The Next Five Years by Region

Continued instability and significant political, economic, social, and environmental adjustments will mark the next five years worldwide. Although important differences will distinguish the world’s regions, all will experience urbanization; migration; and stresses related to environmental, ecological, technological, and climate changes. Many societies will not succeed completely in efforts to lock in the development achievements of the past two decades—especially for the new members of their middle classes—highlighting governance shortfalls for rich and poor countries alike. Advanced information technology will amplify differences over inequality, globalization, politics, and corruption, while perceived humiliation and injustice will spur protests and violent mobilization. Structural shifts in the world’s economies—from technology and finance that create wealth without creating jobs to growing debt that burdens future growth—will fuel these changes. Discontent will drive many societies to populist, nativist, or nationalist leaders; others may soberly reevaluate what citizens owe one another when facing unsustainable costs. Fragmentation of regions and states is possible—even likely—if multiple centers of geopolitical power emerge.

  • Economic stress. The most significant global economic uncertainty of the next five years will be China’s growth: how successfully Beijing maintains economic growth and foreign investment, and how effectively—even whether—it manages an overdue transition from an export- and investment-driven economy to one based on consumer-led growth. China’s economy expanded from 2 percent of global GDP in 1995 to 14 percent in 2015, and it has been the greatest source of global growth for several years; a sharp economic deceleration in China would undermine growth elsewhere and slow worldwide progress on poverty reduction. During such a slump, many governments would face increasing public pressure for reforms that promote employment and inclusive growth, changes that might threaten their control and ability to provide benefits to political supporters.
  • Political stress. Few governments are poised to make such political and economic reforms, and many states simply lack the capacity to address the challenges they face. In the Middle East and North Africa, such shortcomings will combine with societal and geopolitical forces to produce—or prolong—turmoil and violence. In the developed West, public disillusion will find expression in populist or reformist voices that seek to address wealth and power imbalances. In East and South Asia and Latin America, dissatisfaction with corruption, crime, and environmental, health, and urban stresses will continue to stoke activism and demands for government response.
  • Societal stress. Societal confrontation and polarization—often rooted in religion, traditional culture, or opposition to homogenizing globalization—will become more prominent in a world of ever-improving communications. The new technologies are also likely to continue fueling political polarization and increasing the influence of extreme or fringe groups by improving their presence and reach. Militant extremist and terrorist groups will continue to have a transnational presence, still fragmented but sharing ideas and resources with organizations in Africa, the Arab world, and South and Southeast Asia. The spread of existing or emergent infectious diseases will remain a risk for all nations and regions, but particularly for governments that lack the capacity to prepare for such a crisis.
  • Geopolitical stress. Major-power competition and the risk of conflict will intensify in the next five years, reflecting a fraying of the current international system and the ambitions of China and Russia for greater status and influence. States and nonstate actors alike will wield new and nontraditional forms of power, such as cyber capability and social networks, to shape outcomes and create disruption. The emergence of multiple, rival power centers is possible in the next five years if regional aggression and flouting of international norms go unchecked.
  • Environmental stress. Scientists report that 2016 was the hottest year recorded since the instrumental record began in 1880, and 16 of the 17 hottest years have occurred since 2000. Although predicting temperature trends over short intervals is difficult because of internal climate variability, the baseline global temperature clearly will be higher over the next five years. This warming has implications for storms and rainfall, melting ice, rising sea level, and the general conditions under which people live. The impact of the change will be especially acute for the substantial share of the world population concentrated in climate-vulnerable areas, such as coastal cities and urban centers with strained water resources.