The Future: Global-Local Risks and Challenges

The expression ‘think globally, act locally’ became popular in relation to climate change which was a global phenomenon but whose local impacts were significant. So it came to mean you need to think about problems on a global scale, and the best way to deal with this is to act on these problems locally, as if everyone did that then the global problem would be solved. For example, if you are concerned about CO2 emissions, the best thing is for each country to regulate these within their own country, then the global problem is solved. Conversely, though, it also implies that in practice to tackle the problem locally a country may need the help of global stakeholders if it does not itself have all the resources needed – as the Paris Summit on Climate Change has amply shown.

As we look to the future, we find that there a number of important and serious risks and challenges that, to use the ‘global-local’ analogy, can originate locally and yet have global impacts because we live in a connected world on a 24/7 basis. Therefore we have to consider in advance the consequences of our local acts, especially if they are negative, if we want to live in a secure world that is at peace.

We have identified what we think to be the most significant among the risks and challenges that have the strongest potential to disrupt the world order and impact humanity at large, to the extent of even threatening its survival. Even the most developed and advanced countries are not entirely prepared to cope with them individually, and one can imagine the situation of the remaining countries – but the blunt reality is that all countries are vulnerable in one way or another. And the solution will have to be through a cooperation of the willing, through coalitions and alliances which can pool resources and expertise for the purpose.

The two phenomena that have been uppermost on the world’s radar are global terror and climate change, and we start with them.

Global terror

The terrorist attacks that are taking place have shown to us that the goal is to create fear in people, to alter their way of daily living and to impose a specific, alternative way of living under constant duress.

The recent rise of Daesh, or the Islamic State (IS), is the most visible and prominent among those so engaged, which include Al Qaeda in its various morphed entities (in the Maghreb, in Yemen among others). Daesh has explicitly stated that it wants to establish a caliphate, occupies conquered territory in Iraq and Syria, and commands vast financial resources.

The US-led and Saudi-led coalitions aim at striking at the latter and the oil reserves Daesh exploits. In an interview on ‘Hard Talk’ (BBC: Steven Sackur), Saudi General Mansour al-Turki has defended the charge that his country promotes Wahabi-inspired terrorism, and is fully engaged in fighting against IS of which, he claims, it is itself a victim. Not many believe this, like the Tamil Nadu Sunnath Jannath, which yesterday in a public demonstration in Chennai has openly condemned Wahabism and sent a call to oppose it.

This is of relevance to Mauritius, as in a declaration during his visit to Saudi Arabia recently, DPM Soodhun has said that Saudi Arabia is going to help Mauritius fight terrorism by providing training.

The forms of terror attacks can be the ‘lone wolf’ type, single individuals perpetrating a terrorist act, or it can be a concerted action by several individuals such as the one that took place at Bataclan in Paris. These are in addition to the more sustained attacks by militants with ‘institutional support’ in terms of money, weaponry, networking and coordination, such as the 9/11 one in New York, and the 26/11 one in Mumbai.

The lone wolf attacks are becoming more common, and even if they are but phone threats, as happened in Australia and California a couple of days ago, normal life grinds to a halt as schools close down and the State does not want to take a risk.

What appears to be certain is that global terrorism is likely to spread, with attacks becoming more frequent, and it is going to be around for many years – unless good sense begins to prevail.

* * *

Climate change, environmental catastrophes

Despite some criticisms against its it, the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has come to a generally accepted conclusion: that climate change is the result of global warming, itself caused by the release of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere as a result of human activity: burning fossil fuels to power industry.

The conundrum is: how to reduce our needs, our greed? There is no easy answer, and the increasing population has aspirations and needs which cannot be denied to them.

So the solution lies in reducing dependency on fossil fuels, and adopt environmentally sound practices, hence ‘reduce, re-use, recycle.’

Along with climate change, the phenomenon of El Nino is also contributing to the major catastrophes we are seeing, such as blizzards (in the east coats of the US last week), flash floods in several countries where they did not use to happen before, periods of prolonged drought. Many of these events result in loss of lives, despite advisories for precautions to be taken.

There are also geological events such as tsunamis which provoke real havoc, and in the face of these and other phenomena such as earthquakes we are utterly powerless.

* * *

Cybersecurity

This is closely related to global terror. Terrorists and their organizations are not made up only of frustrated youth from deprived areas: a lot of their recruits are savvy IT professionals who are adept at the use of social media and skilled programmers. They can paralyse a country through manipulation of its key websites, as the French magazine Le Point explained in a recent article.

