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The world in 2030

What will the world look like in 2030? Can we predict the future based on current trends? Perhaps, to some extent. However, the United States National Intelligence Council (NIC) has attempted to answer the first question in its report released in December titled ‘Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds.’ The report reflects on four mega-trends that will radically transform the globe in the coming 15-20 years. These are: (1) individual empowerment and growth of a global middle class, (2) diffusion of power from states to informal networks and coalitions, (3) demographic changes, and (4) increased demands for food, water and energy.

The report says that individual empowerment will substantially increase in the next two decades due to poverty reduction, greater educational attainment, better health care and the rise of a global middle class. The majority of the poor will be able to break out of the vicious circle of poverty, at least in absolute terms. Individual empowerment will become possible chiefly due to expansion in the global economy, accelerated economic growth in the developing countries, and exploitation of new communication and manufacturing technologies.

Power will no more remain concentrated in the hands of the current players. Dispersion of power will take place both at the domestic and global levels. Asia will surpass North America and Europe in economic and military power measured against the yardsticks of GDP, population size, military spending and investment in new technologies. China is expected to have the single-largest economy much before 2030.

Besides China, India and Brazil, other regional players like Colombia, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa and Turkey are also expected to become important to the global economy, whereas the economies of Europe, Japan, and Russia will continue to slide relative to the emerging economies in the coming years.

The nature and dynamics of power will also transform fundamentally. Various multifaceted and amorphous groups equipped with communication technologies (mobile, internet, social networking) will grow in influence and will impact the state and global actions. The power of a country in the transformed world of 2030 will mainly depend on its learning to operate in networks and coalitions in the multi-polar world. In a nutshell, the next 15-20 years will be an era of democratisation at the domestic and global levels where the communications technology will play a vital role.

By 2030, the world will undergo demographic changes of fundamental nature. Its population is expected to touch the figure of 8.3 billion, which is currently estimated at 7.1 billion. Ageing, migration, and growing urbanisation will be important drivers of demographic shifts. Ageing structures are likely to change dramatically and the countries with large ageing population or low fertility rates are likely to face a possibility of diminished economic productivity, slower GDP growth or stagnation. The number of countries currently having youthful population is expected to decline by 50 percent by 2030.

Cross-border migrations will further intensify due to differing age structures between the developed and developing countries, sharp income inequalities across regions, and presence of already well-established migrant networks. Internal migration is also likely to increase as the urbanisation process will further accelerate in the coming years. Demand for food, water, and energy will increase in the next 15-20 years. According to the report, the demand is likely to increase by 30 percent globally and food security will emerge as a serious concern.

However, the authors of the report are aware of the fact that these trends may not necessarily turn out to be true as these guesstimates are based on extrapolations of current trends. There may be surprises and upsets. Cognisant of such surprises, the report identifies some ‘game-changers’ – ie, sources of uncertainty.

First, such source of uncertainty that could drive the major trends off course is the health of the global economy. In the wake of the global financial crisis, economies, especially those of the developed countries, were hit hard and have not yet recouped. The emerging economies have, however, shown great resilience during the crisis compared with the developed countries.

China and India have been growing faster, compared with the US and Europe, in the last couple of years. Due to difference in growth rates and speeds, global imbalances have risen dramatically. The world is still not out of the throes of the global financial crisis and the report does not rule out the possibility of another global crisis in the next 15-20 years. If it happens, things can badly go off track. The point is whether divergent speeds of various economies will exacerbate the volatility or greater multi-polarity will underpin greater resilience.

Another source of uncertainty and unpredictability identified by the report is the governance gap. With the diffusion of power, numerous state and non-state actors will rise. The diffusion of power means that sub-national governments will play an important role in governance. At the global level, decision-making may be further complicated and may slow down due to conflicts of interests and views between the current powers and new emerging powers. The role of growing regionalism is another source of concern and uncertainty. At the domestic level, governance issues are likely to become more acute due to social and political changes resulting from the empowerment of the individuals and diffusions of power in the society.

Potential for increased conflict is the third game-changer discussed in the report. Intrastate conflicts are likely to rise in countries with more youthful populations due to scrambles over resources among various ethnic and linguistic groups. The report mentions Pakistan among few other countries where intrastate conflict may break out due to faltering governance institutions.

Regional instability may be another game-changer. The report especially mentions the Middle East and the South Asia as two regions which are most likely to trigger broader instability. The report says “South Asia faces a series of internal and external shocks during the next 15-20 years. Low growth, rising food prices and energy shortages will pose stiff challenges to governance in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s youth bulges are large – similar in size to many African countries. When these youth bulges are combined with a slow-growing economy, they portend increased instability.”

The uncertain impact of new technologies is another likely game-changer. New breakthroughs are expected in technologies pertaining to the security of vital resources. Longevity is likely to further increase due to advancements in health technologies. Social networking will further improve due to evolved technologies. Information technology-based solutions will enhance economic productivity and quality of life.

New manufacturing and automation technologies will significantly alter work patterns. But such technologies can reduce the usefulness of low- and semi-skilled workers in the developing countries. Resultantly, economic inequalities can further deepen and lead to instability. Further, use of technology by terrorist groups is another area of concern.

So, no definitive answer has been provided by the authors of the NIC report to what the world would look like in 2030. However, some trends are more pronounced; that is, they have more probability to occur and have more relevance in our case. For example, awareness among individuals about their rights will certainly increase due to the power of the media, social networking and interconnectedness of the world, and if our policies fail to take care of poverty reduction and inequalities, heightened awareness and empowerment of the individuals may turn out to be a recipe for complete disaster.

People will become more vociferous in their demands for fairness, equity, rule of law and eradication of corruption in the coming years. If the elite resist change in the regressive and exploitative structures in the society, the threat of instability will always loom large. How Pakistan would look like in 2030 would depend at least in part on the policies that we adopt today.

The writer is a graduate from Columbia University with a degree in economic policy management. Email: jamilnasir1969@gmail.com

Jamil Nasir, "The world in 2030," The News. 2013-01-16.