Governing Uncertainty

Surveying major trends that will shape the future of global governance over the next 30 years.

Date Published
31 Mar 2021
Project Status

This report, commissioned by the UK Ministry of Defence’s Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre, surveys major trends that will shape the future of global governance over the next 30 years. It maps trends in society, politics, technology, security and the environment, and considers how the interplay across these sectors impact traditional and new development actors in their efforts to deliver a transformative development agenda centered on social inclusion, shared prosperity, safety and environmental sustainability.

The trends and changes outlined in this report are tied to a specific set of political and economic decisions and influences that marked the decades since the end of the Cold War. The globalization of economies and the impact of liberal trade and regulation policy on economic development and the distribution of wealth - within and across States - over three decades enabled rapid technological innovation, specialization through global value chains, poverty reduction and wealth generation in many parts of the world. However, this prosperity has not been equally distributed, leading to unequal development outcomes felt most acutely in the developing world and by global youth who will be forced to grapple with the intergenerational consequences of a worsening development emergency.

The report finds that many core societal risks – inequality, debt, mistrust, environmental and technological change, and the important role of non-State actors – persist today and have grown in importance following the outbreak of COVID-19.

Using the methods of foresight research, the report extrapolates possible future scenarios based on three cross-cutting trends (technological change, environmental change, demographic change and human mobility) and three megatrends (loss of trust in institutions, judicialization of governance, stakeholder activism). An integrated and systematic analysis of these trends results in four projections that will impact global governance, as well as security and development outcomes over the next 30 years:

  1. Inequality will continue to grow, undermining the legitimacy of global institutions.
  2. The diffusion of centres of power will create uncertainty and drive new conflict risks.
  3. Strategic litigation will empower non-State actors and challenge State authority.
  4. Technology will continue to drive rapid, highly unequal advances in development.

While it is impossible to say with certainty what this means for the future of global governance in 30 years, the authors formulate ten assumptions about the future, upon which three long-term pathways are explored.

Research output:

Access Report

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