"Global Trends 2025" is a striking 120-page document from the National Intelligence Council (NIC), a center of strategic thinking for the U.S. government, with input from the various intelligence agencies.
As the Guardian observes, it is a striking reversal from the triumphalism of the Bush years. It sees the future as multi-polar and roiled by shocks. Resource scarcity and climate change are highlighted. State capitalism in the style of Russia and China will challenge the liberal capitalism of the West. Even the possibility of a decline of the role of the U.S. dollar is mentioned.
Though the report has opened the door to reality, peak oilers will still find much to criticize. The term "peak oil" is still taboo, even though a transition away from oil is predicted as a near-certainty. The coverage of energy alternatives in more wishful thinking than realistic. For example, the report points with hope to carbon sequestration, hydrogen, and biofuels as possible responses. Chapter 2 on demographics will disappoint anyone concerned with over-population.
Even so, the National Intelligence Council has given us a lot to chew on. As a former technical writer, I appreciate the clear writing and organization.
Like the IEA's recent report, "Global Trends 2025" contains striking observations whose implications are not explicitly stated. People in the know will understand them, while the public is protected from shock.
If I was to summarize the report, it would be as "the new conventional wisdom for the Age of Obama."
EB co-editor SO and I have reprinted some excerpts below.
The Guardian - Blowing away certainties
BBC - Analysis: US Global Trends report
Financial Times - US report sees shift of power to east
Washington Post - Report Sees Nuclear Arms, Scarce Resources as Seeds of Global Instability
Deutsche Welle - EU Will Be Globally Weak 'Hobbled Giant' by 2025: Report
MSNBC - U.S. intel office adds warming to warnings
National Intelligence Council - Report website
National Intelligence Council - Full report (5.75 MB PDF)
Director of National Intelligence Mr. Mike McConnell - Remarks on U.S. intelligence and the report (PDF)
The Guardian - Alternate posting of the report
We prepared Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World to stimulate strategic thinking about the future by identifying key trends, the factors that drive them, where they seem to be headed, and how they might interact. It uses scenarios to illustrate some of the many ways in which the drivers examined in the study (e.g., globalization, demography, the rise of new powers, the decay of international institutions, climate change, and the geopolitics of energy) may interact to generate challenges and opportunities for future decisionmakers. The study as a whole is more a description of the factors likely to shape events than a prediction of what will actually happen.
... Among the messages we hope to convey are: “If you like where events seem to be headed, you may want to take timely action to preserve their positive trajectory. If you do not like where they appear to be going, you will have to develop and implement policies to change their trajectory.” ...
Introduction: A Transformed World -For an extended version of the TOC see below-editor
Chapter 1: The Globalizing Economy
Chapter 2: The Demographics of Discord
Chapter 3: The New Players
Chapter 4: Scarcity in the Midst of Plenty?
Chapter 5: Growing Potential for Conflict
Chapter 6: Will the International System Be Up to the Challenges?
Chapter 7: Power-sharing in a Multipolar World
There follow excerpts from the Executive Summary of the document
The international system—as constructed following the Second World War—will be almost unrecognizable by 2025 owing to the rise of emerging powers, a globalizing economy, an historic transfer of relative wealth and economic power from West to East, and the growing influence of nonstate actors. By 2025, the international system will be a global multipolar one with gaps in national power2 continuing to narrow between developed and developing ountries. Concurrent with the shift in power among nation-states, the relative power of various nonstate actors—including businesses, tribes, religious organizations, and criminal networks—is increasing. The players are changing, but so too are the scope and breadth of transnational issues important for continued global prosperity. Aging populations in the developed world; growing energy, food, and water constraints; and worries about climate change will limit and diminish what will still be an historically unprecedented age of prosperity.
