In the following section, we present an overview of the pathways. The full vision narrative and pathways are given in Electronic Supplemental Material B. We first show that the pathways in each scenario follow a distinctly different logic, because the contextual scenario storylines allow certain actions and limit others. We then show that there are three pathways that are common to all scenarios: shifting to sustainable lifestyles, supporting or strengthening good governance for sustainability and promoting adaptive resource management for water, agriculture and energy. Analysis of the pathways then looks at the differing roles of the main actors—government, civil society and market actors in implementing the pathways in the different scenario contexts. Finally, we examine those pathways that either support the implementation of others or lead to trade-offs with other pathways.
A total of 18 pathways were formulated across the European context scenarios, with 4–5 pathways per context scenario. They focus on governance, leadership, lifestyles, technology development and innovation as well as resources management including water, land and biodiversity. The pathways are summarised in Table 3. The pathways follow scenario-specific logics because each context scenario provides differing opportunities for, and constraints to, actions, so:
SSP1: The pathways build on the high level of governance capacities (see “Agency, Capitals and Capacities”) in this scenario and especially international, multi-level and bottom-up governance, technological innovation and learning (e.g. in governance and education), as well as behavioural and market changes.
SSP3: The pathways are developed, in the face of weak and fragmented governmental institutions and an overall lack of resources, with an underlying motive of moving to local, circular economies and a decentralised, networked local community governance system.
SSP4: The pathways start from different needs and abilities in the two-layered (elite and majority) society in this scenario. The elite has an interest in the sustainable management of resources and the ability to invest in green innovation. In contrast, the pathways for the majority of the population organise alternative economies and mechanisms for fostering resilience through local networks.
SSP5: The underlying logic of the pathways is to use the dominant market-based orientation of the scenario to protect ecosystems and to integrate environmental protection into business practice while remaining economically efficient. The private sector realises the need for protecting the resources upon which the economy depends in the long-term and pushes for change.
Cross-scenario analysis of pathways
Across scenarios, many similar pathways and proactive and reactive actions are proposed to support achieving the vision (Table 3).
From the cross-scenario analysis, we observe three common directions of action in the pathways: shifting to sustainable lifestyles (pathway A across all scenarios), supporting or strengthening good governance for sustainability (pathways B, D and F including strong environmental policy) and promoting integrated and adaptive resource management for water, agriculture and energy (pathways C, E and G). We refer to these three common broad pathways as robust pathways.
Across all scenarios, shifting to sustainable lifestyles is recognised as a pivotal pathway (pathway A in all scenarios). Participants argued that, to deal with high-end climate change, European societies need to address their ways of living in terms of resource and energy footprints. However, resource considerations are not the sole focus of pathways of shifting lifestyles. They include education and awareness-raising activities to enhance consideration of the environment and social equity and cohesion. Education is also introduced to provide the population with the skills (practical, creative, decision-making etc.) needed for the future ahead. For example, a strategy in SSP3 (SSP3xRCP8.5) serves to foster social cohesion among impoverished local communities by providing social support to unemployed people (e.g. revenue, training) and strengthening local initiatives. SSP3 supports sustainable local communities through supporting innovative entrepreneurship, diversifying economic activities, developing alternative economies (e.g. bartering) and establishing regional economic co-dependence and cooperatives. Especially in the SSP3 and SSP4 scenarios, which are characterised by rampant inequality, shifting to sustainable lifestyle pathways includes actions towards institutional and cultural conditions that improve equity and social security in Europe. In SSP1, actions promote public and private investments in new infrastructure and technology to, for example, support intermodal mobility (to curb car dependency) and promote decentralised renewable energy production.
Building on the conditions in their respective scenarios, all scenarios include a pathway to set up participatory, multi-level and transparent governance structures (pathways B, D and F), which facilitate coordination and collaboration across sectors in Europe. In the SSP1 scenario, the good governance pathway strengthens the existing multi-level governance structure and international collaboration that in turn serves to achieve Europe’s global leadership agenda on sustainability. Multi-level governance structures help to manage resources at local and regional levels in relation to context-specific needs and opportunities while connecting them to the European sustainability agenda. This is equally visible in the SSP4 pathways, in which the European elite strategically coordinates the implementation of a master plan to guide and coordinate all developments, but regions and communities are interconnected to support each other and build on each other’s assets. Inclusive and participatory governance structures enable civil society to actively participate in political discourses and decision-making at international, European, national, regional and local levels. To ensure that actions are in line with social and environmental conditions and to prepare for risks, the pathways put in place comprehensive data and knowledge monitoring systems. For example, the planning approach in SSP4 relies on a new type of evidence-based governance system that sets up continuous monitoring and learning to oversee and adapt the proposed European-level master plan. In the SSP5 scenario, research, innovation and decision-making shift from sector-based to problem-based, supported by monitoring approaches, which underpin new institutions for integrating environmental concerns into long-term cost-benefit calculations.
