By 2030, 17 years from now, the world will be vastly different from what it is today. For starters, for the first time in history, the majority of the world's people will no longer be impoverished. The middle class will be the dominant economic and social force in most countries by then, a new report says.
This is one of the scenarios laid out in the National Intelligence Council's report Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds. The council, an advisory arm for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, releases a global trends report once every four years after the U.S. presidential election on factors such as globalization, demography and the environment. The purpose is to help policymakers in their strategic planning. The report draws from a multitude of sources, including government officials, businesses, universities and think tanks in nearly 20 countries, and is available to the public worldwide.
As the global economy grows and people across the world rise into the middle class, individuals will find themselves empowered as never before to determine their own destinies, according to the report. Individual empowerment will mean greater educational attainment and better health care for more people.
But individual empowerment is not without risks, particularly in the realm of terrorism. "With more widespread access to lethal and disruptive technologies, individuals who are experts in such niche areas as cybersystems might sell their services to the highest bidder," said council chairman Christopher Kojm, briefing reporters December 10.
Parallel with individual empowerment, power will become more diffuse among states, and informal networks will see their influence rise. "We will see growing democratization at both the international and national level," Kojm said.
There will also be dramatic shifts in terms of gross domestic product, population size, military spending and technological investment, with Asia surpassing North America and Europe combined, according to the report.
A good portion of the world's population will lose much of its youthful bloom, the report says. In most of Europe, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, the median age will be above 45. Countries with large aging populations will face challenges to maintain their living standards. Kojm added that the median age in China is younger than that of the United States today, but China's median age will be higher by 2030.
Meanwhile, the shift of people from rural to urban areas will continue. Today half the world's people live in urban areas, but by 2030 the figure will be 60 percent. "What this means is that another 1.4 billion people will need housing, roads, power, infrastructure and employment in urban areas," Kojm said.
At the same time, global demand for food and water will grow between 35 percent and 40 percent by 2030. This reflects mostly the consumption patterns and diets of an expanding middle class.
"We are not necessarily headed into a world of scarcities, but leaders will need to act to avert such a future," Kojm said.
The council chairman described energy independence for the United States in the next 10 to 20 years as another "tectonic shift" with global implications. The trends report predicts that the United States will diminish or stop importing crude oil from its current suppliers — Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Latin America and West Africa. This change will be brought about by the use of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, which releases natural gas and oil from shale rock. The United States may become a major energy exporter, instead of an importer, in the next decade or so, Kojm said.