Historically, emerging multipolar systems have been more unstable than bipolar or unipolar ones. Despite the recent financial volatility—which could end up accelerating many ongoing trends—we do not believe that we are headed toward a complete breakdown of the international system, as occurred in 1914-1918 when an earlier phase of globalization came to a halt. However, the next 20 years of transition to a new system are fraught with risks. Strategic rivalries are most likely to revolve around trade, investments, and technological innovation and acquisition, but we cannot rule out a 19th century-like scenario of arms races, territorial expansion, and military rivalries.
This is a story with no clear outcome, as illustrated by a series of vignettes we use to map out divergent futures. Although the United States is likely to remain the single most powerful actor, the United States’ relative strength—even in the military realm—will decline and US leverage will become more constrained.
... Economic Growth Fueling Rise of Emerging Players
In terms of size, speed, and directional flow, the transfer of global wealth and economic power now under way—roughly from West to East—is without precedent in modern history. This shift derives from two sources. First, increases in oil and commodity prices have generated windfall profits for the Gulf states and Russia. Second, lower costs combined with government policies have shifted the locus of manufacturing and some service industries to Asia.
... For the most part, China, India, and Russia are not following the Western liberal model for selfdevelopment but instead are using a different model, “state capitalism.” State capitalism is a loose term used to describe a system of economic management that gives a prominent role to the state. Other rising powers—South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore—also used state capitalism to develop their economies
... Asia, Africa, and Latin America will account for virtually all population growth over the next 20 years; less than 3 percent of the growth will occur in the West. Europe and Japan will continue to far outdistance the emerging powers of China and India in per capita wealth, but they will struggle to maintain robust growth rates because the size of their working-age populations will decrease. The US will be a partial exception to the aging of populations in the developed world because it will experience higher birth rates and more immigration. The number of migrants seeking to move from disadvantaged to relatively privileged countries is likely to increase.
The number of countries with youthful age structures in the current “arc of instability” is projected to decline by as much as 40 percent. Three of every four youth-bulge countries that remain will be located in Sub-Saharan Africa; nearly all of the remainder will be located in the core of the Middle East, scattered through southern and central Asia, and in the Pacific Islands.
... New Transnational Agenda
Resource issues will gain prominence on the international agenda. Unprecedented global economic growth—positive in so many other regards—will continue to put pressure on a number of highly strategic resources, including energy, food, and water, and demand is projected to outstrip easily available supplies over the next decade or so. For example, non-OPEC liquid hydrocarbon production—crude oil, natural gas liquids, and unconventionals such as tar sands— will not grow commensurate with demand. Oil and gas production of many traditional energy producers already is declining. Elsewhere—in China, India, and Mexico—production has flattened. Countries capable of significantly expanding production will dwindle; oil and gas production will be concentrated in unstable areas. As a result of this and other factors, the world will be in the midst of a fundamental energy transition away from oil toward natural gas, coal and other alternatives.
The World Bank estimates that demand for food will rise by 50 percent by 2030, as a result of growing world population, rising affluence, and the shift to Western dietary preferences by a larger middle class. Lack of access to stable supplies of water is reaching critical proportions, particularly for agricultural purposes, and the problem will worsen because of rapid urbanization worldwide and the roughly 1.2 billion persons to be added over the next 20 years. Today, experts consider 21 countries, with a combined population of about 600 million, to be either cropland or freshwater scarce. Owing to continuing population growth, 36 countries, with about
1.4 billion people, are projected to fall into this category by 2025. Climate change is expected to exacerbate resource scarcities. Although the impact of climate change will vary by region, a number of regions will begin to suffer harmful effects, particularly water scarcity and loss of agricultural production. Regional differences in agricultural production are likely to become more pronounced over time with declines disproportionately concentrated in developing countries, particularly those in Sub-Saharan Africa. Agricultural losses are expected to mount with substantial impacts forecast by most economists by late this century. For many developing countries, decreased agricultural output will be devastating because agriculture accounts for a large share of their economies and many of their citizens live close to subsistence levels.
