What will the world look like in 2040?

Peaceful coexistence between the U.S. and China based on mutual economic benefit? A chaotic and divided world trying to recover from major natural disasters caused by climate change? Or a catastrophic World War III?

These are some of the questions the U.S. Intelligence Community asks itself when it prepares one of the most important and interesting national security reports.

Global Trends

Biden Putin climate change
Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Joe Biden at a virtual global climate summit, in Moscow, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik via Reuters)

Published every four years since 1997, the Global Trends Report is the Intelligence Community’s overarching assessment of geopolitical trends. It aims to describe realistic scenarios that policymakers will face 20 years from now.

As the foreword of this year’s report, the seventh iteration, states, the goal of the Intelligence Community isn’t to say specifically what the world will look like in 2040 but rather to highlight issues and trends that might swell in importance and that current and future administrations might find useful when creating national security strategies.

The publication of this version of the report almost coincided with the Intelligence Community’s annual threat assessment, in which the Director of National Intelligence and the heads of the CIA, NSA, FBI, and the Defense Intelligence Agency provide an assessment of threats the U.S. is or will be facing in the next year.

There are several steps behind the publication of the Global Trends Report. The authors examine and re-evaluate past reports and adjust their approach accordingly while also incorporating new collection and analysis methods.

In addition, they seek both internal and external feedback. Indeed, open dialogues with the academic community and the private sector are key to the report.