From North Korea’s nuclear tests to global refugee flows, the rise or fall in numbers signals where the world may be headed in 2018. To help visualize what’s on the horizon, CFR editors asked ten of our experts to highlight the charts and graphs to keep an eye on in the coming year. Amy Myers Jaffe, Patricia M. Kim, Alyssa Ayres, Edward Alden, Brad W. Setser, Varun Sivaram, Adam Segal, Megan Roberts, Rachel Vogelstein, and Scott A. Snyder share their picks for the data that might define 2018.
1. U.S. Communities and the Climate Challenge
Amy Myers Jaffe is the CFR David M. Rubenstein senior fellow for energy and the environment and director of the Energy Security and Climate Change Program.
Cities are primary drivers of global climate change. Home to more than half the earth’s population today, they consume more than two thirds of the world’s energy and produce as much as 70 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. As more people are expected to crowd into urban areas over the next several decades, cities will have to become a major part of the climate solution.
The Donald J. Trump administration has said it will withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate, but dozens of U.S. cities have set ambitious emissions reductions targets. Many of the largest, such as New York, Chicago, and Atlanta, have pledged to cut emissions by 80 percent or more by 2050. They are taking many different approaches, including smart-growth planning, expanding public transit, and promoting renewable energy.
2. Nuclear Weapons in East Asia
Patricia M. Kim is the CFR Stanton nuclear security fellow.
A growing number of Korean and Japanese citizens believe their countries should acquire nuclear weapons, according to a 2017 public opinion survey. In South Korea, nearly 70 percent of those surveyed indicated a desire for nuclear weapons at home, an increase of about eight percent over the previous year. In Japan, though the vast majority of citizens remain opposed to acquiring nuclear weapons, the number who support acquisition increased by about four percent over the last year. This uptick, while small, is notable given the Japanese public’s traditionally staunch opposition to nuclear weapons.
As long as the North Korean nuclear crisis remains unresolved, those in favor of acquiring nuclear weapons in these two countries may continue to grow, potentially altering the strategic landscape in the region.
3. Share of Global Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
Alyssa Ayres is the CFR senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia. Her book about India’s rise on the world stage, Our Time Has Come: How India is Making Its Place in the World, will be published by Oxford University Press in January 2018.
The rebalance of global economic activity can be seen in this graphic tracing the contributions of several countries to global GDP, in terms of purchasing power parity, over a twenty-five-year period. China’s economic rise stands out—but so does that of India. The South Asian nation comprised 7 percent of global GDP in 2015, up from 3.3 percent in 1985, and the International Monetary Fund estimates that it will account for 8.4 percent by 2020. As the shares of global GDP made up by China and India have increased, that of the United States has dropped, as have those of Japan, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. The graphic represents the shift of global economic activity toward Asia, and with each year the pendulum moves more and more in that direction.
4. U.S. Immigration Enforcement
Edward Alden is the CFR Bernard L. Schwartz senior fellow and author of the new book Failure to Adjust: How Americans Got Left Behind in the Global Economy.
There has been a sharp change in U.S. immigration enforcement priorities under the Trump administration. In the first one hundred days of his presidency, arrests of unauthorized immigrants were up nearly 40 percent from the previous year, with the biggest increase among those who had not committed crimes. Previous administrations focused primarily on arresting and removing those with criminal records.
The administration is in the early stages of what is shaping up to be the most aggressive deportation effort since the 1930s. Trump has requested congressional funding for another ten thousand Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, and is moving to speed cases through immigration courts to more promptly deport those who have been arrested.
5. The Dollar and the Global Economy
Brad W. Setser is a CFR senior fellow. He regularly blogs at Follow the Money.
The value of the U.S. dollar is influenced by economic conditions both in and outside the United States, and its fluctuations can have huge effects worldwide. Plotting the broad dollar, which represents the overall strength of the dollar against currencies of U.S. trading partners, provides a barometer for evaluating global economic shifts.
