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Long Read Overview

Title: Walled Gardens: towards 2050
Approx. Reading Time: 39 minutes

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Walled Gardens: towards 2050

January 2050. Time to look back. Survey a world of patchwork, environmentally secure post-industrial walled gardens. Secure borders for some, mass-migration and survival conditions for others. The climate and biosphere crises had global causes, but hyper-local solutions. The long political backlash against globalisation shaped the emergence of isolationism, protectionism and state power. What remains of trade is in ideas: digital, virtual, fragmented.

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Long Read Overview

Title: Dark Ages: towards 2050
Approx. Reading Time: 39 minutes
Author: Simon Tilford, Peter Kingsley

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Dark Ages: towards 2050

Scenarios are models. They describe alternative possible futures. At their best, they explore extremes, because history tells us one thing: failure of imagination is a primary source of risk and catastrophic failure. In this update of Dark Ages, one of our reference scenarios, we explore a descent into chaos, a story of climate and biosphere collapse, state failures, mass migration, and perpetual wars. Too little, too late. Like Orwell’s 1984, it serves as a warning, not a prediction. This story has momentum. Is this the world we want?

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Long Read Overview

Title: A New Age of Financial Repression?
Approx. Reading Time: 8 minutes
Author: George Magnus

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A New Age of Financial Repression?

Could a new wave of austerity open the way for political populism, as in the 1920s? George Magnus argues the risk lies elsewhere. Rising pressures on public spending combined with a drive to reassert national control over production means governments are more likely to opt for financial repression than risk the fallout from renewed austerity. In such an environment, returns or claims on real assets—that is, equities—would exceed those on government bonds or corporate credit.

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Long Read Overview

Title: The Invention Gap
Approx. Reading Time: 10 minutes
Author: Peter Kingsley

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The Invention Gap

A little over a year ago we published The Invention Gap to our subscribers. Since then, we have seen the Russian invasion of Ukraine, rising inflation, and a growing sense of urgency about the climate and biosphere crises. As we put it originally, The Invention Gap is systemic and strategic, cutting across all industry sectors and spanning global governance, policy, regulation, economics and corporate stewardship. The gap is not shrinking.

To mark the launch of Baker McKenzie’s ‘Closing the Invention Gap: Reinventing the practice of law at the edge of chaos’, written with Ben Allgrove, Chief Innovation Officer of Baker McKenzie, Jae Um, Founder and Director at Six Parsecs and Mary O’Carroll, Chief Community Officer at Ironclad, here is the original essay.

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Briefing

Crisis in the UK: the power of narrative

The UK faces a serious economic and social crisis that will deepen without big shifts in policy. Yet there is little sense of this among the country’s elite, not least its politicians. The power of narrative helps explain this risky disconnect. When the gap between dominant narrative and reality for the median citizen widens to breaking point, a country’s politics loses legitimacy.

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Gene Drive Technologies: worth the risk?

Malaria still infects over 200 million people a year worldwide and kills more than half a million. With an effective vaccine remaining elusive, researchers are exploring the use of genetically modified malaria-transmitting mosquitoes. While such gene drive technologies hold potential, they pose serious risks to the health of ecosystems.

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The Ukraine War and Future of Russia

Almost a year after Putin launched his disastrous invasion of Ukraine it seems that Russia cannot win the war, but neither can Ukraine. In the eyes of the US and most NATO countries, avoiding escalation is paramount, raising the prospect of the conflict becoming ‘frozen’. Irrespective of what the future holds for Russia—wartime regime, progressive disintegration or something in between—its future is bleak.

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A New Age of Social Unrest

Governments are increasingly unable to address rising domestic frustration while simultaneously dealing with complex global risks such as climate change. Overwhelmed by the complexity of the problems they face, politicians are becoming ever more reliant upon reactive, short-term modes of governance. The question is whether they will attempt to re-cast globalisation and share the current burden of risks, or retreat further behind borders.

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Long Read Overview

Title: A World Beyond Two Degree Celsius
Approx. Reading Time: 8 minutes
Author: David J Drewry

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A World Beyond Two Degree Celsius

According to UN, the world is on course for a temperature rise of 2.8C, well above the Paris pledge of 2C. The outcome of this in 50 years’ time will be disastrous. Professor David J Drewry explains that the Arctic will play an ever-bigger role in the entire planet’s life support systems, with melting permafrost and shrinking ice sheets leading to runaway sea rise and temperature increase. More data, increased geographical monitoring and improved modelling are needed to better understand these trends and future cascade events.

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Long Read Overview

Title: The Political Consequences of Xi Jinping
Approx. Reading Time: 12 minutes
Author: George Magnus

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The Political Consequences of Xi Jinping

With the consensus over China’s economic prospects now firmly downbeat, attention is shifting towards the country’s political outlook. Under Xi Jinping, China has moved sharply to the authoritarian left in terms of its economic policies and to the nationalist right in international relations, unsettling investors and alarming foreign powers. George Magnus argues China will find it harder to project power as these factors combine.

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Long Read Overview

Title: Dark Ages: in context
Approx. Reading Time: 11 minutes
Author: Peter Kingsley

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Dark Ages: in context

In a new introduction to Dark Ages, one of our three long-standing reference scenarios, Peter Kingsley explores how the world faces cascading geostrategic and socio-economic failures stretching out over the next decade and beyond. This is despite signs of real-world political urgency, and accelerating investment and innovation aimed at cutting emissions and slowing biosphere destruction.

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Long Read Overview

Title: Blockchain: the internet(s) of tomorrow?
Approx. Reading Time: 17 minutes
Author: Kieron O'Hara

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Blockchain: the internet(s) of tomorrow?

