Exploring the future of human and planetary security

Human & Planetary Security

/The Project

Welcome Explorer No. 15190!

This digital journey aims to deepen our shared understanding of the confluence of threats confronting our planet while exploring fresh ideas and viewpoints that can challenge our preconceptions and broaden our horizons.

From climate change and resource scarcity to nuclear proliferation and misaligned AI, we are looking to cover a wide range of topics critical to our planet's safety and well-being. Whether you are a student, a researcher, a policymaker, or just care deeply about the future, we invite you to join the conversation, share your ideas, and inspire others to make a difference.

  • /Domains

/Critical Issues

Through our research, we have identified some critical issues emerging in the selected domain.

According to you, which of these issues would have the most significant impact on human and planetary security in the future?

  • Digital innovation and smart infrastructure are enhancing the functionality, efficiency, and sustainability of cities around the world. Smart transportation systems, including intelligent traffic management, are improving mobility. Open data initiatives enable seamless data exchange and enhance access to information and services for residents, who can take ownership over their data and even some support services. Technology-driven initiatives can foster sustainability by optimizing resource management, promoting renewable energy adoption, and enhancing waste management practices. Smart infrastructure—including intelligent buildings, efficient energy grids, and smart healthcare systems—can enhance comfort, safety, and public services. Collaboration between government, private sector entities, and communities promotes inclusive and equitable access to technological advancements and their benefits, but concerns remain over privacy, surveillance, and data management.
  • In nearly every region of the world, debt is rising. The world’s least wealthy countries are strapped with the most debt, driven by the compounding effects of Covid-19, climate shocks, and price spikes caused by the Ukraine war—25 countries are now spending more than 20 percent of government revenues on external debt payments, according to the United Nation Development Programme. Venezuela’s debt as a percentage of 2021 GDP is 240.5 percent, Eritrea’s is 176.3 percent, and the Maldives, plagued by climate issues, is 124.8 percent. These mounting debts pose severe threats to economic stability and social progress and create new layers of vulnerability. There are renewed calls for wealthier nations (also facing debt problems) to cancel loans, scale up assistance, and honor their unfulfilled pledges to help. However, increasing scrutiny is being placed on neocolonial financial mechanisms, which critics argue perpetuate inequality and hinder development in lower-income countries. Therefore, the surge in global debt is driving a critical reassessment of international financial systems, demanding innovative solutions that ensure debt sustainability and promote economic resilience worldwide.
  • Psychedelics are proving more effective at treating a variety of health conditions—including depression, PTSD, alcohol use disorder, and anxiety among the terminally ill—than standard therapies. These hallucinatory drugs are thought to relax the part of the brain that formulates our sense of self, helping rewire connections and promote neuroplasticity. Not surprising, companies and research labs are now racing to develop psychedelic-like drugs for what is expected to be a massive new market, which some project will grow to $10.75 billion by 2027 (up from $2 billion in 2020), according to JAMA Psychology. With numerous clinical trials underway, massive VC money being poured into promising therapeutics, and leading AI developers eager to know what the rigorous study of psychedelics might reveal about the properties of consciousness, many believe that a paradigm shift in brain medicine is on the near-term horizon.
  • With evidence of worsening climate change all around us, growing numbers of people are feeling a rise in “eco-anxiety,” a unique form of worry and fear focused on the quickening pace of climate disasters and ultimately the long-term sustainability of our planet. This anxiety is particularly acute among young people, whose climate concern is accompanied by growing worry about the stability of other systems (political, economic, public health) that they also see faltering. A recent survey by The Prince’s Trust in the UK found that almost half of people aged 16 to 25 felt daily anxiety about the future, with nearly 60 percent describing their generation’s outlook as “frightening.” Relentless bad news is damaging young people’s mental health, creating widespread lack of hope, and having an unknown impact on their developing brains.
  • Worsening climate change is disrupting many facets of our lives, including our spiritual beliefs and practices. Many religions hold the planet as sacred, honoring the connectedness of the Earth, mankind, and all living things. As the planet is changing and in some ways dying, religious groups are reckoning with the roots of their beliefs, with some communities being forced to abandon or adapt core rituals and traditions. It is getting harder and more expensive for Muslims to complete the annual pilgrimage known as the haj, which has them walking great distances in dangerously hot temperatures. Native Americans who revere the Colorado River are seeing it shrink. Among the Blackfeet, beavers are both sacred and celebrated, but climate change is compelling beavers to migrate north, out of Blackfeet territory. In the face of climate change, many religions are asking new questions about humanity’s responsibility to the planet, and how to bring a more urgent sense of stewardship to their communities and belief systems.
