Scenarios for the future: Envisioning 2040

Last Call

Every four years the National Intelligence Council publishes its Global Trends outlook for the newly elected U.S. government, a document that is available to the public.

A myriad of data, along with interviews with a diversified group of people around the globe, are being analyzed to update the structural factors:


  • Demographics and Human Development
  • Environment
  • Economics
  • Technology

These are then coupled with the “emerging dynamics,” which in essence are how we anticipate societies, states and the international system react. This information creates opportunities as well as challenges for communities, institutions, corporations and governments.

The emerging dynamics include: China and the USA competing for influence around the world; the accelerating climate emergency; the tightening grip of technologies that will create and eliminate jobs; the ability to be informed coupled with disinformation that leads to unity and division at the same time; and anticipating an increase in migration driven by political, climate or economic factors. The growth of the world population will start to slow and, in the European Union, Russia, Japan, China and USA, as the population ages out it creates the need to supplement a younger workforce.

The challenges created by these developments are creating uncertainties, and governments will be hard-pressed to find the answers, as we have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, which will go into history as the largest societal interruption since World War II.  As a result, five alternative scenarios ensued for the world in 2040:

1. Renaissance of Democracies

From a U.S. point of view this is the most desirable and optimistic outlook. It sees the United States and its allies dominating in the technology race and finding the best answers to the challenges, along with proving that capitalism and democracies produce better results for society at large compared to communism and totalitarian systems.

2. Competitive Coexistence

This predicts that the U.S and China find a way to peacefully co-exist while addressing challenges in their own way. Some form of cooperation is possible. The emphasis is on economic development rather than world domination.

3. A World Adrift

The scenario foresees China taking advantage of the troubles in the Western Civilization, but without the ability to dominate the world completely — leaving many challenges unanswered.

4. Separate Silos

The world is fragmented into several economic and security blocs of varying size and strength, centered on the United States, China, the European Union, Russia, and a couple of regional powers; the focus is on self-preservation.

 5. Tragedy and Mobilization

The bleakest outlook. It predicts that problems can’t be contained, and the emerging catastrophes will create wide-spread suffering, increasing hostilities and large migration patterns of people in despair.

 My take:

 We know many of the factors that will influence life on earth. In my mind, the main question is: Will change accelerate at a pace that makes finding unity and solutions too difficult?

We opened Pandora’s box by allowing the un-regulated proliferation of technology without properly assessing the consequences. We lived for too long in the greed-driven linear economy that is causing the earth to warm and the oceans to be polluted.

 The switch to a circular economy might be too late. It is cynical that in a world that has so much know-how, capital and technology, we are forced to live in an age of uncertainties.

 Instead of acting united and applying the best solutions early, we keep plugging along, focused on short-term goals.

 For example: the previous Global Trend report warned about the threat of a global pandemic. Despite that, the world was largely unprepared for it.

 This bears the question: Have we finally awakened to the fact that we need to address these future challenges head-on in a global manner if we want to succeed?

 A link to the full report can be found at

MARC FREY: media entrepreneur