This report is intended to stimulate thinking about the rapid and vast geopolitical changes characterizing the world today and possible global trajectories during the next 15-20 years. As with the NIC’s previous Global Trends reports, we do not seek to predict the future—which would be an impossible feat—but instead provide a framework for thinking about possible futures and their implications.
The world of 2030 will be radically transformed from our world today. By 2030, no country—whether the US, China, or any other large country—will be a hegemonic power. The empowerment of individuals and diffusion of power among states and from states to informal networks will have a dramatic impact, 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. In addition to individual empowerment and the diffusion of state power, we believe that two other megatrends will shape our world out to 2030: demographic patterns, especially rapid aging; and growing resource demands which, in the cases of food and water, might lead to scarcities. These trends, which are virtually certain, exist today, but during the next 15-20 years they will gain much greater momentum. Underpinning the megatrends are tectonic shifts—critical changes to key features of our global environment that will affect how the world “works” (see table on page v).
Extrapolations of the megatrends would alone point to a changed world by 2030—but the world could be transformed in radically different ways. We believe that six key game-changers—questions regarding the global economy, governance, conflict, regional instability, technology, and the role of the United States—will largely determine what kind of transformed world we will inhabit in 2030. Several potential Black Swans—discrete events—would cause large-scale disruption (see page xi). All but two of these—the possibility of a democratic China or a reformed Iran—would have negative repercussions. Based upon what we know about the megatrends and the possible interactions between the megatrends and the game-changers, we have delineated four archetypal futures that represent distinct pathways for the world out to 2030. None of these alternative worlds is inevitable. In reality, the future probably will consist of elements from all the scenarios.