  • Calls for equity in labor systems are growing louder, with new recognition of and demand for rectification of systemic disparities and injustices within the workforce. Across many industries and geographies, racial and gender pay gaps persist, as do massive wage gaps between the lowest-paid and highest-paid employees. Meanwhile, while DEI initiatives are bringing more equity to many organizations, these efforts rarely touch or focus on workers at the “bottom” who arguably stand to benefit from them the most. The urgent need to address these gaps became further apparent during the recent pandemic, which not only exacerbated pre-existing inequities in sectors such as healthcare and education but also fueled new inequalities, with a disproportionate impact on women, lower-income workers, and young workers. Equal access to benefits and social protections, fair treatment, representation in leadership roles, and just compensation remains an elusive goal.
  • The landscape of space exploration is evolving, with established and emerging actors alike increasing their off-planet activity. Countries like the United States, Russia, China, and Japan are pushing the boundaries of space technology, exploration, and innovation both on Earth and in orbit. Innovation in space technology is driving advancements in satellites, probes, and manned missions, which are also being undertaken by new actors (such as India and the United Arab Emirates) who are looking to the Moon and sending missions to Mars. The International Space Station serves as a platform for international cooperation and collaborative research, although geopolitical tensions could complicate this in the future. Space-centric issues, such as space debris cleanup, require a level of coordination and collaboration that is hard to achieve on Earth, let alone in space.
  • There are many benefits to living in a digital world—but digitization is also engendering new forms of stress and imbalance. Gen Zers may be digital natives, but many struggle in the workforce with the aspects of their jobs that don’t relate to fast, familiar technologies, from forming relationships and working in teams to wrestling with old tech like fax machines that they’ve never seen before. Meanwhile, many of the professionals who opted during or after the pandemic to work as “digital nomads,” traveling freely while working remotely, report that it has taken a toll on their mental and physical health, with the absence of a stable community leading to feelings of loneliness and depression.
  • Innovation in energy storage has long been deemed critical to the successful transition from fossil fuel dependence to a sustainable, low-carbon future. Currently, most storage batteries are made with lithium; these batteries are expensive, contain toxic metals, and lack the capacity to take in the significant amounts of energy generated by renewables. But a kind of “space race” to crack the renewable energy storage problem, including through the invention of unconventional battery solutions, is now in full swing; a recent study identified nearly 93,000 battery-related patents registered internationally from 2000 to 2019. Hybrid, bacterial, hydrogen, and iron-air batteries are among the innovations attracting investment, while surprising concepts like batteries made from sand are showing promise for meeting storage needs in non-optimal environments.
  • The shifting nuclear landscape refers to changes in nuclear weapons dynamics, doctrines, and technologies. Uncertainties surrounding the war in Ukraine have brought nuclear weapons to the forefront of discussions on security, and some countries have returned to nuclear energy in the wake of the conflict due to the resulting disruptions in fossil fuel supply. Nonproliferation agreements face challenges due to geopolitical dynamics and both state and non-state actors seeking to acquire nuclear weapons. Emerging technologies, such as small modular reactors and AI-powered cyberattacks, highlight the critical need for enhanced safeguards monitoring and enforcement. The potential for nuclear accidents, miscalculations, and escalation heightens concerns. Efforts to address these security implications require strengthened diplomacy, arms control agreements, and international cooperation to ensure nuclear stability and prevent the further proliferation of nuclear weapons.
  • From outdated railroad tracks and crumbling bridges to contaminated water pipes and sinkhole-plagued roads, aging and deteriorating infrastructure poses significant challenges to public safety in many places around the world. Yet even in the wealthiest countries, critical infrastructure has been degrading for decades due to lack of investment. Fifteen percent of Germany’s municipal road bridges need rebuilding, according to the German Institute of Urban Affairs. In the United States, the estimated cost of fixing the country’s significant infrastructure problems is $10 trillion. While comprehensive infrastructure overhauls come with enormous benefits—preventing tragedies, creating employment opportunities, driving economic growth, and improving access to essential services—launching major improvement projects is often slow, daunting, bogged in bureaucracy, and prohibitively expensive.