There is a strong emphasis on integrated policy and planning frameworks to guide political, social and economic behaviours, develop multi-functional solutions and take synergies and trade-offs between different sectors into consideration for all scenarios, except the SSP3 scenario. This integrated perspective is manifested in the types of solutions suggested for sustainable water management, such as water-sensitive infrastructure systems for water quality and quantity conservation in relation to agriculture, biodiversity, land use, energy, recreation and climate adaptation. In the SSP4 scenario, this strategic orientation is defined top-down in the form of a master plan. The plan takes a birds’ eye perspective on context conditions, opportunities and needs of European regions, building on the notion of a ‘small ecosystems’ approach’. The integrated policy and planning perspective is manifested in the formulation of integrated framework conditions such as regulations, incentives, taxes and (self-regulated) financing mechanisms that enable long-term decisions and investments to build synergies across sectors and dis-incentivise unsustainable practices in all scenarios. Specific actions include the setting up of a carbon tax, regulation to mandate that corporations re-invest profits into communities and subsidies to community green energy schemes. For example, the European SSP5 pathway for stronger environmental protection proposes nature-based markets that account for the cost of nature, integrate the value of ecosystem services into economic decisions and set up funds to deal with climate change impacts. In the SSP3 scenario, this strategic orientation diverges due to the weak government in this scenario that implies there is no governance ability to put in place integrated policy and planning after 2040. As a result, the governance pathway focuses on strengthening local communities that collaborate within regionally connected networks to exchange knowledge and resources.
Pathways emerged within all scenario contexts to shift towards adaptive, context-sensitive and integrated resource management (pathways C, E and G) that considers planetary limits are organised on interconnected local and regional levels and support European self-sufficiency. Different sectors are emphasised across scenarios: agriculture (SSP1, SSP3, SSP5), water (SSP3 and SSP5) and energy and circular economy (SSP4). The resource pathways build on integrated environmental standards and planning frameworks to enable multi-functional solutions. Regarding agriculture, multi-functional and integrated farming is proposed that builds on the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and national policies to produce different types of food and other services. Resource pathways include strategies that aim to develop, or, mainstream technological innovations for achieving resource efficiency and security and environmental protection, such as innovations in renewable energy technology (in line with the European Union Energy strategy for 2020), water efficiency technologies and nature-based solutions. Technology-based strategies in the SSP3 pathways focus largely on local, low-tech innovations for infrastructure improvements that in turn allow local network economies to exist. In contrast, in the SSP4 and SSP5 pathways, technology-based strategies develop large-scale green technological innovation. This reflects the high-level of technological development in these scenarios. The SSP4 pathway invests in the expansion of renewable energy technologies while ensuring effective energy distribution and energy security. Another key pillar in the resource management pathway is the mainstreaming of nature-based solutions to maintain natural capital in the long-term, to ensure resource quality and security and to enhance resilience. For example, the pathways for SSP3 include actions to create green cities and implement rainwater harvesting in households. Finally, skills and knowledge transfer—building on pathway A—support changing resource management practices (e.g. community-based and climate-friendly farming). The SSP5 pathway includes awareness raising for the agricultural sector on land degradation and resulting losses in yields and profits. Such actions can develop further the European Union Biodiversity Strategy, and it was mentioned by the stakeholders that enrichment and strengthening of the Common Agricultural Policy can be guided by the proposed actions. Furthermore, the SSP5 pathway identifies the role of citizens’ knowledge for participating in local agriculture and environmental restoration.
Agency, capitals and capacities
There are differences in both the capitals and governance capacities that are available in the context scenarios. The capitals (social, human, manufactured, financial and natural) refer to the system conditions available in a scenario to support the pathways—such as, for example, institutional conditions, financial resources, soil and water. The governance capacities refer to the abilities of actors to mobilise and use capitals to implement the pathways and, through their effective implementation, to also enhance the availability of capitals for achieving the vision. Different types of actors are differentially enabled to act in each context scenario (Table 4). Across scenarios, all pathways build on strong governmental actors that provide regulation, coordination, incentives and financing, although they play a considerably smaller role in the SSP3 scenario. The pathways in the scenarios (except for the SSP3 scenario) build (on) a strong EU that has good international as well as civil society relations and works within a multi-level and decentralised governance structure. The governance systems put in place long-term, synergistic and integrated framework conditions that enable long-term decisions and investments to create synergies across sectors and to dis-incentivise unsustainable practices. For example, in the SSP5 scenario, the costs of environmental degradation and the intrinsic value of nature are internalised into economic activity, which serves to adapt prices and promote investments in green technologies.