The same thing can happen in civilian life too; the example of Julian Assange and Wikileaks illustrates this danger. Sensitive state files can be hacked into – in fact US has accused China of such a crime, which the latter of course denies.

Hackers can also play havoc with bank accounts and plastic cards, siphoning off money and this too has happened and is an ever-present danger. * * *

Corruption

This is now so widespread that one can ask: who and what has not been corrupted? From politicians to bankers, to businessmen and financiers and those wanting to make a quick buck by alluring schemes marketed to gullible customers – you have it all, and in all countries.

And even sports has not been spared! Cricket in India stinks with corruption scams, and at FIFA the chairman Sebb Blatter has had to resign following allegations of corrupt practices.

A recent report out in Australia has accused top tennis players of deliberately losing international matches against cash payment, to the tune of as much as 250000 USD – the justification being that only 10 among the top 100 players make it big, the others have to struggle. Are the results of these international  tournaments genuine!!

* * *

Increasing gap between haves and have-nots

This is happening both within countries and at the global level, where 1% of the world population owns nearly 20% of its wealth. And the trend of such concentration is continuing, forcing upon us such categories as the ‘simply rich’ versus the ‘superrich.’

Although the ‘rising tide’ has lifted many boats up, still within countries the poor are getting poorer and the rich richer. And those who are hoping for social mobility through education find themselves, in increasingly large numbers in several countries (even developed ones such a Australia, Spain, the UK, US) as young graduate unemployed, or employed at levels below their qualifications and training – which is the case in Mauritius too, with our 5000 unemployed graduates.

* * *

Competition for and access to resources

Water is getting scarcer, and in the US California has been under drought for several years. Sharing of the waters of the Colorado River is an unresolved problem, meanwhile its lakes are drying up, e.g. Lake Meade.

In other regions, countries are in conflict over sharing of river waters. This is happening between India and China, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Treaties will have to be signed so as to cater to the needs of the upstream and downstream populations, but this is a protracted process which needs to be speeded up for mutual benefit. China has problems other countries in the south east Asia region too on this issue.

Rare metals such as lithium, dysprosium, etc., require to be mined in certain mineral rich countries or on the ocean floor. Here again China is making big forays and regulations have to be worked out so that there is equitable sharing and exploitation of these riches.

In a similar vein comes the problem of control of the China Sea and the Malacca Straight. The US, Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan are contesting China’s claims, and the islands which are claimed by both China and Japan have been a source of great discord that is yet to be resolved, if ever it will be!

* * *

The refugee/migrant crisis, changing demographics and social stability

There are 60 million refugees in the world, and ongoing conflicts are pushing more people into this category. The EU crisis has raised genuine concerns about changing demographics and the potential for social instability developing because of failure to integrate by the foreigners.

In the wake of aggressions on women revellers on New Year eve in several European cities, notably Cologne in Germany, many countries are redefining criteria for allowing asylum seekers in. Further, deportation of thousands of them are planned by Sweden (80,000) and Finland (20,000). Turkey and Jordan have asked for international help to accommodate Syrian refugees, as they are themselves faced with issues of job availability for their own people.

All these measures, however, have not deterred migration efforts by determined people as they flee war and conflict zones. But there are also economic migrants who try to get on to the ‘bandwagon’ and this complicates matters.

* * *

Falling price of oil

Now at 30 USD a barrel, this low price of oil has already sent many countries into shock. Shale oil obtained by ‘fracking’ has uncovered vast reserves that will make the US self-sufficient, especially for transport where oil is mostly needed. LPG will provide for much energy needs, especially for heating.

Further, renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and waves are gradually coming into their own, and this will further reduce dependency on oil. This trend is inevitable, as some analysts have pointed out. Historically, our major energy needs were first met by coal, then came oil, followed by liquid gas, and the next logical phase is renewables. None of the other sources will disappear but their importance will diminish, especially when climate change issues are taken on board.

All in all, these areas of concern are likely to dominate the world agenda of the future big time, and only cooperation among nations that mutually lay down the rules of the game and respect them can assure for future generations a brighter and more secure environment in which to evolve.

We, the current generation, have a responsibility to oversee this process, otherwise we will have failed in our duty towards mankind. It is a heavy one and we must collectively assume it.

TP Saran

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