  • While experiments in brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) span more than four decades, the last few years have brought a forward leap in these technologies and their capabilities. Brain-computer interfaces are tiny devices implanted within or on the surface of the brain that connect wirelessly with a computer, enabling users to complete tasks through their brain signals. Most BCIs aim to enable people with irreparable spinal cord injuries to type using just their thoughts and even to walk again—and with a natural gait (the user thinks about walking and starts moving forward). Developing BCIs is extremely complex work, due in part to our incomplete understanding of the connection between our neural circuits and our thoughts. But attention on these devices and their future capabilities is growing. While Elon Musk’s BCI company Neuralink has been accused of violating the Animal Welfare Act and faces several other ongoing scandals, in May 2023 they received FDA approval to begin human trials on their own BCI prototype.
  • Cancer is among our planet’s greatest health threats; one in six human deaths is caused by the disease, which kills roughly 10 million people globally per year. While the effort to cure cancer spans many decades, we may be entering a phase of accelerated breakthroughs, as our understanding of the disease grows more sophisticated and our tools for diagnosis and treatment (targeted therapies, immunotherapy, precision medicine, new early detection methods, etc.) yield more success. Every few months, it seems, another breakthrough gets announced—whether it’s the discovery of a new nuclear medicine therapy that can eradicate human non-Hodgkin lymphoma in an animal model or the discovery that adding certain repurposed drugs to the regimen of terminal cancer patients can be curative. This growing momentum is being met by bold efforts to accelerate it still further, including through the US government’s reinvigorated “cancer moonshot” initiative and heavy investment in homegrown biotech solutions by China, home to one-fifth of the world’s cancer patients.
  • Soft power is the ability to influence and persuade other nations through appeal, attraction, culture, and values rather than force or financial incentives. The global popularity of South Korean boy band BTS, the draw of American universities as a destination for international students, France’s ability to attract more tourists than any other country in the world are all examples of soft power. However, soft power can be susceptible to misuse, as actors may exploit cultural influence for self-interest rather than genuine cooperation. The pursuit of soft power can also foster rivalries, with nations competing to shape narratives and control information flows. Efforts should focus on promoting genuine dialogue, fostering shared values, and prioritizing global well-being over narrow agendas. By addressing these issues, soft power can be harnessed as a constructive force for diplomacy, fostering understanding, and achieving positive outcomes in international relations.
  • In the face of complex security challenges, regional cooperation is on the rise. NATO is increasingly emphasizing collective defense and regional solidarity to mitigate threats, especially in light of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. ASEAN is amplifying its focus on intra-regional connectivity and collaborative mechanisms to bolster economic growth and political stability, despite differing political systems and levels of development among its members. The European Union, amidst the chaos of post-Brexit adjustments and post-pandemic economic recovery, is rallying member nations toward deeper integration and coordination, emphasizing its "unity in diversity," although perennial issues from economic support to ensuring that member states uphold principles remain. This growing emphasis on regional cooperation is fostering a shift from globalism toward regionalism, reshaping international relations. However, such a shift could potentially escalate tensions between different blocs and generate new geopolitical complexities.
  • Over the last five years, authoritarianism has been on the rise as more leaders and countries attempt to move away from rules-based liberal democracy. From Poland’s efforts to reduce judicial independence, to increased bans on criticism of the government in the Asia-Pacific region, to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, challenges to the rule of law globally remain bold, persistent, and widespread. The World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index shows precipitous drops in every rule of law factor that it measures, especially fundamental rights, freedom of expression, and checks and balances; according to the Index, more than 4.4 billion people live in countries where the rule of law weakened in 2022.
  • Intense heat waves and extreme high temperatures are hitting countries all over the globe—in India, across Europe and Asia, in the US—with increasing frequency and consequence. In April 2023, Dhaka, Bangladesh, recorded its hottest day in 48 years, reaching 40.4 degrees Celsius. In May 2023, hundreds of weather stations across China registered temperatures that exceeded the highest ever recorded for that month. These high-heat events can overtax power grids, shut down civic life, and cause health emergencies and ecological problems at a dangerous scale. They are also testing the limits of governments and communities at all levels to respond effectively (in both short and long term) to climate-related crises.