New technologies could again provide solutions, such as viable alternatives to fossil fuels or means to overcome food and water constraints. However, all current technologies are inadequate for replacing the traditional energy architecture on the scale needed, and new energy technologies probably will not be commercially viable and widespread by 2025. The pace of technological innovation will be key. Even with a favorable policy and funding environment for biofuels, clean coal, or hydrogen, the transition to new fuels will be slow. Major technologies historically have had an “adoption lag.” In the energy sector, a recent study found that it takes an average of 25 years for a new production technology to become widely adopted.
Despite what are seen as long odds now, we cannot rule out the possibility of an energy transition by 2025 that would avoid the costs of an energy infrastructure overhaul. The greatest possibility for a relatively quick and inexpensive transition during the period comes from better renewable generation sources (photovoltaic and wind) and improvements in battery technology. With many of these technologies, the infrastructure cost hurdle for individual projects would be lower, enabling many small economic actors to develop their own energy transformation projects that directly serve their interests—e.g., stationary fuel cells powering homes and offices, recharging plug-in hybrid autos, and selling energy back to the grid. Also, energy conversion schemes—such as plans to generate hydrogen for automotive fuel cells from electricity in the homeowner’s garage—could avoid the need to develop complex hydrogen transportation infrastructure.
There follow excerpts from Chapter 1 of the document
... A Decline in the Dollar’s International Role.
Despite recent inflows into dollar assets and the appreciation of the dollar, the dollar could lose its status as an unparalleled global reserve currency by 2025, and become a first among equals in a market basket of currencies. This may force the US to onsider more carefully how the conduct of its foreign policy affects the dollar. Without a steady source of external demand for dollars, US
foreign policy actions might bring exposure to currency shock and higher interest rates for Americans.
Growing use of the euro is already evident, potentially making it harder for the US in the future to exploit the unique role of the dollar in international trade and investment to freeze assets and disrupt the financial flows of its adversaries, such as it recently has accomplished with financial sanctions against the leadership in North Korea and Iran. Incentives and inclinations to move away from the dollar will be tempered, however, by uncertainties and instabilities in the international financial system.
There follow excerpts from Chapter 4 of the document
The international system will be challenged by growing resource constraints at the same time that it is coping with the impact of new players. Access to relatively secure and clean energy sources and management of chronic food and water shortages will assume increasing importance for a growing number of countries during the next 15-20 years. Adding well over a billion people to the world’s population by 2025 will itself put pressure on these vital resources. An increasing percentage of the world’s population will be moving from rural areas to urban and developed ones to seek greater personal security and economic opportunity.
Many—particularly in Asia—will be joining the middle class and will be seeking to emulate Western lifestyles, which involve greater per capita consumption of all these resources. Unlike earlier periods when resource scarcities loomed large, the significant growth in demand from emerging markets, combined with constraints on new production—such as the control exerted now by state-run companies in the global energy market—limits the likelihood that market forces alone will rectify the supply-anddemand imbalance.
The already stressed resource sector will be further complicated and, in most cases, exacerbated by climate change, whose physical effects will worsen throughout this period. Continued escalation of energy demand will hasten the impacts of climate change. On the other hand, forcibly cutting back on fossil fuel use before substitutes are widely available could threaten continued economic development, particularly for countries like China whose industries have not yet achieved high levels of energy efficiency. Technological advances and policy decisions around the world germane to greenhouse gas emissions over the next 15 years are likely to determine whether the globe’s temperature ultimately rises more than 2 degree centigrade—the threshold at which effects are thought to be no longer manageable.
Food and water also are intertwined with climate change, energy, and demography. Rising energy prices increase the cost for consumers and the environment of industrialscale agriculture and application of petrochemical fertilizers. A switch from use of arable land for food to fuel crops provides a limited solution and could exacerbate both the energy and food situations. Climatically, rainfall anomalies and constricted seasonal flows of snow and glacial melts are aggravating water scarcities, harming agriculture in many parts of the globe. Energy and climate dynamics also combine to amplify a number of other ills such as health problems, agricultural losses to pests, and storm damage. The greatest danger may arise from the convergence and interaction of many stresses simultaneously. Such a complex and unprecedented syndrome of problems could overload decisionmakers, making it difficult for them to take actions in time to enhance good outcomes or avoid bad ones.
