade streams, with only raw materials and data still flowing globally. Customization and regional production are complemented by decentralized energy systems and infrastructure. The implications for logistics include a vastly reduced need for long-distance transportation of finished and semi-finished goods due to the localization of value chains. Logistics providers organize the entire physical value chain. They also handle the encrypted data streams required for the transmission of construction and design blueprints for 3D printers. The decentralized organization of production turns strong regional logistics capabilities and a high-quality last-mile network into important success factors.

Scenario 4, Paralyzing Protectionism

This scenario describes a world where, triggered by economic hardship, excessive nationalism and protectionist barriers, globalization has been reversed. Technological development is lagging. High energy prices and dramatic scarcity of supply lead to international conflicts over resource deposits. Implications for the logistics industry include challenges posed by the decline in world trade and the resulting regionalization of supply chains. Governments view logistics as a strategic industry. As relations between some blocs and countries are extremely strained, logistics providers in bloc-free countries act as intermediaries in international trade brokerage.

Scenario 5, Global Resilience – Local Adaptation

This scenario describes a world initially characterized by a high level of consumption thanks to cheap, automated production. However, due to accelerated climate change, frequent catastrophes disrupt supply chains and lean production structures, resulting in repeated supply failures. The new economic paradigm is distinguished by a shift away from efficiency maximization to vulnerability mitigation and resilience. This radical move toward redundant systems of production and a change from global to regionalized supply chains allow the global economy to better weather troubling times. The resilient world in 2050, with regionalized trade, relies on a logistics sector that ensures supply security as a top priority, with backup infrastructure to guarantee reliable transport in unstable and hazardous times. Instead of complex just-in-time delivery processes, huge warehouse structures located close to the manufacturer are seen as indispensable buffers.