Civil society plays a critical role in the pathways of all scenarios, being actively involved in decision-making and in the development and implementation of action (e.g. sustainable consumption, local renewable production, environmental and basic education). In the SSP3 scenario, civil society and entrepreneurs act at local community levels given the lack of government capacity. In the other scenarios, civil society is actively involved through inclusive, participatory and transparent governance structures at regional and local levels and, in SSP1 and SSP5, at European and national levels.
Market actors (industry and business actors) and knowledge institutions have important roles in the pathways of all scenarios. Market actors play a fundamental role in SSP5 in the re-orientation of market activity to integrate long-term environmental costs. The pathways in all scenarios highlight a shift towards small- and medium-sized and family-owned companies to avoid monopolies, facilitate local and diversified economies and ensure equality. Actors from knowledge institutions (e.g. universities, research institutes) are implied in actions to implement better monitoring and research on environmental and social problems and solutions and to set up process-based governance approaches.
Interdependencies and trade-offs between pathways
Analysis of the pathways in all scenarios shows that the pathways are strongly linked and support each other in contributing towards the vision. However, two robust pathways provide the foundations for the other pathways across all four contextual scenarios: the pathway that promotes shifts to sustainable lifestyles and the pathway that promotes good governance for sustainability. Consequently, achieving the vision is unlikely without successful implementation of these pathways in any future scenario.
Shifting to sustainable lifestyles (pathway A) underpins changing resource use and demand for sustainable products and technologies. The pathways affect multiple sectors, relating to actions about water and energy consumption, food and agriculture practices, trade approaches and production processes. Shifting to sustainable lifestyles pushes for mainstreaming of sustainable agriculture that respects the environment, as there will be higher demand, incentives and obligations for sustainable products and production approaches. Likewise, lifestyle shifts support integrated water management in the SSP3 and SSP5 scenarios, because there will be less water use and more water re-use.
The pathways of good governance for sustainability (pathways B and D) support the organisation, use and delivery of services in the other pathways. For example, the good governance pathway (pathway B) supports setting up integrated water management systems in the SSP3 and SSP5 scenarios, by providing institutions and frameworks for developing policies and land use management systems. In the SSP4 scenario, it generates a framework in the form of a master plan and identifies the conditions for its top-down implementation. This enables the setting up of a European circular economy that closes loops at multiple scales.
As an example of the foundational role of these underpinning pathways, the development of good governance approaches for sustainability policies within pathway B for the SSP1 scenario supports the implementation of all other pathways. Establishing open governance approaches for strengthening sustainability policy directly supports strong environmental policy (pathway D), shifts to sustainable lifestyles (pathway A), strengthens the positioning of Europe as a global leader for sustainability (pathway E) by defining (in conjunction with pathway D) ambitious goals and showcasing how to achieve them in participatory and transparent ways and indirectly supports mainstreaming sustainable agriculture (pathway C) through strengthening environmental policy (pathway D). Analyses of interdependencies between pathways for the other context scenarios can be found in the Electronic Supplemental Material A.
As the pathways co-evolve over time, cross-sectoral interdependencies inevitably arise, resulting in trade-offs that must be recognised if the results are used for informing policy at the European level. Due to the central position of agriculture within the food-energy-water-environment nexus, trade-offs about land use (especially agriculture) occur in all scenarios. For example, there is a potential trade-off in SSP1 between agricultural expansion (arising from reducing imports to reduce food production externalities) and promoting nature protection and biodiversity. This trade-off could be avoided if sustainable intensification of agriculture delivers sufficient productivity gains. In the SSP3 scenario, there is a trade-off between setting land aside and incentivising forestry and nature-based solutions for flood management and increasing extensive grazing, given land availability constraints. Most of the other identified trade-offs are scenario-specific such as, for example, between higher taxes on water use in drier areas and universal access to water (SSP3) and between shifting towards integrated water management and improved irrigation efficiency that can counter-intuitively increase irrigation usage (SSP5).