The unstable economic context, a failure of the Eurozone, the fragility of the financial system, widening income inequality, structural unemployment – these are the top issues leaders must address in 2013.

The Global Agenda Outlook 2013 is a publication of the Network of Global Agenda Councils, a unique network of over 1,500 of the world’s most relevant experts from academia, business, civil society, government and international organizations. This report provides insights and views into pressing global issues, through a collection of survey results and interactive discussions among Members of the Network. The survey data combines 1500 responses from GAC Members and industry leaders.

The Global Agenda Outlook 2013 is structured around six chapters, each tackling a specific issue: globalization, economic growth, geopolitical risks, hyperconnectivity, the post-2015 development agenda, and values. Each chapter is intended to offer readers a taste of a conversation between two experts, complemented by data from the Global Agenda Survey.

Chapter 1 focuses on the effects of globalization and touches on income inequality, employment, technology and global governance.

Chapter 2 concentrates on an issue that has dominated discussions for the past five years – economics, and the prospects of continued economic growth given the uncertain times.

Chapter 3 sheds light on changing regional dynamics and potential future threats by analysing some of the world’s high-risk geopolitical situations.

A theme common to all these discussions is the increased role of technology in 2013 and its associated risks. Chapter 4 captures the main opportunities and risks faced by an increasingly hyperconnected world, not only what it means for citizens, but also for the urban environment of tomorrow.

Chapter 5 highlights the complexities of the post-2015 development agenda and examines how economic development and environmental sustainability can be balanced.

Chapter 6 – restoring our value system – seeks to bring all the pieces together, with a focus on revisiting core values in decision-making and leadership.

The chapters follow three distinct formats, reflecting the variety and richness of the conversations that took place at the Summit on Global Agenda 2012. The chapters on globalization, economic growth and hyperconnectivity are presented as expert question-and-answer sessions. The chapters on the post-2015 agenda and on values offer expert views in sharp and succinct counter-pieces. Finally, the chapter on geopolitical risks is designed as a “fly on the wall” vignette, in which listeners have dropped into a conversation between two experts.

All of these discussions have been supplemented with updated data based on the opinions of Members of the Network of Global Agenda Councils, gathered before and during the Summit on the Global Agenda 2012 in Dubai, featuring about 1500 responses. An initial survey among the Global Agenda Councils community, conducted in June-July 2012 and updated in November 2012 during the Summit, sought to identify global trends for 2013, while the pattern of transition from a trend ranking to an issue of urgency that emerged during the Summit offers insights into participants’ underlying concerns. When data and debates come together, what emerges is an outlook with a number of clearly defined themes to watch in 2013.

Alongside continuing concerns about unstable global economic prospects (concerns somewhat mitigated by a sense of reserved optimism about the capacity of the eurozone to avert disaster), one particularly prevalent theme is the ever-growing significance of the economic rise of China. The influence this might have on a global scale remains to be determined. It will depend as much on the country’s internal progress (in areas such as market reforms and combating income disparity) as on its external focus (and the diplomatic decisions the country has to take in areas as diverse as East Asia and the Middle East). The new Chinese leadership, it seems, has come to power at a potentially crucial moment for the country and the world at large.

The widening global gap between rich and poor is also a concern – from fears about high levels of unemployment in the (demographically young) Arab world threatening social cohesion, to frustration at the high number of people who continue to live on less than US$ 2 a day, even as the landmark global development year of 2015 approaches. Such inequality may sometimes be seen as an inevitable consequence of globalized capitalism; ignoring it, however, brings huge risk.

Not giving sufficient attention to the possibilities and potential risks of new technology is another emerging risk. If new technology is the best hope for sustained global economic growth, it also needs to be pursued and exploited with care both for people (changing technology requires a changing international labour market) and the planet. The spectre of man-made climate change – and the apparent inability of society to reverse it – remains in the background of many of the discussions that follow. Meanwhile, the benefits of an increasingly hyperconnected world for individuals and society are alternately doubted and championed, thereby underlining the complexity of an issue landscape that ranges from cybershocks to smart cities.

One theme that recurs more than any other is the need for clear, dynamic leadership in a fast changing world. Given (as one participant noted) that most of today’s leaders – political, business, academic and society – grew up in a vastly different world from today’s, it is perhaps no surprise that leadership remains the biggest challenge of all for 2013 and beyond.

Our interactive website and data visualizations feature more unique data and content, as well as the extended transcripts of the conversations

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Image: A man looks up at a globe displaying international stock market prices. REUTERS/Andrew Winning