The Dawning of a Post-Petroleum Age?
By 2025 the world will be in the midst of a fundamental energy transition—in terms of both fuel types and sources. Non-OPEC liquid hydrocarbon production (i.e., crude oil, natural gas liquids, and unconventionals such as tar sands) will not be able to grow commensurate with demand. The production levels of many traditional energy producers— Yemen, Norway, Oman, Colombia, the UK, Indonesia, Argentina, Syria, Egypt, Peru, Tunisia—are already in decline. Others’ production levels—Mexico, Brunei, Malaysia, China, India, Qatar—have flattened. The number of countries capable of meaningfully expanding production will decline. Only six countries—Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait, the UAE, Iraq (potentially), and Russia—are projected to account for 39 percent of total world oil production in 2025. The major producers increasingly will be located in the Middle East, which contains some two-thirds of world reserves. OPEC production in the Persian Gulf countries is projected to grow by 43 percent during 2003- 2025. Saudi Arabia alone will account for almost half of all Gulf production, an amount greater than that expected from Africa and the Caspian area combined.
A partial consequence of this growing concentration has been increased control of oil and gas resources by national oil companies. When the Club of Rome made its famous forecast of looming energy scarcities, the “Seven Sisters” still had a strong influence on global oil markets and production.7 Driven by shareholders, they responded to price signals to explore, invest, and promote technologies necessary to increase production. By contrast, national oil companies have strong economic and political incentives to limit investment in order to prolong the production horizon. Keeping oil in the ground provides resources for future generations in oil states that have limited their economic options.
The number and geographic distribution of oil producers will decrease concurrent with another energy transition: the move to cleaner fuels. The prized fuel in the shorter term likely will be natural gas. By 2025, consumption of natural gas is expected to grow by about 60 percent, according to DoE/Energy Information Agency projections. Although natural gas deposits are not necessarily co-located with oil, they are highly concentrated. Three countries— Russia, Iran, and Qatar—hold over 57 percent of the world’s natural gas reserves. Considering oil and natural gas together, two countries—Russia and Iran—emerge as energy kingpins. Nevertheless, North America (the US, Canada, and Mexico) is expected to produce an appreciable proportion—18 percent—of total world production by 2025.
Both high and low energy price levels would have major geopolitical implications and, over the course of 20 years, periods of both could occur. DoE’s Energy Information Administration and several leading energy consultants believe higher price levels are likely, at least to 2015, because of plateauing supply and growing demand. These causes are unlike the case in 1970s and early 1980s when high oil prices were caused by an intentional restriction in supply. Even with the overall secular rise in energy costs, prices well below $100 a barrel are periodically likely with the expected increased volatility and need not come about as a result of technological breakthroughs and rapid commercialization of a substitute fuel. Plausible scenarios for a downward shift and change in market psychology include slowing global growth; increased production in Iraq, Angola, Central Asia, and elsewhere; and greater energy efficiencies with currently available technology.
Even at prices below $100 a barrel, financial transfers connected with the energy trade produce clear winners and losers. Most of the 32 states that import 80 percent or more of their energy needs are likely to experience significantly slower economic growth than they might have achieved with lower oil prices. A number of these states have been identified by outside experts as at risk of state failure—the Central African Republic, DROC, Nepal, and Laos, for example. States characterized by high import dependence, low GDP per capita, high current account deficits, and heavy international indebtedness form a particularly perilous state profile. Such a profile includes most of East Africa and the Horn. Pivotal yet problem-beset countries, such as Pakistan, will be at risk of state failure.
