What are the issues that will dominate the global agenda in the coming year? Every 12 months the Global Agenda Councils, the think-tank to the World Economic Forum, try to answer this question. This year, over 1,000 members of the GAC community provided their expert input to inform the Outlook on the Global Agenda 2015, the flagship publication of the Network. The Outlook 2015 identifies the global trends, regional challenges, leadership crises, and emerging issues which will shape the next 12-18 months. Here, we invite you to discover the opening chapter of the report – the Top 10 Trends for the coming year.
In the coming year, we face a number of diverse and significant challenges: growing income inequality, heightened geostrategic tensions, the unsustainable use of our planet’s natural resources and, of course, the climate crisis.
Every year the World Economic Forum taps into the knowledge, observations and experiences of its Global Agenda Council Members, asking them to identify the issues that they believe will have the biggest impact on the world over the coming 12 to 18 months. The resulting insights, gathered with the help of the Survey on the Global Agenda, ultimately generate the Top 10 trends – a forecast of the key social, economic and political issues that reside on our collective horizon.
At the top of this year’s list is worsening income inequality. As the world’s rich continue to accumulate wealth at record rates, the middle class is struggling. Today, the top 1% of the population receives a quarter of the income in the United States. Over the last 25 years, the average income of the top 0.1% has grown 20 times compared to that of the average citizen. Last year, this trend ranked second place in the Outlook; this year, it rises to the top.
We are at a critical fork in the road, a period of decision that will dictate the health and viability of our civilization for decades to come.
Ongoing unemployment concerns, another recurring theme from the previous report, have risen to second place – this time in the form of ‘Persistent jobless growth’. Our economies may be growing, but the number of available jobs is largely failing to keep pace. For many, the situation is urgent and popular dissatisfaction at governmental response is reflected in two subsequent trends – ‘Lack of leadership’ and ‘The weakening of representative democracy’, both of which suggest a troubling disconnect between the public and the authorities that govern them.
Third on the list, rising security concerns around the world threaten the stability of states and their citizens. From renewed violence in Gaza to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and the rise of Islamic State, geopolitical tensions have dominated headlines for much of 2014. Dedicated efforts are being taken to defuse these conflicts, yet it seems all but certain that two related trends, ‘Rising geostrategic competition’ and ‘Intensifying nationalism’, will continue to propel global concerns over the next 18 months.
This year, two major themes dominate this list: economic and environmental. These two areas of focus are inextricably linked. Long- term economic prosperity depends on environmental sustainability. Today, we see the consequences of short-term economic thinking and the reckless use of our planet’s resources: water disputes between neighbouring nations, more frequent and powerful extreme weather events brought on by our warming climate, an ongoing global deforestation crisis, a rapidly acidifying ocean, eroding topsoil and agricultural capacity, and an alarming biodiversity crisis unparalleled in modern history.
Now, more than ever before, environmental concerns are coming to the forefront of our global dialogue. We are at a critical fork in the road, a period of decision that will dictate the health and viability of our civilization for decades to come. In 2015, the nations of the world will gather in Paris to negotiate the next global climate agreement. The stakes could not be higher, but I have hope.
To reiterate, the issues we must confront are imposing in their scale and expansive in their reach, but they must be faced with fortitude and with a cooperative, collaborative spirit. The pages that follow contain discussions that highlight the threats – and the opportunities – that dwell at the heart of our Top 10 trends, and explore some of the directions for progress. By acknowledging the issues we face today, we can begin to understand those that may yet lie ahead.
Inequality is one of the key challenges of our time. Income inequality specifically is one of the most visible aspects of a broader and more complex issue, one that entails inequality of opportunity and extends to gender, ethnicity, disability, and age, among others. Ranking second in last year’s Outlook, it was identified as the most significant trend of 2015 by our Network’s experts. Read more about this trend.
The term ‘persistent jobless growth’ refers to the phenomenon in which economies exiting recessions demonstrate economic growth while merely maintaining – or, in some cases, decreasing – their level of employment. The scale and significance of this problem is evident in the high placing of this trend, an increase even over last year’s report, when persistent structural employment was ranked as the third most concerning trend. Read more about this trend.
A startling 86% of respondents to the Survey on the Global Agenda agree that we have a leadership crisis in the world today. Why would they say this? Perhaps because the international community has largely failed to address any major global issue in recent years. It has failed to deal with global warming, then barely dealt with the failure of the global economy, which has caused such severe problems in North America and Europe. Meanwhile violence has been left to fester in the Middle East, the region our Survey showed is most affected by, and concerned about this problem. So why are we suffering such a lack of leadership? Read more about this trend.
What we see today is a pattern of persistent, multidimensional competition and the simultaneous weakening of established relationships, a trend that trickles down and spills over into multiple sectors and issues. In this fluid, amorphous world order, we must manage both asymmetric and symmetric challenges together. The changing relationship between world powers has reduced the political energy available for tackling shared problems like climate change and global health, not to mention second-order crises. Chaos has festered. Read more about this trend.
Since the global economy crashed in 2008, there has been an erosion of trust in political institutions and processes. Citizens now place more faith in companies than in their own leaders, and even then they don’t particularly trust the private sector, with the latest Edelman Trust Barometer showing global trust in business at 58% while trust in government has sunk to 44%. Read more about this trend.
The industrialization of the developing world is creating unsustainable pollution levels. The solution requires a technological and an intellectual revolution; an alternative route to economic prosperity that preserves resources and limits carbon emissions has to be developed before it’s too late. Read more about this trend.
Severe weather events have dominated headlines recently, causing immense devastation. Every continent has been affected, from one of the world’s strongest storms hitting the Philippines and the widest tornado ever seen in the United States, to extreme droughts gripping central Africa, Brazil and Australia and a series of massive floods in Pakistan. Read more about this trend.
Just as in the years of the Industrial Revolution people turned to political nationalism to protect and shelter their communities against the uneven and inequitable patterns of growth so, too, people seem to be turning back to - and mobilizing around - old loyalties and traditional identities as they seek to insulate themselves; whether it be in Catalonia or Belgium or Lombardy, they are demanding protection against what seems to be the economic disruption and social dislocation of globalization. Read more about this trend.
Mankind’s home may be nicknamed ‘the blue planet’, but 85% of the population lives in the driest half of the world. While the planet’s population grew fourfold in the 20th century, freshwater withdrawals grew nine times. This global population growth (2-3 billion in the next 40 years), along with rocketing demand for food (predicted to rise 70% by 2050) and renewable energy (predicted to rise 60% by 2030) are creating interconnect water stresses. Read more about this trend.
There’s a well-understood correlation that as the economy of a country improves, so the health of its citizens improves. What may be less obvious is that the opposite is also true – improving the health of a nation’s citizens can directly result in economic growth, because there will be more people able to conduct effective activities in the workforce. Read more about this trend.