Life in a Climate-Impacted Future
Submitted by Ericsson
Climate change impacting consumers
Cyber-physical systems. Connected automated homes. Personal Artificial Intelligence assistants. Merged reality experiences with lightweight devices that are unnoticeable when worn. These could all be everyday connected experiences for everyday lives in the next decade. But, as rapidly as technology progresses, consumers will also see intensified impacts of another development – climate change.
Using connected services to adapt
Whereas technical, environmental, and societal change could unfold quickly in the next decade, daily lifestyles and needs generally develop at a more gradual pace. Consumers will still go to work or school, care for friends and family, have some fun and try to make wages last until the end of the month. Yet a warmer world may bring systemic change on a global scale in everything from food production to energy supply, leading to new challenges for societies. Today, connected digital tools help us handle countless daily chores and obstacles, but how will these services evolve going forward?
We asked 15,145 urban early adopters of AR, VR and digital assistants aged 15-69 in 30 major cities around the globe to imagine living in a warmer 2030s world. For this future scenario, we then asked them to evaluate 15 digital service concept areas ranging from climate-related adaptation efforts for everyday life to ways to handle dire weather events. The respondents represent 75 million citizens out of 325 million living in the metropolitan areas surveyed, which is only a small fraction of consumers globally. However, we believe their early adopter profile makes these individuals important when exploring how consumers might use information and communications technology for daily life in this 2030s climate scenario.
It should come as no surprise that tech-savvy consumers regard the internet and continued digitalization as crucial for coping with everyday life in a less stable climate. In fact, 59% of urban early adopters say future technological innovations will be crucial in solving many of the challenges posed by climate change. To put this in perspective, 8 in 10 early urban adopters believe there will be 1.5°C or more global warming in the 2030s, and 54% expect global warming to have a direct negative effect on their own daily life. This means using technology to adapt to climate impact in daily life makes sense for them, and as many as 99 percent personally want to use at least one of the services that helps them adapt to everyday climate change effects in the report.
The main driving force for early adopters to use these developing services is to keep rising costs in check or maintain personal lifestyle habits. However, once consumers meet these goals, doing what is best for the environment is the next strongest motivator. This indicates that, while climate change is a real and deep worry for most consumers, their concerns focus on immediate needs and personal economy.
It is also important to note that consumers predict future trends based on their recent experiences. Consumers globally have recently been exposed to the Covid-19 pandemic, extreme weather disasters and geopolitical conflicts, which have contributed to increased inflation, energy shortages, failing harvests and supply chain disruptions on an alarming scale. This leads to worries about fundamental aspects of personal economy and lifestyle, as reflected in their views on technology in this report. Consumers expect and demand more from service providers to help them save costs and energy, feel safe, make smarter decisions, and enjoy digital experiences in climate-friendly ways, starting today.
10 consumer trends
Trend 1 - Cost cutters
Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of how much less their monthly budget can stretch in this current financial situation. As societies witness the prices for daily necessities increase, consumers must decide how to best economize and bring immediate living costs down.
This situation will likely grow worse in a warmed-up 2030s world with more frequent and severe weather events. Research shows that climate change could lead to crop failures, causing food shortages and a subsequent rise in the cost of food. Similarly, the increased need for electrification and renewable electricity, the growth of the global middle class, and an expanding 8 billion world population are just a few variables that could lead to greater energy demand and potentially higher costs. Consumers certainly feel the pressure as over 60 percent of urban early adopters voiced their concern about a higher cost of living in the future. Simultaneously, costs may also become an important guide for consumers toward more sustainable consumption.
How will consumers cope with this situation in the 2030s? The majority of urban early adopters believe that digital services will provide resilient means to handle daily challenges.
Over 80 percent of urban early adopters believe that personal electricity consumption monitors will be available to help cut unnecessary household energy consumption. Almost half of them would personally use these monitors in the 2030s to measure energy usage at home and get alerted if appliances are left on. Likewise, 76 percent foresee that owning electric cars will become cheaper as they will be used as batteries to balance the local power grid.
