The National Intelligence Council on Thursday released its 20-year global trends report and the outlook looks grim. The report forecasts global disorder exacerbated by climate catastrophe and younger generations no longer believing in their governments.

There are a number of constants throughout the various predictions the report makes. Climate change and the resulting mass migration are now too close to be significantly averted. 

Those stresses will be exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which the report calls “the most significant, singular global disruption since World War II” that “has reminded the world of its fragility” and “shaken long-held assumptions” about government competence. 

Even before the pandemic, the world was fragmenting. Intelligence officials no longer have confidence that global institutions will be up to the task of responding to “more and cascading global challenges, ranging from disease to climate change to the disruptions from new technologies and financial crises.”

Disaffection with traditional authority is growing throughout societies, with “large segments of the global population becoming wary of institutions and governments that they see as unwilling or unable to address their needs.”

The two Uyghur former government officials were found guilty of carrying out 'separatist activities' in China's Xinjiang The two Uyghur former government officials were found guilty of carrying out 'separatist activities' in China's Xinjiang Photo: AFP / GREG BAKER

The council is careful to note that it can’t predict the future. It can, however, make a number of reasonable guesses outlining the most likely directions the world is headed.

The report identifies five major paths.

  • The brightest is a “renaissance of democracies,” in which the U.S. manages to get its act together and makes good on the promise of global liberal democracy. China and Russia, hampered by political and ecological instability, lose ground to a United States bolstered by technological dynamism, and the world becomes more or less unified and prosperous under U.S. leadership.
  • China could also edge out the U.S. While it’s unlikely that it could attain full global dominance shown in the first outcome within the next two decades, it has every opportunity to become the leading force worldwide as the U.S. continues its slide from relevance.
  • There’s no reason that both major powers can’t continue to exert influence in the years to come, creating a world with two spheres of influence reminiscent of the cold war. 
  • There’s also no reason both can’t fail. The result would be a large-scale fragmentation, with nations turning inward and paying attention primarily to their own immediate surroundings, plagued by security dilemmas and suspicion of neighbors.
  • The final outcome is total global collapse: unmitigated climate change leads to a future of “tragedy and mobilization” as widespread food shortages kill many and provoke conflict. Disaffected youth eventually dismantle failed political structures. Oddly enough this failure is predicted to lead to a future of climate action and social equality, with European states expanding international aid and China joining in to preserve order on the Asian continent.