What are the biggest events looming on the global agenda? Building on our Agenda Weekly email update, each month I look ahead at the stories and trends that will have the most impact. This month: how will the world look in 2019? A wrap of some of the major themes from the last 12 months, and some crystal ball gazing into the next 12.
Global redesign: Global collaboration is not working. With inward-focussed nationalism dominating global politics, the global commons is not being managed - from climate change to whale husbandry, from tech regulation through arms control, our global governance architecture, already undermined by outdated protocols and a loss of trust, is in dire need of a redesign. In 2019, areas that will be exposed include:
- Democratic capitalism: The rise of populism across swathes of the world has been fuelled by the faults in the system - stagnant wages for decades, massively widening inequality, stalled productivity, the concentration of economic and political power, distortions introduced by the technological revolution. The pushback will continue.
- Financial market stability: Markets are starting the year in a volatile state. Meanwhile, the capacity of governments to collaborate and manage risks has been reduced since the global financial crisis of 2008, with policy ammunition eroded, central banks burdened by swollen balance sheets, and weak political capital for international collaboration.
- Tech risk management: 2018 was the year it became obvious that big tech has some big challenges. The trans-national power of the massive platforms, from Facebook and Google to new emerging social networks, as well as challenges from privacy, disinformation, ad fraud, and the unprecedented complexity of many of the challenges raised by big tech, have prompted many, even in the technology industry itself, to call for regulation. These are global problems, and national governments are unlikely to be able to effectively govern tech without global collaboration. National AI strategies will begin to roll out in earnest in 2019, giving governments more grounds for both conflict and for collaboration.
- Environmental catastrophe: 2018 was one of the hottest years on record, behind 2016 and 2017, and 2019, with a likely El Niño warming cycle, is set to be warmer still. Record wildfires, floods and storms are becoming the norm. The Paris Agreement is both too little and challenged by US isolationism, with nothing less than the collapse of civilisation at stake.
- Forward view: These and other challenges emphasise how governments and international organizations need to reinvent the United Nations and Bretton Woods frameworks that shaped the world we live in. Much of the international rules-based order needs a reboot. This will be a major topic in Davos, where the Forum will host a number of Global Dialogues on global governance.
Fear, loathing, panic, algorithmic trading: Global markets finished 2018 in turmoil, sparked by a US rout driven by a combination of increasing interest rates, continued anxiety over trade, the US government shutdown, and uncertainty hanging over Brexit and Europe. Volatility is the new normal, setting the stage for a nervous start to 2019, with softening growth prospects in the developed markets, slowing growth across the emerging markets and China, a weak Japan and Europe riven by political ructions. If 2018 was the year of synchronized growth across global economies, 2019 will see that synchronization reinforce more negative cycles.
- Forward view: The Global Risks Report 2019, launching on January 16, will canvas a risky global environment, focusing not only on systemic risks across economics and finance, but also identifying the black swan, geo-economic and technology risks that will shape the global environment into the new year.
Have you read?
What will happen in 2019? It is dangerous to make predictions, especially about the future. Nevertheless, here are some ideas about the world in 2019:
Brexit reverse ferret: The UK Parliament will be unable to agree on any form of Brexit, will revoke Article 50 to avoid the March 29 deadline date, and put the issue back to the people. It will be a long and acrimonious campaign, but less nationally damaging than turning its back on 46 years of international collaboration, co-designed legal and regulatory frameworks, and trade, security and relationships. Wishful thinking?
Trade truce: The US economy will begin to look weaker through 2019, particularly if market instability and trade uncertainty begins to flow through into investment decision-making and real economic activity. With a gridlocked Washington and tariffs inflicting real pain on key constituencies, the Trump administration will be looking for wins it can make happen. Meanwhile, with the trade war contributing to a slowing domestic economy, China too will be motivated to negotiate. Both sides will come to the table and go away claiming victory. But the new cold war will continue, with nationalistic leaderships in both countries using bellicose language to shore up domestic support.
Geo-tech competition: China will take an unambiguous lead in the development of AI, built on its unique development ecosystem and high pressure competitive environment, market size, rapid market adaptivity, and the lead it has already built in industries such as computer vision, machine translation, drones, speech recognition and speech synthesis.
Strained global governance: The world has never before needed stronger international coordination, and yet the global governance frameworks we are working with are weaker than ever and under attack from all sides. Technology has outstripped our ability to manage its societal and geo-political consequences. The number and significance of challenges that the global architecture is unable to address quickly enough is growing exponentially. The health, privacy and social implications of fast-moving Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies will continue to grow faster than our ability to digest and manage them.
Unsung improvement: The world is getting better. Fewer people are poor and hungry, more can read, the environment is getting cleaner, diseases such as tuberculosis, and malaria are being defeated, women are (very gradually) closing the gender gap. There will be good trends through 2019, the challenge will be for us to find and focus on them - and do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t.
Asimov view: Who better to predict what life will be like than science fiction author Isaac Asimov? 35 years ago he foresaw: a crisis over automation, environmental catastrophe, and, optimistically, closer global collaboration as humanity learnt it needs to pull together to avoid falling apart. Read his foresight here.
Things to look forward to in 2019:
The Euro turns 20: Europe’s single currency celebrates two decades. Many doubted it would last this long and it has faced numerous challenges along the way. These challenges will not go away in 2019, with the end of loose monetary policy coinciding with the end of Mario Draghi’s term as President of the European Central Bank in the autumn. The unpredictability of Brexit, Italian politics, and the US administration’s trade-ophobia will continue to stress the unity of the project.
The Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum: Convening in Davos-Klosters, 22 - 25 January, the meeting’s theme will be Globalization 4.0, Shaping a Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Major topics of the 500 public and community sessions held at the meeting will include trade and geo-politics, markets and financial system stability, Brexit and Europe, the US and China, technology and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and overarching the whole programme: reshaping global governance so that it works in the complex and fast moving world of today.
Nigerian elections: The Nigerian election season will see dozens of candidates contest a fractious presidential poll on February 16, dogged by violence, vote buying and fake news. Voters will choose between two well known candidates, current president Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. The main issues are a slowing economy, extremist Islamic group Boko Haram, and corruption.
Brexit Day: The United Kingdom is scheduled to leave the European Union after 46 years. Talk of public holidays and bunting might be a little premature: anything could happen between now and then, from leaving without a deal and with huge supply chain and political challenges, to not leaving at all.
Ukraine elections: Ukraine will go to the polls on March 29 in a tense election that will be dominated by the country’s relationship with Russia. Pro-Russian candidates may struggle, while Russia itself will likely not shy from deploying propaganda tactics it has honed elsewhere.
World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa: 1,000 leaders form business government and civil society will convene at the Dead Sea in Jordan to build new collboarative partnerships for Globalization 4.0 in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Indonesia elections: Close to 200 million voters will head to the polls in a rematch contest between incumbent President Joko Widodo, the nation’s first leader from outside the political and military elite, and rival Prabowo Subianto, a former lieutenant general. The poll will be dominated by the economy and religious issues.
Japanese imperial transition: The Japanese Imperial Crown will pass from Akihito to Naruhito on April 30 in a managed transition for the first time in 200 years. Akihito is the first living Emperor to step down since the Meiji Era when it was determined that Emperors should rule for life. The country will celebrate with a one-off ten day national holiday, including the annual Golden Week, starting on April 29 and running until May 6.
European parliament poll: Not usually a riveting spectacle, the European elections at the end of May will be a battleground between populist pro- and anti-European forces. Analysts reckon gains are likely to be made by both sides, producing even greater gridlock and inability to horse trade to compromise.
Merkel at Harvard: Angela Merkel will join Mark Zuckerberg, Steven Spielberg, Kofi Annan and Helmut Kohl on the list of notables to deliver the Harvard Commencement Address.
G20 Osaka: Japan will host the G20 Summit, focussing on three themes: risks and challenges to the global economy; strengthening medium term growth potential; and policy responses to technology and globalization.
FIFA Women’s World Cup: 24 teams from six continental zones will compete in the tournament, hosted by France. The women’s sport is building a global following, generating its own personalities, controversies and politics.
Moon-landing’s 50th: July 20 is the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon. The reinvigorated space race will be given a boost with a wave of reminiscences, and the opportunity for the modern wave of privately funded space pioneers, such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos to dwell on the importance of space technology to the future of mankind.
Pan-American Games: Lima, Peru, will host the Latin American Olympics, with competitors from 41 nations competing in 424 events.
Biarritz G7: Leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US will head to the south of France. The meeting will provide President Emmanuel Macron an opportunity to focus on his drive against inequality, the main thrust of his G7 Presidency.
Geneva Conventions turn 70: The world marks the 70th Anniversary of the signing of conventions designed for the "amelioration of the condition of the wounded and sick in armed forces in the field". The conventions stand as another piece of the global governance framework that is being undermined by many of the new norms in international relations.
United Nations General Assembly: UNGA week in New York will highlight the state of global collaboration - President Trump may reaffirm his commitment to isolationist nationalism, or might swing back towards America First doesn’t mean America alone. The World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact Summit will build on the work done year-round by the Forum's partners and constituents.
Rugby World Cup 2019: Kicking off in Japan, this will be the first time the tournament has been to Asia. New Zealand, always the favourites, will emerge from the pool games together with South Africa, Australia, and Wales, while Argentina, France and England will play for two spots out of pool C.
Argentina election: President Mauricio Macri’s year will be shaped by the upcoming elections in October, and his government’s ability to maintain the course of reforms, put the economy back on its rails, and keep foreign creditors happy. Populist anger at the economic travails caused by “Washington consensus” policies may put the country on a radically different path.
Turnover at the European Commission: Jean-Claude Juncker’s European Commission will come to the end of its five year term, as will Mario Draghi’s leadership of the European Central bank. A survey by Bloomberg puts the race in the hands of Erkki Liikanen, Governor of the Central Bank of Finland, and Francois Villeroy de Galhau of France.
APEC in Chile: The 21 countries of the Asia Pacific Economic Forum will meet in Santiago to focus on the digital economy, regional connectivity, and women's role in economic growth.
Global Futures Councils: The Annual Meeting of the Global Futures Councils in Dubai brings together more than 600 members from academia, business, government and civil society to provide forward-looking thought leadership and promote innovative thinking to address global, regional and geopolitical issues, as well as emerging or cross-cutting topics related to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Star Wars Episode IX: The third and final installment of the Star Wars sequel trilogy opens in time for the holiday season on December 20, and we’re set to find out Rey’s destiny and her relationship with Kylo Ren, and… following Carrie Fisher’s digital appearance in Episode VIII, how will the producers keep her alive?
Power of Siberia: Russia will become China’s largest supplier of natural gas through its new 4,000km pipeline. China will become the world’s largest importer of natural gas in 2019, and with the completion of this project, Russia will become its largest supplier.