When it comes to reducing food costs, 73 percent of urban early adopters believe a connected recipe assistant will be in use in the 2030s and 35 percent say they will personally use it. They envision the assistant monitoring food prices and suggesting cost-efficient yet nutritionally balanced meals to cook daily. Around 76 percent think AI-powered food price optimizers, which help them take advantage of markdowns on soon-to-expire products in grocery stores will be in use. Seven out of ten also say that an app that notifies them when goods are discounted, due to climate-related damage will be potentially helpful.
Urban early adopters predict consumers will find ways to use technology to reduce travel and commuting costs and support sustainable mobility. For example, 8 in 10 believe future commuter passes will give consumers discounts if they change their route and mode of transport to reduce carbon emissions. Similarly, three-quarters believe an AI assistant will be in use to help plan and select activities within walking distance, to reduce energy consumption and thus reduce costs.
Trend 2 - Unbroken connections
Consumers demand more than just running water, food, shelter and electricity in a modern world – connectivity is also seen as part of everyday life, which has proven essential in previous disruptive events. As they experienced in the pandemic, connectivity allows individuals to stay in touch with family and friends and continue school and work from home. More secure and reliable internet and communications services make societies and enterprises more resilient and are considered the second most popular trend for the 2030s by urban early adopters.
But what if weather events impact connectivity itself? In dangerous situations, access to cellular connectivity and the internet is crucial for obtaining information, getting help and contacting loved ones.
Urban early adopters hope to stay connected in a future where storms, wildfires, flooding and heatwaves might disrupt their usual contact with the outside world. Nearly 80 percent believe there will be smart signal locators that guide people to locations with optimal coverage – even in areas hit by floods, storms, fires or other calamities. 4 in 10 say they would personally use such signal locators in the 2030s.
Three in four believe mobile operators will offer resilient subscription plans that continue to provide network connections in the event of extreme weather events. Nearly 4 in 10 would personally use such a subscription with an app that can access any available connection or even satellite connectivity when all other networks are down. Today, the latest iPhones offer satellite emergency services, indicating the potential for such services to become much more widespread.
According to most urban early adopters, future networks could also help warn and prevent disasters thanks to sensors in personal devices, cars and public infrastructure that collectively track climate events and provide a crowdsourced warning system to nearby connected users. Personal, local weather warnings that can help avoid danger could also be part of subscriptions, resulting in connectivity providers competing for the best local weather forecasts in the 2030s. About a third say they would like to sign up for such warning services and as many would like a rescue service subscriptions, guaranteeing timely pickup in the event of an unavoidable disaster.
Trend 3 - No-rush mobility
If there is one machine that defines the industrial era and the fossil economy, it is not the heavy steel mill or even the car. It is the diminutive wristwatch, an invention that launched the heavily time-synched work culture and overall day-scheduled lifestyle that consumers have lived in for the last 100 years. However, climate-related demands may usher in a completely different society-organizing principle than synchronized time: the availability of energy and its impact on physical mobility.
Seven in ten urban early adopters believe consumers will have schedulers that plan daily activities based on fluctuating energy costs rather than time efficiency – a paradigm shift with the potential to change everything.
Everyday life depends on predictable mobility, such as getting to school and work on time. But what if that would change? As many as 4 in 10 say they will use connected commuter passes that offer bonuses for off-peak energy travel by the 2030s. Even more of them say they will use an app that finds the best time to travel based on when and where they can charge their car at the lowest cost. All of these add flexibility to the rigidity of 9 to 5 life. When energy-hour commuting replaces rush-hour traffic, that hour will occur at different times of the day for different people, distributing energy use away from peaks.
However, commuting is just one aspect. The rising tide of mobility constraints could impact all consumer activities and all locations. Three-quarters foresee a travel planner that gets them to their destination in the most cost- and energy-efficient way rather than at a specific date or time. Even micro-mobility and domestic events are set for fundamental change. Around 65 percent expect consumers to use AI planners that schedule activities based on the charge level of their home battery rather than the preferred date or time.
