The World in 2030

CAMBRIDGE – What will the world look like two decades from now? Obviously, nobody knows, but some things are more likely than others. Companies and governments have to make informed guesses, because some of their investments today will last longer than 20 years. In December, the United States National Intelligence Council (NIC) published its guess: Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds.

The NIC foresees a transformed world, in which “no country – whether the US, China, or any other large country – will be a hegemonic power.” This reflects four “megatrends”: individual empowerment and the growth of a global middle class; diffusion of power from states to informal networks and coalitions; demographic changes, owing to urbanization, migration, and aging; and increased demand for food, water, and energy.

Each trend is changing the world and “largely reversing the historic rise of the West since 1750, restoring Asia’s weight in the global economy, and ushering in a new era of ‘democratization’ at the international and domestic level.” The US will remain “first among equals” in hard and soft power, but “the ‘unipolar moment’ is over.”

It is never safe, however, to project the future just by extrapolating current trends. Surprise is inevitable, so the NIC also identifies what it calls “game-changers,” or outcomes that could drive the major trends off course in surprising ways.