CONTESTED WORLD

By februari 2, 2024 Algemeen

Today’s world is consistently described by the dominance of national interests, a low degree of multinational combined efforts as well as a decoupling of the Global South. In a highly individualized world, people are losing trust in politics, administration and public media. At the global level, this is also weakening the role of nation states, so that various interest-driven actors – from companies and lobbyists to civil society groups and numerous regional and local entities – are stepping into this gap. Urban areas in particular are becoming actors in their own right on the world stage, so that overall one could speak of a shift toward market states. While the USA and China are able to secure their position in this process, Europe is torn apart between the various centers of power.

In coming years and decades, the world will face more intense and cascading global challenges ranging from conflicts to climate change to the disruptions from new technologies and financial crises. These challenges—which often lack a direct human agent or perpetrator—will produce wide­spread strains on states and societies as well as shocks that could be catastrophic. They will repeatedly test the resilience and adaptability of communities, states, and the international system, often exceeding the capacity of existing systems and models. This looming disequilibrium between existing and future challenges and the ability of institutions and systems to respond is likely to grow and produce greater contestation at every level.

Novel technologies will appear and diffuse faster and faster, disrupting jobs, industries, communities, the nature of power, and what it means to be human. The effects of climate change and environmental degradation are likely to exacerbate food and water insecurity for poor countries, increase migration, precipitate new health challenges, and contribute to biodi­versity losses. Continued pressure for global migration will strain both origin and destination countries to manage the flow and effects. These challenges will intersect and cascade, including in ways that are difficult to anticipate. The development is exacerbated by the global consequences of ecological tipping points, which in many countries of the global South further restrict the functioning of state institutions. The lack of global cooperation and overarching governance ultimately leads to a lack of reforms in the agricultural and food sector, and in some regions even jeopardize food supplies. Climate policies remain limited to individual regions, segments or corporate initiatives, which makes global success impossible from the start.

In this more contested world, communities are increasingly fractured as people seek security with like-minded groups based on established and newly prominent identities; states of all types and in all regions are struggling to meet the needs and expectations of more connected, more urban, and more empowered populations; and the international system is more competitive—shaped in part by challenges from a rising China—and at greater risk of conflict as states and nonstate actors exploit new sources of power and erode longstanding norms and institutions that have provided some stability in past decades. These dynamics are not fixed in perpetuity, however, and we envision a variety of plausible scenarios for the world of 2040—from a democratic renais­sance to a transformation in global cooperation spurred by shared tragedy—depending on how these dynamics interact and human choices along the way.

The loosening of nation-state structures coupled with the weak position of global institutions is creating a patchwork of different actors and rules. Uniform value systems that provide orientation no longer exist. Instead, competing value systems rise all over the world. Authoritarian ideas are gaining a foothold in the West and, in parallel, Western ideas are attractive worldwide – even if China and other authoritarian states are trying to seal themselves off from this development. In this world without global leadership and cooperation, numerous conflicts occur, which also repeatedly trigger large migration flows.

Digital network monopolies act purely according to power and profit considerations. In doing so, they also rely on alternative private means of payment, thus forcing the public sector to lose control over the monetary system.

The digital elite acts largely independently of real developments in specific countries and regions. While Western nations are largely able to maintain their position, the growth of the global middle class in Asia is stagnating and the global South is falling further behind. Many people around the world are having to curtail their consumption desires. This fragmentation ultimately also weakens the dynamics of the global economy – even with formal free trade structures.

The scale of transnational challenges, and the emerging implications of fragmen­tation, are exceeding the capacity of existing systems and structures, a state of disequilibrium. There is an increasing mismatch at all levels between challenges and needs with the systems and organizations to deal with them. The international system—in­cluding the organizations, alliances, rules, and norms—is poorly set up to address the com­pounding global challenges facing populations. A key consequence of greater imbal­ance is greater contestation within communi­ties, states, and the international community. This encompasses rising tensions, division, and competition in societies, states, and at the international level. Many societies are increas­ingly divided among identity affiliations and at risk of greater fracturing. Relationships be­tween societies and governments will be under persistent strain as states struggle to meet rising demands from populations. As a result, politics within states are likely to grow more volatile and contentious, and no region, ide­ology, or governance system seems immune or to have the answers. At the international level, the geopolitical environment will be more competitive—shaped by China’s challenge to the United States and Western-led interna­tional system.

This contestation is playing out across domains from information and the media to trade and technological innovations.

Global alliances will play an important role in the future. System rivalry as a conflict between value-oriented democracies and illiberal governments up to authoritarian states characterizes the image of the future of Western evaluators in particular, while in China and the global South other images of the future are at least as important. The most effective states are likely to be those that can build societal consensus and trust toward collective action on adapta­tion and harness the relative expertise, capa­bilities, and relationships of nonstate actors to complement state capacity.

Within societies, there is increasing fragmen­tation and contestation over economic, cultur­al, and political issues. Decades of steady gains in prosperity and other aspects of human de­velopment have improved lives in every region and raised peoples’ expectations for a better future. As these trends plateau and combine with rapid social and technological changes, large segments of the global population are becoming wary of institutions and govern­ments that they see as unwilling or unable to address their needs.

Human responses to these core drivers and emerging dynamics will determine how the world evolves during the next two decades. Of the many uncertainties about the future, we explored three key questions around condi­tions within specific regions and countries and the policy choices of populations and leaders that will shape the global environment.

Raw materials, like metals or minerals, are limited and bounded by access and availabilities.  Global distribution but also total raw material reserves determine general availability – this can change over time. To overcome these limitations, moving away from a ‘produce-consume-discard’ cycle, waste itself should be more universally understood as a raw material – increasingly, it can be recycled, re-processed and re-integrated into production cycles, thus moving from a linear to a circular economy model.

Access to life’s most basic resources, food and water, is unevenly distributed on Earth. Thanks to continuous efforts, progress to improve the situation of the most dependent could be observed over past decades: The global prevalence of undernourished children aged 5 years or younger dropped from 28% in 1990 to 13% in 2020. Still, too many people are exposed to famine around the world. The goal should not only be to feed everyone, but to do so in a sustainable way. Specifically, this includes lowering the consumption of water- and land-intensive foods, and to lower GHG emissions caused by food production.

All processes – in the economy, in transportation, in households and elsewhere – depend on energy. Current energy generation drives GHG emissions the most, urging the need for a transition to renewables. Major elements of the energy transition are to electrify the global economy, to replace fossil fuels, and to generate electricity from renewable sources. But replacing fossil fuels by renewable energy is not enough. In addition, a considerable improvement in energy efficiency is necessary to meet the future energy demand.

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