What, for example, happens if a consumer has booked something, such as a ticket for an event, but expects to show up at an unspecified time? Audiences could use cutting-edge AR and VR technologies that provide more interactive, sandbox-style experiences in the 2030s. These technologies will enable immersive virtual experiences where audiences can see and physically interact with everyone in the event, just like in the real world. A less linear structure allows audiences to begin and end the event whenever they want without missing out. This kind of no-rush market will undoubtedly exist, given that around a third of urban early adopters expect to buy connected event tickets that flexibly adapt the event time to when they can take part.
Trend 4 - S(AI)fe keepers
Society as a whole needs to be more prepared for all kinds of catastrophic weather. As climate change progresses, further disruption of global weather systems adds complexity and unpredictability to weather forecasting and, ultimately, our daily lives. Individuals who live in areas not normally prone to extreme weather can also experience disruptive events. In 2021, the heat dome in the northwestern parts of the US and Canada boiled sea creatures and heated the land to the extent that wildfires swallowed whole towns, and when the rain finally came, it was so intense that it caused flooding and landslides. This area was known for its natural beauty and pleasant summer temperatures, so most residents had yet to plan for the event or consider the possibility of any of these events happening.
Imagine if a personalized weather warning system could give real-time advice on unexpected weather developments. Over 8 in 10 urban early adopters believe warning services will exist in the 2030s and nearly half want to use such a service for their own safety. In fact, in 2022 an initiative for early warning systems for extreme weather to save lives and avoid damage was launched by the UN with the aim of reaching all people by 2027. If and when evacuation is required, 75 percent also anticipate a climate-disaster-proof home alarm system that alerts the police if burglars break in while they are away.
To protect themselves from extreme weather, a third consider wearing intelligent extreme weather jackets, with built-in emergency heaters and inflatable life vests or body sensors that measure how they cope with the heat or cold and alert healthcare providers if needed.
Due to financial worries, urban early adopters want to find ways to improve their economic situation in light of climate change consequences and insecurities. By the next decade, AI services could assist in home improvement investments, to prepare for extreme weather events, according to three quarters of urban early adopters. A third are also interested in using AI services to invest in green technologies to better protect themselves from the negative financial impacts of the climate crisis.
Trend 5 - New working climate
Work flexibility has been a hot topic since the pandemic. As a result, society will likely see many individuals wanting to keep the flexibility of working at home at least part-time. In addition, consumers expect the emergence of new work routines in the 2030s, which are less about individual preference but rather driven by climate change.
If companies and employees face weather-related cost increases and stricter corporate carbon emissions reporting demands, using new types of digital services will likely become part of the everyday work routine. Whether working in an office, a production environment, on the field or at home, three-quarters of urban early adopters believe there will be an AI service that schedules their workday to avoid electricity consumption during peak hours. On the surface, such a service seems simple, but in the context of a whole society, it can fundamentally change how people work. This shift may even eliminate the concept of ‘weekends,’ and daily activities may revolve around more flexibly distributed energy use instead.
The evolving workplace also could entail creating energy-efficient personal micro-climates that follow employees around. A third of urban early adopters believe they will use air-conditioning systems that track them to provide personalized cooling and heating. Fitness could also get real-time work integration. Two-thirds say office chairs with foot pedals will allow them to exercise and generate electricity while working.
For the home worker, AR/VR devices could enable immersive digital presence at work, saving them from commuting. This innovation is especially valued by those who are weekly AR/VR users today, with 49 percent wanting to personally use such a device, compared to 37 percent who do not already use AR/VR. Similarly, over half of weekly AR/VR users hope to use AR glasses that completely replace PCs and all other work equipment.
Finally, to maintain the flexibility of switching between the workplace and home, three-quarters predict that companies will provide AI assistants that help them plan commutes, tasks and resources to minimize their work-related carbon footprint.
Trend 6 - Smart water
Around half of the human population still does not have regular access to clean, fresh water, a basic human need. According to Unicef, four billion people experience severe water scarcity for at least one month each year. While drought is one of the climate change symptoms leading to the decline in freshwater, other contributing factors include urbanization, extensive agricultural irrigation, and wasteful water use. In some places, aquifers are pumped out faster than they are replenished. Meanwhile, great rivers providing water to over one billion people will diminish as the glaciers that fill them with meltwater recede.