With higher prices, more stable countries fare better but their prospects for economic growth would drop somewhat and political turbulence could occur. Efficient, service-sector oriented OECD economies are not immune but are harmed the least. China, though cushioned by its massive financial reserves, would be hit by higher oil prices, which would make lifting millions more out of poverty more difficult. China also would need to mine and transport more domestic coal, build more nuclear power plants, and seek to improve energy end-use efficiencies to offset the higher priced imports.
With high prices, major exporters such as Russia and Iran would have the financial resources to increase their national power. The extent and modalities of steps to increase their power and influence would depend on how they used their profits to invest in human capital, financial stabilization, and economic infrastructure. Judicious application of Russia’s increased revenues to the economy, social needs, and foreign policy instruments would likely more than double Russia’s standing as measured by an academic national power index.
A sustained plunge in oil prices would have significant implications for countries relying on robust oil revenues to balance the budget or build up domestic investment. For Iran, a drop in oil prices to the $55-60 range or below would put significant pressure on the regime to make painful choices between subsidizing populist economic programs and sustaining funding for intelligence and security operations and other programs designed to extend its regional power. The notion that state-dominated economies, apparently able to achieve economic growth absent political freedoms or a fully free market, are a credible alternative to Western notions of free markets and liberal democracy could be badly dented, particularly since history suggests the US and other Western states adapt more quickly and effectively to unexpected changes in energy markets. Under any scenario energy dynamics could produce a number of new alignments or groupings with geopolitical significance:
Water, Food, and Climate Change
Experts currently consider 21 countries with a combined population of about 600 million to be either cropland or freshwater scarce. Owing to continuing population growth, 36 countries, home to about 1.4 billion people, are projected to fall into this category by 2025. Among the new entrants will be Burundi, Colombia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Malawi, Pakistan, and Syria. Lack of access to stable supplies of water is reaching unprecedented proportions in many areas of the world (see map on page 55) and is likely to grow worse owing to rapid urbanization and population growth. Demand for water for agricultural purposes and hydroelectric power generation also will expand. Use of water for irrigation is far greater than for household consumption. In developing countries, agriculture currently consumes over 70 percent of the world’s water. The construction of hydroelectric power stations on major rivers may improve flood control, but it might also cause considerable anxiety to downstream users of the river who expect continued access to water.
The World Bank estimates that demand for food will rise by 50 percent by 2030, as a result of growing world population, rising affluence, and shifts to Western dietary preferences by a larger middle class. The global food sector has been highly responsive to market forces, but farm production probably will continue to be hampered by misguided agriculture policies that limit investment and distort critical price signals. Keeping food prices down to placate the urban poor and spur savings for industrial investment has distorted agricultural prices in the past. If political elites are more worried about urban instability than rural incomes—a safe bet in many countries—these policies are likely to persist, increasing the risk of tight supplies in the future. The demographic trend for increased urbanization—particularly in developing states—underscores the likelihood that failed policies will continue.
Between now and 2025, the world will have to juggle competing and conflicting energy security and food security concerns, yielding a tangle of difficult-to-manage consequences. In the major grain exporters (the US, Canada, Argentina, and Australia), demand for biofuels—enhanced by government subsidies—will claim larger areas of cropland and greater volumes of irrigation water, even as biofuel production and processing technologies are made more efficient. This “fuel farming” tradeoff, coupled with periodic export controls among Asian producers and rising demand for protein among growing middle classes worldwide, will force grain prices in the global market to fluctuate at levels above today’s highs. Some economists argue that, with international markets settling at lower grain volumes, speculation—invited by expectations of rising fuel costs and more erratic, climate change-induced weather patterns—could play a greater role in food prices.
A consortium of large agricultural producers—including India and China, along with the US and EU partners—is likely to work to launch a second Green Revolution, this time in Sub-Saharan Africa, which could help dampen price volatility in worldwide grain markets. By 2025, increases in African grain yields probably will be substantial, but the increases will be confined principally to states in the southern and eastern regions of the continent, which will have deepened trade and security relations with East and South Asian states. Elsewhere south of the Sahara, civil conflict and the political and economic focus on mining and petroleum extraction are likely to foil most of the consortium’s attempts to upgrade irrigation and rural transportation networks and to extend credit and investment, allowing population growth to outpace gains in agricultural productivity.