  • Ecofascism is a strain of far-right ideology that perpetuates violence and intolerance against immigrants, marginalized communities, and non-white people more generally in the name of environmental preservation, holding that non-white people are “invasive species” responsible for climate change. Not to be mistaken for environmental activism, ecofascists argue that immigrants are harmful to ecosystems and that white people have privilege and entitlement over the resources of the environment. The massacre in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the mass killing of 22 people at a Texas Walmart, both in 2019, were perpetrated by terrorists who held ecofascist beliefs about the “divine purging” of marginalized communities. The rise of far-right parties running on anti-migration platforms in numerous regions globally could give more energy to the radicalized individuals who embrace this ideology.
  • There is a revolution happening in the food and agriculture sectors, propelled by technological experimentation and innovation. Innovations in lab-grown meat and alternative proteins have skyrocketed over the past decade, offering potential solutions for environmental, ethical, and health issues associated with meat production and consumption. Drones are being deployed to monitor crops and even plant them; vertical farming, involving the cultivation of crops in stacked layers, is transforming urban food production. These and other advances are reshaping food production and supply chains, with the potential to significantly increase sustainability and food security in the face of growing global demand and environmental challenges.
  • Natural disasters, cyberattacks, and equipment malfunctions are just three examples of the kinds of shocks that can disrupt critical infrastructure or, even worse, cause it to fail. Critical infrastructure includes power grids, transportation networks, water systems, communication networks, and financial systems—all of which have interdependencies, making them vulnerable to the same emergencies. Disruptions to critical infrastructure can cause large-scale public health, economic, and political emergencies that are difficult to manage and resolve, prompting new efforts to make these systems more resilient and secure through technologies like blockchain, AI’s deep learning and big data analytics, and the Internet of Things.
  • As the climate emergency intensifies, increasingly ambitious ideas for making cities and structures more resilient against severe weather events and rising sea levels are emerging. These plans range from large-scale strategies to improve the ability of buildings to survive extreme weather events (like Canada’s plan to overhaul its building code to require all new structures to be more resilient against floods and fires) to mega-engineering projects designed to prevent the loss of major cities (like the proposal to dam the entire North Sea to protect 25 million Europeans from rising oceans). But even these extreme projects might not save New York, Basra, Kolkata, Nagoya, Shanghai, London, half the Netherlands, the entire Maldives, and other thriving places from sliding underwater. The costs of these extreme preparations are massive, which has some wondering: Should we (and can we) save these vulnerable places at all?
  • The amount of food that humans waste is staggering: roughly one-third of all food gets tossed globally each year, according to Project Drawdown, with that waste accounting for 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In the US alone, that adds up to nearly 90 billion meals’ worth of food each year, according to ReFed’s calculations. Climate change and food waste are locked in a reinforcing cycle—the high emissions of excess food production, food transportation, and food waste are major drivers of climate change, which in turn increases food insecurity and malnutrition in places and among people that are the most vulnerable. Driven by strong data, increasing numbers of people are aligning their food behaviors and dietary choices with environmental considerations. For example, it’s estimated that eating less red meat and dairy can reduce carbon footprint by 66 percent. Many people, but still far from enough, are shifting to plant-based diets, growing their own food, and buying locally to help break the waste/emissions cycle.
  • Both climate change and human development are disrupting the natural migratory cycles of numerous animal species. Warming temperatures are changing the timing of the seasonal clues that trigger migration, causing species like Arctic eagles to arrive in their migratory habitat in advance of the prey they depend on, and others to arrive in depleted habitats that lack the forage they need to survive. Meanwhile, human development is blocking or altering migration pathways, cutting off a growing number of species from the territories they need to reach in order to eat and to mate. Rewilding initiatives aimed at restoring ecosystems to their natural states to better support animal migrations are gaining some momentum, as are efforts to ensure species have safe passage by designing or designating official migration corridors. But humans with development plans are pushing back. A proposed corridor in Assam, India, to protect the seasonal migration of elephants along a route they’ve used for at least a century is slowly being developed, with elephants now needing to risk confrontation with humans in their efforts to find a workable way through.