Urban early adopters find the idea of built-in sensors at home that monitor water consumption beneficial, given the impending decline in freshwater supplies. To aid in water conservation, 46 percent say they will use sensors that notify if a tap is left running or if there is unusual water usage in the household.
On the other hand, extreme rainfall is equally challenging for freshwater supplies due to the resulting floods that contaminate reservoirs and rivers. Almost half of the urban early adopters expect to use smart water catchers on their roofs, balconies and windows that intelligently open when rains start to catch and clean rainwater. In some cities like São Paolo, as many as 6 in 10 say they want to install this technology within 10 years.
Although water rationing exists today, it could become much more common in the next decade. About 64 percent of early adopters foresee digitally regulated monthly water allowances for all citizens by the 2030s. Over half also say it is likely that there will be a market for mobile apps that let consumers sell their water allowance to the highest bidder. At the same time, two-thirds believe there will be nanobot-enhanced water bottles that purify and desalinate water for drinking.
Around a third would even consider not using water for their hygiene. Urban early adopters envision, for example, bathrooms with odor scanners that disinfect without using water. Showers, washing machines and dishwashers could also be replaced by nanobot cleaners that only target dirty spots. They also see the possibility of clothes made from dirt- and bacteria-repellent nanomaterials that never need washing.
Trend 7 - The enerconomy
Switching to renewable energy sources is one of the most cost-efficient ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and replace fossil fuels, according to the sixth UN IPCC report. At the same time, increasing clean electricity demand and finding ways to save and consume our energy smarter are necessary to decarbonize society.
In an era when access to energy could become restricted, it is understandable that urban early adopters demand power-saving technologies, such as app-controlled home batteries that balance energy use and reduce expenses. Around 53% of those worried about climate change would sign up to use this in the future while four in ten want a household AI energy system attached to the battery that informs them of the remaining balance.
Urban early adopters also see opportunities to generate electricity and make money. Three in four believe selling energy from AI-controlled small solar panels and micro wind turbines at home will be commonplace in the 2030s.
Since access to energy is an essential everyday need, urban early adopters predict that consumers will have an energy bank; a way to save up for energy-intensive activities or times of scarcity, just like a savings account in a bank. One-third would like an online energy savings account where family members can pool and save energy resources for holidays or trips. Almost as many want a neighborhood backup battery that uses AI predictions to let neighborhoods pool energy use in the event of disruptions.
If energy can be saved just like money, why not use it as money? Over 6 in 10 believe consumers will be able to pay for goods and services in kWh using mobile apps in the 2030s. Furthermore, over half think there will be ‘potluck energy party’ apps that let consumers gift the energy needed for a party, instead of bringing a physical gift.
Trend 8 - Less is more digital
The feeling of guilt over a massive shopping splurge is a common sentiment for many individuals. Today, most consumption revolves around physical goods. While virtual goods consumption does exist, the adoption primarily occurs in virtual gaming worlds when gamers make in-game purchases or when users buy clothes or other items for their characters on social media platforms.
Fast forward to a warmer world in the 2030s, producing physical goods could be more challenging due to supply chain disruptions, leading to increasing costs. Aside from necessities such as food, clothes, and housing, can consumers replace part of physical goods consumption with digital alternatives? The answer is ‘yes’ based on the opinions of urban early adopters. Specifically, 72 percent believe a shopping app that suggests alternative digital items to replace physical shopping needs will be in use in the 2030s. For example, people can buy digital toys for their children or adopt a digital pet. This digital ownership is particularly popular among AR/VR users, as more than a third of them indicate they will personally use this type of service in the 2030s. Furthermore, 64 percent believe a connected AI will prevent consumers from making unnecessary purchases, perhaps by increasing visibility to what they already own or simply questioning the need. Over a third also predict they will personally use the connected AI service in the 2030s.