Kieron O’Hara argues that the more exciting implementations of blockchain technology, with the libertarian valorisation of their open networks, are products of a particular techno-ideology. As a result, they are problematic and face formidable obstacles. However, less ambitious blockchain—which are closer to traditional databases—are far more useful for business.

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Briefing

Narratives: imagination, art, science

For good and ill, we are immersed in narratives and stories, from news about breakthroughs in fusion energy to contested election results and undetectable, machine-driven disinformation. From the ‘The Big Lie’ and ‘special operation’ to reporting of court judgments, the media environment is saturated in stories—both true and false. Adapting to the new realities is less about fact than simulation, intelligence assessment and early warning systems.

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The Militarisation of Climate Policy Failure

Longstanding concerns over the ‘securitisation’ of the climate crisis’s effects assume militaries have sophisticated plans to navigate a hotter, more chaotic world. While militaries are responding to mitigation and adaptation priorities, the deepening crisis is not yet a primary determinant of their strategic planning. However, the worsening consequences will inevitably become national security concerns and contingency plans need to ensure this response is not militarised.

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Grand strategy and the environmental crisis

China and Russia are striving to profit from the geo-political and economic opportunities resulting from the environmental crisis. Instead of seeing this moment through a narrow lens of competition, developed countries should pursue a model of grand strategy that recognises how failing to ensure global ecological integrity will beggar all nations.

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Briefing

Termination Shock

Strategic failure is when all options are bad. To some, solar geoengineering is the only hedge against policy failures and rising global temperatures. To others, there should be an internationally binding moratorium on research and experimentation. Either way, the need for radical innovation in everything from policy and governance to the roll-out of green technology has never been greater.

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Briefing

COP27: relative progress in a world of absolute failure

International climate diplomacy has presided over an absolute failure: global emissions have risen each year since the first UN conference in 1995. Yet relative progress has been made, with projected temperature rises by 2100 having halved. In a world of fracturing cooperation, the UN approach is a powerful inducement for ‘piecemeal cooperation’. The question is whether it can remain effective in the face of worsening climate crisis.

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Briefing

Reproductive Rights: a new democratic bellwether?

The United States is something of an outlier with its reversal of Roe v Wade. Over the last 25 years, only three other countries have passed laws seriously restricting access to abortion. However, far-right parties around the world are increasingly taking aim at women’s rights, which should now be seen as a key indicator of a nation’s democratic health.

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Briefing

Could the UK Rejoin the EU?

The Covid-19 pandemic followed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine long obscured the costs of Brexit and allowed the country’s political class to avoid discussing the issue. However, the crisis triggered by the Truss government’s minibudget on 23 September has laid bare the scale of the economic growth challenge facing the UK, and could open up for the country to rejoin the Single Market and possibly even the EU.

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Briefing

A Summer of Systemic Shocks

Summer of 2022 saw the severest expression of the cascading, systemic risks emerging from the climate and ecological crises. Their effects are already having a material impact on societies’ abilities to deliver the sustainability transition. Negative feedback loops—of becoming distracted or even overwhelmed by symptoms —must become the primary focus of risk management in both the public and private sectors.

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Briefing

Climate Tipping Points: heating up

Climate tipping points—and the irreversible changes they can trigger—are more numerous and severe than first thought. Failure to appreciate the inter-connected nature of the climate challenge means that critical tipping points could be allowed to pass, opening the way for dangerous cascades.

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Briefing

Germany: economic benchmark or problem?

Germany is often portrayed as Europe’s ‘economic motor’, but improved regional economic performance and greater strategic autonomy hinge as much on Germany becoming less German as they do on others becoming more German.

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Too Many Surprises

Time was when the broad narrative of progress created a sense of base-level psychological security in the West, even in the face of growing inequalities. Last October, Peter Kingsley wrote that Covid-19, the climate crisis, financial uncertainty, algorithm-driven social media, the wide assault on institutions and the breakdown of political order threatened a population-scale well-being crisis. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the climatic disruption of 2022 have added force to his warning.

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Briefing

The Inflation Reduction Act: a new era and a warning

The newly passed Inflation Reduction Act is the first major US legislation to directly tackle the climate crisis. It is also the latest example of an emerging economic policy paradigm driven by national security concerns as opposed to one based on strong belief in market solutions and a small state. However, politics might still derail this shift.

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Briefing

Are Stagflation Fears Exaggerated?

In the short-term, a return to low inflation and weak growth is at least as plausible as stagflation. Going forward, investment in rapid climate transformation should boost economic growth. In such an environment, inflation will be erratic and unpredictable, the result of successive shocks—both positive and negative.

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Briefing

Britain: Europe’s ‘stagnation nation’?

Britain is experiencing an almost unprecedented decline in its economic and political standing. The closest analogy is probably with Italy over the last 20 years. However, Britain’s position may be more intractable because of a collective failure to acknowledge the underlying reasons for what is happening. Unless it does, a workable economic growth model will prove elusive.

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Briefing

On Certainty

Track the philosophy of science and you find there is no absolute certainty, but a sense of purpose and values focused on an ever-deeper understanding of reality. In politics you enter a world of fiction, full of secret agendas and hidden intentions. Knowledge is secondary or even irrelevant. The cultural gap continues to widen, both a cause and a consequence of global leaders’ failure to confront reality.

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Briefing

Keeping it Local: energy

Despite resistance from established energy players, energy localisation is inevitable as the cost of renewables and battery storage continues to fall and governments face increasing pressure to reduce fossil fuel use and boost energy security.

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