  • As one of the world's fastest-growing economies, India's increasing financial clout has begun to reshape regional relationships, particularly in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region. Simultaneously, its strategic initiatives, like the Neighborhood First Policy and Act East Policy, indicate a strengthening of regional ties and soft power projection. India's burgeoning young population is a demographic dividend, fueling its economic growth and offering a vast market for global businesses. Moreover, India's democratic governance and cultural diplomacy, exemplified by its media and diaspora, further enhance its soft power. However, navigating the challenges of social inequality, regional tensions, and environmental concerns will be crucial for India's rise. Overall, India's economic growth, youthful demographics, and regional relationships are reshaping its status and influence on the global stage.
  • The rise of electrification is revolutionizing the automotive industry, with electric vehicles (EVs) becoming increasingly mainstream due to improved battery technologies and supportive policies. The push for mobility solutions, such as ride-sharing and autonomous vehicles, is redefining transportation, promoting efficient use of resources and reducing carbon emissions. Maglev, or magnetic levitation technology offers immense potential for zero-emission, high-speed travel. The pursuit of zero-carbon solutions is leading to other innovations like hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and biofuels, as well as systemic changes like integrating renewable energy sources into transport infrastructure. One major question about the movement toward clean transportation is closing the loop, specifically ensuring that minerals and metals are sourced sustainably and that e-waste is dealt with effectively and efficiently.
  • Water is an increasingly precious resource, but so too are the pipes that carry water to and through communities and the facilities that treat and recycle that water. Much of the world’s water infrastructure is in poor or unknown condition, plagued by neglected and decaying components, incomplete mapping, and a patchwork approach to potable water governance—with significant consequences for water quality. But new technologies—from digital mapping to robots that can crawl through pipes to pinpoint problems—are helping to address pipe vulnerabilities, while a trend toward community-led water management is improving governance in some places. Meanwhile, innovations in wastewater treatment and surveillance are having a growing impact on public and environmental health. New methods for removing enduring pharmaceuticals like antidepressants and antibiotics from wastewater can keep these drugs from entering ecosystems. Wastewater surveillance, around since the 1940s, has become a newly powerful and versatile public health tool, capable of identifying pathogens in a community or even a single building, including those we didn’t even know to look for.
  • Our ability to enhance ourselves by integrating technology into our bodies and our surroundings has rapidly accelerated—and we are only getting started. Augmented technologies like brain-computer interfaces, genome editing, 3D bioprinting, and nanomedicine are reshaping our bodies and minds, and we continue to explore the potential of AI, robotics, biotechnology, and neuro-enhancement to further improve and optimize ourselves. In the process, we are changing what it means to be human and potentially how we form and shape our identities. But extending our capabilities into new realms has sparked serious ethical and social concerns that remain unresolved, highlighting the need for shared ethical agreements that prioritize responsible development.
  • Social media platforms are becoming a primary news source globally, with 75 percent of the world’s population now accessing news and information on these platforms, according to Reuters Institute. They’re being joined there by increasing numbers of traditional journalists seeking greater freedom to cover the stories that interest them and the ability to reach wider audiences, as well as by influencers and media-makers who are underrepresented in traditional newsrooms and who want to tell stories that more accurately represent the world around them. As a result, the term “journalist” itself is blurring and democratizing, as more people harness the potential of digital platforms to tell and share stories on their own terms.
  • The rising use of propaganda by governments is affecting global politics and the potential for conflicts. The adoption of sophisticated tactics, such as those employed by the Kremlin, indicates a new era of information warfare, manipulating public opinion both domestically and internationally. Incidents like Venezuela's use of deepfake videos further exacerbate concerns over the potential misuse of technology for political ends. However, the establishment of Moldova's new Anti-Propaganda Centre illustrates a proactive countermeasure against the rising tide of misinformation. With the escalating use of misinformation and disinformation as tactics for waging war, the landscape of international relations and security is shifting. Hence, the increasing utilization of propaganda by governments underscores the urgency for robust, globally coordinated responses to protect information integrity and democratic processes.
  • As AI becomes more pervasive, a critical issue must be now resolved: We don’t yet know how to make AI outputs fair and unbiased. AI systems embed and perpetuate the full range of biases baked into their training data (age, racial, geographical, political, etc.). This is difficult to resolve because humans have different and even incompatible notions of fairness, raising thorny questions about who ultimately gets to decide what values or definitions of fairness prevail. Not surprisingly, a scramble is now underway to create regulations, laws, policies, and other oversights that address these pressing questions. As one emerging technologies expert put it: “We’re currently in a crisis period, where we lack the ethical capacity to solve this problem.”