Packaging is another area that urban early adopters believe will be more digitalized in the 2030s as the public becomes more interested in resource-efficient solutions. For example, 75 percent think AR/VR devices will help eliminate branding and product information on packages with digital versions, and 4 in 10 say they would personally use this kind of low-environmental impact packaging.
Beyond physical products, physical mobility may also be digitalized. Having to go to the gym in bad weather may no longer seem like a good idea if consumers could just as well work out from home. Around 77 percent of urban early adopters believe using AR/VR glasses to attend fitness classes from anywhere will be possible in the 2030s.
Trend 9 - Natureverse
Research shows that nature – whether it’s ‘green spaces’ (forests) or ‘blue spaces’ (rivers, lakes, or sea) – not only provides benefits for physical well-being but also improves mental health. In the UK, ‘blue space’ therapy is even prescribed by doctors to treat mental health issues, with promising results. However, enjoying nature can become challenging for urban dwellers. In a warmer world, travel could be dangerous in areas with extreme weather, and rising travel costs and environmental concerns may also be limiting factors. Therefore, it is not surprising that early adopters want technology solutions that can bring them closer to nature without traveling.
In the 2030s urban early adopters might start thinking of nature as an experience rather than a location. Two thirds believe consumers will embrace VR boats that digitally bring them to the sea to listen to the sound of waves and feel the warmth of the salty air. Around 73 percent foresee families using AR glasses to go on safaris from their living rooms and 65 percent foresee people taking a tour with VR-equipped bodysuits that simulate the full experience of skiing or skating. A VR-equipped bath can allow consumers to experience swimming in a lake using minimal water. At the same time, virtual travel services can enable consumers to experience nature reserves and mountain trails in real time as if they were there. The need for and enjoyment of natural experiences will still be high in the 2030s. But, if consumers cannot go into nature, they will have the possibility to bring nature to them instead.
Another area that urban early adopters believe technology can help is bridging the learning opportunity gap between those who can easily access nature and those who cannot while minimizing the damage we impose on nature when observing and learning about it. For example, 76 percent believe an AR/VR classroom will allow students to learn about and experience nature without having to go there physically.
Trend 10 - Climate cheaters
When the UN Secretary-General Guterres said, “We are on a highway to climate hell, with our foot on the accelerator” in his opening speech at the 2022 Climate Change Conference (COP27) he was using powerful imagery of short-term indulgencies that have adverse effects in the future.
Discounting the future is, unfortunately, perfectly normal human behavior. One classic example is the belief that a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow. Similarly, many consumers instinctively discount future climate effects. Hence, urban early adopters believe consumers will use technology to maintain the cruising speed of their current lifestyles if society tries to put its foot on the brake on their behalf. In fact, 72 percent believe they will use digital technology to bypass environmental restrictions, regulations or norms for their short-term personal gain in the 2030s.
In 2022, Spain restricted public building temperatures to 19°C for heating and a minimum of 27°C for cooling, indicating that restrictive measures are indeed coming. For the next decade, 7 in 10 believe that consumers will be able to manipulate home air-conditioners and heaters using a remote-controlled mini heater and cooler to achieve more comfortable temperatures than the regulated range. Concerningly, a third see themselves breaking the (future) law in this way.
Likewise, over 6 in 10 urban early adopters believe there will be apps for unofficial waste collection services that allow people to discard harmful waste cheaply. They also believe apps will be able to cover consumers’ digital tracks when buying non-sustainable luxury goods or driving around for fun.
Climate cheating like this may become illegal. Urban early adopters who choose not to cheat say it is primarily because of the risk, although almost as many are motivated to abstain in order to protect the environment. While potential climate cheaters may ignore legal risks, they recognize that cheating may come with a stigma. Today, social media is full of people boasting about their jet-set lifestyle. But almost 6 in 10 say that in the 2030s, automated social media bots will post AI-generated images of them walking around the neighborhood, while in reality, they are flying off on holiday, turning the current trend on its head.