In addition to the currently projected scarcities of freshwater and cropland, the UK Treasury-commissioned Stern Report estimates that by the middle of the century 200 million people may be permanently displaced “climate migrants”—representing a ten-fold increase over today’s entire documented refugee and internally displaced populations. Although this is considered high by many experts, broad agreement exists about the risks of large scale migration and the need for better preparation. Most displaced persons traditionally relocate within their home countries, but in the future many are likely to find their home countries have diminishing capabilities to accommodate them. Thus the number of migrants seeking to move from disadvantaged into relatively privileged countries is likely to increase. The largest inflows will mirror many current migratory patterns—from North Africa and Western Asia into Europe, Latin America into the US, and Southeast Asia into Australia.
Over the next 20 years, worries about climate change effects may be more significant than any physical changes linked to climate change. Perceptions of a rapidly changing environment may cause nations to take unilateral actions to secure resources, territory, and other interests. Willingness to engage in greater multilateral cooperation will depend on a number of factors, such as the behavior of other countries, the economic context, or the importance of the interests to be defended or won.
Many scientists worry that recent assessments underestimate the impact of climate change and misjudge the likely time when effects will be felt. Scientists currently have limited capability to predict the likelihood or magnitude of extreme climate shifts but believe—based on historic precedents—that it will not occur gradually or smoothly. Drastic cutbacks in allowable CO2 emissions probably would disadvantage the rapidly emerging economies that are still low on the efficiency curve, but large-scale users in the developed world—such as the US—also would be shaken and the global economy could be plunged into a recession or worse.
In the following fictionalized account, global inattention to climate change leads to major unexpected impacts, thrusting the world into a new level of vulnerability. Scientists are currently uncertain whether we already have hit a tipping point at which climate change has accelerated and whether there is little we can do—including reducing emissions—that will mitigate effects even over the longer term. Most scientists believe we will not know whether we have hit a tipping point until it is too late. Uncertainties about the pace and specific vulnerabilities or impacts from climate change are likely to persist over the next 15-20 years even if our knowledge about climate change deepens, according to many scientists...
An extreme weather event—as described in this scenario—could occur. Coping with the greater frequency of such events, coupled with other physical impacts of climate change such as growing water scarcities and more food crises, may preoccupy policymakers even while options for solving such problems dwindle...
Presidential Diary Entry
October 1, 2020
The term “October Surprise” keeps recurring in my mind...I guess we had it coming, but it was a rude shock. Some of the scenes were like the stuff from the World War II newsreels, only this time it was not Europe but Manhattan. Those images of the US aircraft carriers and transport ships evacuating thousands in the wake of the flooding still stick in my mind. Why does hurricane season have to coincide with the UNGA in New York? It’s bad enough that this had to happen; it was doubly embarrassing that half the world’s leaders were here to witness it-and a fair number of them had to be specially airlifted or spirited away for their safety.
I guess the problem was that we counted on this not happening, at least not yet. Most scientists assumed the worst effects of climate change would occur later in the century. Still, enough warned there was always a chance of an extreme weather event coming sooner and, if it hit just right, one of our big urban centers could be knocked out. As I remember, most of my advisors thought the chances were pretty low after the last briefing we got on climate change. But we were warned that we needed to decentralize our energy generation and improve the robustness of our infrastructure to withstand extreme weather events. Tragically, we did not heed this advice...
Introduction: A Transformed World
Chapter 1: The Globalizing Economy
Chapter 2: The Demographics of Discord
Chapter 3: The New Players
Chapter 4: Scarcity in the Midst of Plenty?
Chapter 5: Growing Potential for Conflict
Chapter 6: Will the International System Be Up to the Challenges?
Chapter 7: Power-sharing in a Multipolar World