Global mega-trends: Scanning the post-coronavirus horizon

Written by Danièle Réchard,

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The European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS) – the strategic foresight network of the European Union institutions – offers a valuable ‘free space’ in which to conduct a genuine continental, and potentially global, conversation about where the world is heading over the medium to long run. It was initiated by the European Parliament almost a decade ago in order to help promote a serious discussion of this kind.

The third ESPAS Global Trends Report, Global Trends to 2030: Challenges and Choices for Europe, as published in April 2019. Transposing into the European context the kind of strategic foresight analysis undertaken in the United States by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) on global trends since the end of the 1990s, it aims to sketch the global and longer-term backdrop against which Europeans will seek to shape their future. The coronavirus pandemic broke out less than a year later.

At the moment, as Bruno Tertrais has put it, ‘we’re still at the stage in which everyone sees their views and assumptions as being confirmed by the corona crisis. This is true in the West and East, on the left and on the right’. This is understandable and projections based on reliable data are still scarce. The time-horizon of analysis generally does not go beyond 2022-23 (for example, the IMF and OECD Economic Outlooks). So the starting-point of any reflection is uncertain: What is the true death toll of the pandemic? How serious will the second wave be, and will there be a third? Which of the (possibly already) observable economic, societal, political and geopolitical consequences of the crisis will have a serious and long-lasting impact? Many strategic foresight teams, for example at the Atlantic Council, have nevertheless started to draw up ‘post Covid-19 scenarios’, which have been usefully listed by the OECD.

This paper aims to help distinguish the ‘signal’ from the ‘noise’. It provides a rolling review of the ‘inflections’ to the mega-trends – or at least of their perception among a wide array of global thinkers – that were identified in the 2019 ESPAS Global Trends Report. It follows the distinction used in the ESPAS report between ‘mega-trends’, ‘catalysts’ and ‘game-changers’ and stresses their inter-linkages.

Once we have taken enough steps back and gathered solid data and expertise, we will possibly be able to produce a new narrative about our future. This will most likely involve a ‘reshuffling’ of the trends. In particular, two ‘meta-trends’ might be singled out that transversally permeate all other trends and indeed all aspects of human life: technological innovation and inequality.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Global mega-trends: Scanning the post-coronavirus horizon‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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