Defense Media Network

Global Trends 2030: Future Thinking About Megatrends

Part 3 of a series covering the National Intelligence Council's look into the future

Megatrends

At the heart of “Global Trends 2030” are four megatrends that it identifies as the most significant trends that will affect the world looking out over a decade-and-a-half into the future. Previous editions of Global Trends have also identified megatrends, and if there is one part of GT2030 that is the most “mature” and well-developed, it is this mega-trends aspect of the report.

Trends mean just that; extrapolation of things happening today that, if left largely alone, will continue along the path they are on and result in a “tomorrow” that while not “predictable” represents a projection of a future state that is more likely than not. For this edition of Global Trends,  four megatrends dominate the landscape. These four megatrends are:

  • Individual Empowerment: Individual empowerment will accelerate owing to poverty reduction, growth of the global middle class, greater educational attainment, widespread use of new communications and manufacturing technologies, and health care advances.
  • Diffusion of Power: By 2030 there will not be any hegemonic power. Rather, power will shift to networks and coalitions in a multipolar world. Multipolarity is a trend that is closely related to individual empowerment.
  • Demographic Patterns: The demographic arc of instability will narrow. Economic growth might well decline in “aging” countries. Up to 60 percent of the world’s population will live in urbanized areas and that migration will increase.
  • Food, Water, and Energy: Demand for these resources will grow substantially owing to an increase in the global population. Importantly, tackling problems pertaining to one commodity will be linked to supply and demand for the others.

These trends, which are virtually certain, exist today, but GT2030 suggests that during the next 15-20 years they will gain much greater momentum, becoming the governing trends that change our world and shape it as we move toward 2030 – and beyond. With this shorthand description of these megatrends, we can take a more nuanced view of what they will mean to our world in 2030.

 

What These Megatrends Mean for the Future World

Individual empowerment will accelerate substantially during the next 15 to 20 years owing to the worldwide reduction of poverty and a huge growth of the global middle class.  This will be accelerated through greater educational attainment and better health care. As this evolves, for the first time, a majority of the world’s population will not be impoverished, and the middle classes will be the most important social and economic sector in the vast majority of countries around the world.

Individual empowerment is the most important megatrend because it is both a cause and effect of most other trends – including the expanding global economy, rapid growth of the developing countries, and widespread exploitation of new communications and manufacturing technologies.

On the one hand, it suggests the potential for greater individual initiative as key to solving the mounting global challenges over the next 15 to 20 years. On the other hand, individuals and small groups will have greater access to lethal and disruptive technologies enabling them to perpetrate large-scale violence – a capability formerly the exclusive province of states.

The “diffusion of power” notes that the health of the global economy will be linked to how well the developing world does. On the other hand, some countries, such as Japan, will continue to experience continued economic decline. Photo by Simon le nippon

The “diffusion of power” notes that the health of the global economy will be linked to how well the developing world does. On the other hand, some countries, such as Japan, will continue to experience a slow relative economic decline. Photo by Simon le nippon

The diffusion of power among countries will have a dramatic impact by 2030. Asia will have surpassed North America and Europe combined in terms of global power, based upon GDP, population size, military spending, and technological investment. China alone will probably have the largest economy, surpassing that of the United States a few years before 2030. The health of the global economy increasingly will be linked to how well the developing world does – more so than the traditional West. In addition to China, India, and Brazil, regional players such as Colombia, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa, and Turkey will become especially important to the global economy. Meanwhile, the economies of Europe, Japan, and Russia are likely to continue their slow relative declines.

Demographic patterns will represent a strong mega-trend. In the world of 2030 – a world in which a growing global population will have reached somewhere close to 8.3 billion people (up from 7.1 billion in 2013) – four demographic trends will fundamentally shape, although not necessarily determine, most countries’ economic and political conditions and relations among countries. These trends are: aging – a major shift for both for the West and increasingly most developing countries; a still-significant but shrinking number of youthful societies and states; migration, which will increasingly be a cross-border issue; and growing urbanization – another major shift, which will spur economic growth but could put new strains on food and water resources. Aging countries will face an uphill battle in maintaining their living standards.

Food, water, and energy will be increasingly important and more inextricably linked than ever before. Demand for food, water, and energy will grow by approximately 35, 40, and 50 percent respectively owing to an increase in the global population and the consumption patterns of an expanding middle class. This megatrend suggests that we are not necessarily headed into a world of scarcities, but policymakers and their private sector partners will need to be proactive to avoid such a future. Tackling problems pertaining to one commodity won’t be possible without affecting supply and demand for the others.

 

These Shifts Will Continue and Deliver Concrete Change

As we described at the outset, these megatrends exist today, but during the next 15 to 20 years “will gain much greater momentum,” according to GT2030.  But these trends also are matrixed against “tectonic shifts” – seven areas that give more specificity to these megatrends.  These tectonic shifts will be the subject of the next post.

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Captain George Galdorisi is a career naval aviator. He began his writing career in 1978...