  • Many countries are increasing their military spending in an effort to protect their interests or assert their influence in a changing global landscape. Rising global geopolitical tensions, alongside more regional security concerns like territorial disputes, are driving much of the increased expenditure—and that military funding can quickly change depending on a country’s priorities. Several Middle Eastern countries have allocated a larger percentage of their GDP to military spending because of regional conflicts, while the war in Ukraine has prompted Poland to sharply increase its defense spending. (Ukraine’s own defense spending has spiked from $122 per capita to roughly $1,000 per capita due to the ongoing war.) The war has also compelled some NATO countries to begin moving toward the long-established NATO benchmark of spending 2 percent of their annual economic output on the military. Economic considerations also play a role, as defense industries are supported to stimulate growth and create jobs.
  • Having set the rules of globalization in the 1940s, many now see the United States as turning toward zero-sum trade and industrial policies (the Inflation Reduction Act, the CHIPS and Science Act, etc.) that prioritize US national gain over mutual benefit. The US is now focused on building domestic manufacturing and production capacity across several industries, while also placing new restrictions on the flow of goods and capital. Many see these “inward investments” as a sign that the US is turning away from globalization and toward protectionism–and few if any nations view this shift positively. There is concern that the US stance will set other nations on the same course, threatening free-flow trade and global interdependence.
  • Transnational criminal organizations are becoming more sophisticated, expansive, and impactful. Enabled by globalization and the proliferation of digital technologies, these network-based criminal syndicates and entities are increasingly involved in illicit activities spanning drugs, weapons, the dark web, child trafficking, and exploitation of migrants and refugees. Globally, the illicit drug trade of opioids, synthetic drugs, and more continues to thrive. The online black market for weapons has grown, with the dark web facilitating anonymous transactions and bypassing traditional surveillance. Tragically, child trafficking is also increasing, with vulnerable populations being exploited across borders. Additionally, the global migrant and refugee crises present new opportunities for these organizations to exploit human desperation for financial gain.
  • At a time when nuclear-armed nations are modernizing their weapons arsenals and when nuclear power, while declining in the West, is increasing elsewhere, the simultaneous decrease in nuclear education, training, and scholarship has been called out by many as alarming. Most countries now boast fewer comprehensive nuclear technology programs at the university level, driven by aging faculty and research facilities and low student interest in nuclear subjects; globally, enrollment in nuclear programs is plummeting, leading to a shrinking pool of nuclear experts worldwide. Moreover, there is a question of whether nuclear weapons experts in particular are self-censoring their scholarship, steering clear of challenging the nuclear status quo with disruptive ideas about a world without nuclear weapons.
  • Fragmented global responses to the Covid-19 pandemic revealed a public health landscape that is complex and uncoordinated, with global health disparities widening during the pandemic. While the World Health Organization and other international bodies (along with public health systems at the regional, national, and local levels) wrestle with how to ensure more robust and equitable public health governance, particularly during crises, there is also increasing clamor for the development of global governance principles for digital health. Digital tools are revolutionizing health diagnosis and delivery, strengthening disease surveillance and response, and bringing healthcare to places and to people who were previously disconnected from it. But this explosion in digital health is raising questions about privacy, security, access, data usage, representation, and equity that currently have no universally accepted and codified answers.
  • Given the pileup of crises now facing humanity—from climate change to runaway AI to global conflicts and tensions that threaten international stability, and more—it’s no surprise that vast numbers of humans are feeling a kind of collective overwhelm. While the pandemic gave us acute experience in destabilization at enormous scale, there is the sense that so much more destabilization is coming—both in terms of the crises we must navigate and the deep societal transformations that getting to the far side of these crises will require. Wondering “Can we do it?” and “Will we do it?” creates a steady hum of anxiety. The overwhelm is particularly troubling for young people, who worry about what kind of world is ahead of them and find it challenging to maintain a sense of hope or to summon the energy and creativity to spark radical change.