Immediately after Trump’s election in November 2016, the broad dollar surged, but then fell in early 2017 as expectations of a quick tax cut faded and Europe’s economy strengthened. Looking ahead, if the seemingly imminent tax cut stimulates the U.S. economy and the Federal Reserve raises interest rates by more than the market expects, the dollar is likely to rise against the euro and the yen. It is also likely to climb against the peso, if the Trump administration withdraws from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and against the yuan, if China’s economy slows. A stronger dollar would put pressure on U.S. exporters and import-competing industries while raising Americans’ global purchasing power—potentially leading to a widening of the trade deficit.
6. Renewable Energy
Varun Sivaram is the CFR Philip D. Reed fellow for science and technology and author of Taming the Sun: Innovations to Harness Solar Energy and Power the Planet.
As of 2017, wind and solar plants are the least expensive option for electricity on average around the world. Solar power's price plunge has been particularly dramatic, and in many parts of the world it is now the cheapest option of any power source, clean or dirty. As a result, investment in renewable energy plants now dwarfs that in natural gas and coal plants. This is good news for confronting climate change; the three largest carbon emitters—China, the United States, and India—are leading the way in deploying renewable energy, with China out in front by far.
But this doesn't mean the tide has turned. Averting catastrophic climate change will require even faster deployment of renewable energy in 2018 and beyond. It will also require sources of power that can compensate for fluctuations in prices for wind and solar power, such as nuclear power or fossil fuel plants that can capture and store their carbon emissions. The world will also need to reduce emissions outside of the electricity sector, including in transportation and industry. All of this will require a range of innovative energy technologies.
7. China’s Artificial Intelligence Drive
Adam Segal is the CFR Ira A. Lipman chair in emerging technologies and national security and director of the Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program. He is author of the book The Hacked World Order: How Nations Fight, Trade, Maneuver, and Manipulate in the Digital Age.
The growing importance of artificial intelligence (AI) in all walks of life is one of the year’s most significant stories, and China’s rise as a major player in AI is at the center of that story. China’s goals for AI are ambitious. The government sees wide application for the new technology, from automating industry and optimizing city management to keeping tabs on its own citizens. In July, China released the Next Generation AI Development Plan, which aims to turn China’s AI industry into a world leader by 2025 and “premier innovation center” by 2030.
U.S. policymakers, business leaders, and scholars have sounded the alarm about China’s advances in AI. However, while China’s rise in this space has been notable, the country still trails the United States in terms of patents and companies. The next few years will determine whether the United States will maintain its lead, or if China will overtake it.
8. The Rising Tide of Displaced Persons
Megan Roberts is the associate director of CFR’s International Institutions and Global Governance Program.
The number of forcibly displaced people throughout the world reached record levels again this year, peaking at nearly seventy million. The rising tide of refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced people came as President Trump attempted to fulfill a central campaign promise to limit immigration to the United States, most notably by building a wall along the southern U.S. border and banning the entry of citizens from eight countries, most of which are predominantly Muslim.
Trump also moved to limit refugee intakes. This year he suspended the U.S. refugee program for several months, and imposed tougher vetting measures once he reinstated the program in October. The number of refugees admitted to the United States has sunk to its lowest level in a decade. Trump also announced that the country would withdraw from UN-led efforts to develop a global compact on migration.
9. Global Decline of Women in the Workforce
Rachel Vogelstein is the CFR Douglas Dillon senior fellow and director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program.
A growing body of evidence confirms that women’s economic participation is critical to economic growth, potentially adding up to $12 trillion to global GDP. Despite this, women’s labor force participation has declined from 52 to 49 percent globally since 1990. This stagnation is explained, in part, by persistent legal barriers. Today, 90 percent of the world’s economies still have at least one law on the books that impedes economic opportunities for women.
10. North Korea’s Nuclear Ambitions
Scott A. Snyder is the CFR senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy.
Kim Jong-un has rapidly accelerated the pace of testing for his nuclear weapons program. In comparison to his father and grandfather, the numbers indicate that the third Kim is single-mindedly focused on obtaining nuclear weapons capability to hit the United States. It appears he has no intention of using the program as a bargaining chip and sees nuclear weapons as silver bullets for deterring external enemies and ensuring the survival of his rule and regime.
Amanda Shendruk produced this roundup.