In the coming decades, increases in population, income and health will put additional pressures on our planet’s biosphere. To meet the needs of future generations, we need to adapt our ways of living and definitions of economic development. A transition to a more sustainable world is imperative if we want to stop depleting the Earth’s resources more quickly than it can regenerate them. This paper synthesizes current trends and challenges that are relevant for the policy debate on sustainability. It explains how demographic shifts, economic growth, changing lifestyles, new technologies and geopolitical developments affect sustainable development. It discusses how the growing demand for energy contributes to the depletion of fossil fuels and climate change; how the growing demand for raw materials contributes to resource scarcity; and how current developments put increased pressure on the Earth’s biosphere and contribute to ecological degradation. Finally, it examines whether there are indications, such as the transformation of our normative framework, economic system and governance, that we are moving towards a more sustainable future.