  • The United States and China are in a race to develop quantum computing, with China far in the lead in terms of money invested in quantum research. (China has $15 billion invested, with the US and Europe’s combined investment topping $10 billion, according to the World Economic Forum.) This rapidly emerging technology would be capable of solving problems that no existing computer can solve, performing tasks a million times faster than supercomputers. While a quantum computing breakthrough could greatly accelerate technological advancements in finance, healthcare, communications, and more, it also has a dark side: it’s expected that quantum computers, once fully developed, will be able to easily break many current encryption systems, rendering them obsolete. This development will upend cybersecurity as we know it, which is why the US and China are in a competition for quantum supremacy.
  • The rising cost of living, a looming recession, soaring energy and home prices, inflation that has raised consumer prices, according to Refinitiv, by 80 percent in Argentina and nearly 10 percent in the UK—the current economy is having a huge impact on Millennials and especially Gen Z. Many are living on the financial edge, unable to save money, pay off debt, or plan for the long term (and, given the climate crisis, they are not even sure what “long term” means.) These generations have a fraction of the buying power that their grandparents did at the same age; most can’t buy homes and are postponing having children. A third of Gen Zers surveyed in 2022 by Deloitte confessed to worrying about the cost of living above all other concerns, 45 percent confessed to living paycheck to paycheck, and more than 25 percent didn’t think they will be able to retire comfortably.
  • Manipulated information is becoming more prevalent and influential in our digital world. Deepfakes, enabled by advanced AI, represent a worrying trend, allowing the creation of highly realistic but entirely fabricated video and audio content that can be used to spread false narratives and disrupt public trust. Conspiracy theories, often amplified through social media, can skew public perception, stir societal discord, and even incite violence. Misinformation and disinformation campaigns are becoming sophisticated tools of statecraft and warfare, used by nations to destabilize adversaries, interfere in democratic processes, and manipulate public opinion. AI plays a dual role in this sphere, not only enabling the creation of misleading content but also providing tools for the detection and mitigation of such content. However, these countermeasures often struggle to keep pace with the speed and scale of disinformation spread.
  • African megacities are emerging, fueled by population growth, rural-urban migration, and economic opportunities. Across the continent, an expanding middle class and rising consumer demand are reshaping urban landscapes, driving investments in infrastructure, housing, and services. Advancements in technology and digital connectivity are transforming the way cities operate, enabling the development of smart cities and innovative solutions for urban challenges. The concentration of economic activities and industries in megacities is attracting domestic and foreign investments, driving economic growth and employment opportunities; their cultural and creative vitality is shaping new trends in arts, music, fashion, and entertainment, contributing to the cultural and soft power influence of the continent. But the sustainability and resilience of these megacities are crucial considerations, as they grapple with environmental challenges, the climate emergency, and the need for inclusive and equitable development.
  • With the health of the planet in peril, new efforts to create global markets that help address our greatest resource challenges—and our most harmful human practices—are emerging. Some countries send most of their municipal waste to landfill, while others have sustainable practices that see most waste recycled, composted, or incinerated. A proposed digitally managed global waste market could greatly boost reuse and recycling rates and bring more circularity to waste management. With freshwater shortages getting worse, a huge market is forming around the equipment needed to desalinate brackish seawater, with that market projected to reach $27.9 billion by 2029, up from $14.3 billion in 2021. These and other innovations seek to bring human and natural systems back into balance and are part of a wider movement to foster “nature-positive” innovation and investment that improves the health and resilience of the planet and support climate mitigation and adaptation efforts.
  • The continued destruction and fragmentation of natural habitats via human development and resource extraction, as well as via intensifying climate change, is depleting the world’s ecosystems to the point of collapse. In 2020 alone, humanity overused planetary resources by at least 75 percent, or “the equivalent to living off 1.75 Earths,” according to the Global Footprint Network. The biodiversity loss driven by that overuse has been stunning, with plant and animal extinctions accelerating at an alarming rate; with every increment of global warming, these losses compound and escalate. While awareness of the dangers of biodiversity loss is growing, coordinated actions to slow the pace of loss (or even to restore species) remain orders of magnitude smaller than the forces that continue to drive it.
Note: At the global scale we are looking at issues concerning the security of humans writ large. At the planetary scale we are looking at issues concerning the safety and wellbeing of our planet and the natural systems within which the human systems operate and evolve.

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