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03 November 2015
2015-16 State of the Future, by Jerome C. Glenn, Elizabeth Florescu and the Millennium Project Team

Reviewed by A. Edward Elmendorf, former president and CEO, UNA-USA; past president, UNA-NCA

2015-16 State of the Future (SOTF) is an amazingly current set of insights into present trends and future possibilities around the world. It is the brainchild of former UNA-NCA Board member Jerry Glenn and his Millennium Project (MP) Team of futurists and their 56 ‘Node Chairs’ from a wide range of countries. The 2015-16 SOTF is the latest of eighteen reflective annual SOTF reports by the Millennium Project.

The heart of the 2015-2016 SOTF is a set of 15 global challenges, and the responses to them foreseen by the MP’s 4,000 researchers and participants selected by the MP Nodes over the past 19 years. The SOTF global challenges include sustainable development and climate change, population and resources, democratization, health issues, peace and conflict, status of women, transnational organized crime, and global ethics – a list quite comparable to the UN’s new Global Goals for Sustainable Development. One critical difference: The UN’s Goals are the product of intensive world-wide consultations involving many thousands of people and UN negotiations engaging hundreds of diplomats, NGOs leaders, and government officials, whereas the SOFT list of challenges flows from a more limited set of discussions among a group of people whose principal concern is future forecasting. Another difference is that the SOTF presents what are articulated as ‘global challenges’ not goals, though each challenge’ ends with progress measures stating when, in the view of the MP, the ‘challenge will be seriously addressed’. 

2015-16 SOTF has many insightful nuggets, such as ‘Asia has 60% of the world’s population but only 28-30% of its freshwater,’ and ‘population is expected to decrease in more than 43 countries between now and 2050,’ and ‘140 countries have a total abolition [of executions] in law or practice, signaling a moving away from this most barbarian infringement of human rights’. Thus the SOTF can serve as a ready reference on many topics. But, the derivation of the overall conceptual framework and set of global challenges isn’t clear in the book. Fortunately, the MP website explains: The 15 Global Challenges were identified and updated since 1996, through an “ongoing environmental scanning, Delphi process, expert opinions, and interviews.” In this respect, the process (detailed here) is comparable to that for the SDGs, though the latter included a wider range of civil society and governmental input and benefited from political endorsement at the highest level and the legitimacy of a UN General Assembly resolution adopted by consensus. 

The MP wish to cover so many issues in the SOTF led to truncation in the printed book but the details are available on the website of the MP. The same may end up being a communication problem for the UN’s Global Goals, with 169 associated targets and what is likely to be a list of many hundreds of indicators.