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Global political risks in 2015 and beyond

A CII and Cicero report

Publication date:

09 January 2015

Last updated:

20 June 2018

A report, by the CII and Cicero, considering the potential global political and societal risks facing us in 2015 and beyond. It paints a picture of a time of continuing major economic and political challenges and risks and how the these risks can be identified, managed and, if possible, mitigated.

This report has been written at a time when serious people are asking whether the developments of the last twelve months have made the world a riskier place. There are many reasons to support this view: the rise of ISIS out of the wreckage of Syria and Iraq; Russian expansionism on the borders of Europe; slowing Chinese growth at a time when power is shifting East; high levels of public and private debt and low growth in the West; and the devastating Ebola outbreak in West Africa. These developments make us feel uneasy and give a sense that the world could be closer to the edge than we imagine.

These developments will undoubtedly continue to shape the world in the year to come and we consider them in our report. Yet we must always be wary of falling into the trap of only thinking about risks that are immediate and familiar because we read about them in the news. Avoiding this trap was precisely the motivation behind the CII's 2012 Future Risk series (these are freely available on the CII's website). Those reports and essays considered both the immediate social and economic challenges of the financi al crisis as well as less obvious but equally big questions such as the way that technology could make or break our world and the challenges of an ageing population.

In a similar spirit we have devoted a considerable part of this report to thinking about 'curve balls' - unexpected developments that could radically change society. They may not be immediate, but they are plausible and perhaps, in some cases, inevitable.

As we put this report together, one thing became clear: most game changers are being driven by engineers and scientists supported by exponential improvements in computing power and strides in artificial intelligence. But while engineers and scientists are busy rewiring society, it is politicians and officials with no scientific training who will be charged with governing the societies that will be turned upside by this technological change.

It is often said that history repeats itself. But as Astronomer Royal Martin Rees has pointed out, we are now living on a technological time scale - one which Moore's law suggests is non-linear. This is quite different to the biological time scale of natural selection, or even the drumbeat of human development for most of history. In short, our politicians simply have not thought enough about the implications that these technological developments might have for public policy - and they should, because many are closer than we might think.

This should not give cause for pessimism. Hans Rosling's captivating lectures on trends in global data show that in general things are improving for humanity even though the public doesn't appreciate quite by how much. Rather it should be a rallying call for politicians and the public to engage with the reality that we are in the midst of remarkable change. The biggest risk is that ignorance leaves policymakers groping around in the dark for answers after the fact, when they should have the courage to think about what life on a technological timescale means now.

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Related documents:

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webpage_icon   Upon the door of every cottage... protecting the public in general insurance. CII Policy & Public Affairs. April 2013 »

webpage_icon   The CII's future risk report series (6 reports). CII Policy and Public Affairs. 2013 »

This document is believed to be accurate but is not intended as a basis of knowledge upon which advice can be given. Neither the author (personal or corporate), the CII group, local institute or Society, or any of the officers or employees of those organisations accept any responsibility for any loss occasioned to any person acting or refraining from action as a result of the data or opinions included in this material. Opinions expressed are those of the author or authors and not necessarily those of the CII group, local institutes, or Societies.


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