Washington — A rise in the middle class, an older population and greater demand for resources will be among the challenges of the year 2030. Adequate planning and foresight can prevent a crisis in resources, a new report concludes, if leaders set their sights to the future.
These visions of the years ahead emerge from Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds, a report issued by the U.S. National Intelligence Council every four years since 1997. The agency issues the forecast in presidential election years, offering a body of research for an incoming administration to consult in setting policy directions.
Fewer people will be poor than at any other time in history as an expanded and more prosperous middle class emerges, the report foresees. Widespread economic growth and greater educational opportunity will help people rise to the middle class, it predicts, and they'll want a higher standard of living. Global Trends 2030 projects that demand for food and water will grow by as much as 40 percent over the next 17 years.
"We are not necessarily headed into a world of scarcities," said council Chairman Christopher Kojm, "but leaders will need to act to avert such a future." Kojm spoke at a press briefing upon the report's release December 10.
The report is specific about what needs to be done; at the same time, it offers no assurances that governments will take the necessary steps to make the best use of available resources. Management of critical resources must become more effective, the report says. Pursuit of new technologies and better governance mechanisms might also mitigate resource challenges, "to avoid the worst possible outcomes."
Better health care and improved economic status will allow greater numbers of people to reach old age, according to Global Trends 2030. Deaths from communicable diseases, such as AIDS, infections that cause diarrhea, malaria and respiratory infections, will decline by nearly 30 percent by 2030.
Larger and more prosperous populations will demand more food, 35 to 40 percent more. The report does foresee "a stable supply of agricultural commodities to meet global food security needs," while it also suggests a number of factors such as climate change or poor resource management that could erode that supply. "Such a development would create shortages that could have dire geopolitical, social and economic repercussions."
Technology, again, could provide some solutions, with proper development of techniques such as genetically modified crops and precision agriculture and irrigation.
The increased frequency of extreme weather events and the degree of their impact in recent years is beyond doubt to the report's editors, and "this pattern almost certainly will continue during the next 20 years." Increases in population and expanding urbanization will leave more people vulnerable to the ferocity of extreme weather. The key factor to moderate the impact, Global Trends says, will be wise investment in risk-management and emergency-response operations.
Just as dangerous as raging storms are prolonged droughts and temperature extremes, which have diminished agricultural production significantly in some places. The report notes persistent droughts in several of the world's great river systems -- the Nile, Tigris-Euphrates, Niger, Amazon, Mekong -- and describes them as events consistent with the predicted consequences of climate change.
Migration is expected to be an influential trend in the future, driven by the same motives for relocation that exist today. They include globalization, income inequalities across regions and countries, and the strengthening of migrant networks that maintain ties between migrants and their homelands.
Work, opportunities and better wages will send many young people to search for work outside their native countries. Another important demographic trend -- urbanization -- will provide those opportunities, expanding the world's city dwellers from 50 percent of global population currently to 60 percent in 2030.
"What this means is that another 1.4 billion people will need housing, roads, power, infrastructure and employment in urban areas," Kojm said. The report projects this urbanization will lead to a building boom unlike anything the world has ever seen.
"The volume of urban construction for housing, office space and transport services ... could roughly equal the entire volume of such construction to date in world history," the report says.