However, wanting to cheat on climate restrictions is not about denying the fact of climate change. Around 95 percent of urban early adopters, whether they consider themselves climate cheaters or not, know climate change is a reality. The difference, instead, is how they discount the effect it will have on them. A quarter of climate cheaters believe their daily life will be better due to climate change, compared to only 5 percent of non-cheaters.
This report presents insights from Ericsson’s long-standing consumer trends program, now in its 12th year. The quantitative results referred to in the report are based on an online survey of residents in Bangkok, Berlin, Brussels, Cairo, Dallas Fort Worth, Delhi, Jakarta, Johannesburg, Kuala Lumpur, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Mexico City, Miami, Milan, Munich, New York, Oslo, Rome, San Francisco, São Paulo, Shanghai, Singapore, Stockholm, Sydney, Taipei, Tokyo, Toronto, Vancouver, and Zürich. The survey was carried out in November 2022.
The sample consists of at least 500 respondents aged 15–69 from each city (15,145 respondents in total), who are either currently regular users of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) or virtual assistants, or intend to use these technologies in the near future.
The respondents were asked to imagine living in a warmer 2030s world and then evaluated 120 digital service ideas across 15 areas, ranging from climate related mitigation efforts in everyday life to ways to handle dire weather events. From their answers, ten trends were created. The respondents represent 75 million citizens out of 325 million living in the metropolitan areas surveyed, which is only a small fraction of consumers globally. However, we believe their early adopter profile makes these individuals important when exploring how consumers might use information and communications technology for daily life in this 2030s climate scenario.
About Climate Change
The Paris Agreement aims to substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to keep the rise in global temperature this century to 2°C while pursuing efforts to keep it to 1.5°C. At the same time IPCC in its 6th Assessment report Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability states that if global warming transiently exceeds 1.5°C in the coming decades or later, many human and natural systems will face additional severe risks, compared to remaining below 1.5°C. Therefore, 1.5 degrees is both a political goal and a limit to avoid irreversible tipping points where climate change becomes self-reinforcing.
To stay below this limit seems increasingly challenging as global emissions are nowhere near reduction, let alone in the speed and magnitude needed to keep with 1.5 degrees. According to the 6th IPCC Assessment Report, The Physical Science Basis, the best estimated global average rise in temperature will be 1.5°C for the four low and intermediate emission scenarios and reach 1.6°C of warming for the highest emission scenario during 2021-2040. This tells us that we need to intensify our climate mitigation efforts, but also to focus more on adaptation to a more challenging climate.
Based on current developments, we are heading for 1.5 degrees in a not-too-distant future. A 1.5°C warming will lead to increased frequencies of higher average temperatures and extreme heat waves. Some regions will experience more severe and frequent agricultural draughts and wildfires, while some will see new storm patterns and heavier precipitation resulting in flooding and landslides. With further increases in global average temperatures of warming such effects will be even more frequent and intense. And already between 1°C and 2 °C of global warming we may have passed critical climate tipping points impacting for example glaciers, coral reefs and sea currents.
The global mean temperature in 2022 is currently estimated to be about 1.15°C above the pre-industrial average. The past eight years are on track to be the eight warmest on record, with extreme heatwaves, drought and devastating flooding affecting millions and costing billions this year, as reported by the WMO Provisional State of the Global Climate.
About Consumer & IndustryLab
Ericsson Consumer & IndustryLab explore the future of technology for consumers, enterprises, and a sustainable society. We deliver world-class market research, actionable insights, and design concepts to drive innovation and sustainable business development. We provide a scientific fact-based analysis regarding environmental, social, and economic impacts and opportunities of ICT.
Our knowledge is gained from global consumer, enterprise, and sustainability research programs, including collaborations with leading customers, industry partners, universities, and research institutions. Our research programs cover in-depth studies and over 100,000 interviews with consumers, working people and decision-makers each year, in 30 countries – statistically representing the views of 1.1 billion people.
All ConsumerLab reports can be found at: www.ericsson.com/consumerlab
Ericsson is one of the leading providers of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to service providers. We enable the full value of connectivity by creating game-changing technology and services that are easy to use, adopt, and scale, making our customers successful in a fully connected world.
More from Ericsson