To Parag Khanna, author of Move: The Forces Uprooting Us, globalisation will prevail in the end, despite the catastrophic historical events that have taken place.
For instance, the 911 terrorist attacks, the 2008 global financial crisis, the Trump presidency and Brexit, as well as Covid-19, were thought to have heralded the end of globalisation. But globalisation lives on.
“After the 911 terrorist attacks, people said this is the end of of globalisation,” he says.
“We had the global demand shock, we had foreign investment levels plummet, and all kinds of other knock-on effects. But indeed, globalisation came back in each of those dimensions,” he continues.
Khanna delved into future globalisation trends at Future of Human Civilisation, a Greater Club members’ only event held at The Great Room.
Khanna is a global strategy adviser and also the founder of FutureMap, a data and scenario consultant specialising in globalisation.
To move is to be human
Khanna noted that the end of globalisation can’t be measured solely in the disruption of trade flows. “Such a viewpoint is too simplistic”, says Khanna.
There are many metrics and indicators that are used to track human movement patterns. “It could be that one metric of globalisation suffered and the others didn’t,” he adds.
Since the dawn of mankind, humans have always migrated – whether it is migrating as a refugee, to seek better jobs and opportunities, or in more recent times, to escape the effects of climate change.
As such, mass migration is the one constant in human life. “It is something humans are extremely good at”, says Khanna.
Here is how present-day globalisation will shape the future of human movement, according to Khanna.
Mass migration will rise from millions to billions, with climate change the biggest driver
Colonialism drove most of migration in the 15th and 16th century. By the 19th and 20th century, migrants moved due to political and economic factors, such as war, disease, and the search for jobs.
Today, climate change will drive 33 percent of mass migration, with political and economic factors making up 26 percent and 41 percent.
And the number of migrants will rise into the billions. Most of the world lives around 20 to 30 degrees north of the equator, a region that will suffer the worst of rising temperatures.
As such, people may look further north or south to seek more comfortable living environments.
“In Singapore, we’re accustomed to humidity and heat, but we have air conditioning. But that’s not true of South Asia, says Khanna.” Countries like India are already experiencing extreme heat waves with temperatures reaching the mid-40s”, he notes.
As a result, temperate areas such as Europe, Canada and North America may see higher levels of migration. At the same time, these countries have shrinking populations due to low fertility rates and ageing populations, making them potential hotspots for migration.
Khanna believes “climate oases” will be the hubs of “new civilisation centres”. These so-called oases include Alberta, the Rockies and the Great Lakes of North America; the Alps and the British Isles in Europe; the Caucasus, Urals and Tian Shan of Central Asia: and Upper Mekong and Russian Far East of Asia.
He rates these new civilisation hubs according to their climate suitability, their economic diversification and their openness to immigration. These cities are poised to be the “future hub for humanity”, says Khanna.
But when it comes to relocating for good, Khanna chose Berlin as his ideal destination. He visited Berlin as a child and had become enamoured with the cosmopolitan city.
In an audience question and answer session, he noted that he would most likely choose Berlin as his future home.
The world population is plateauing
“Family planning, urbanisation and having fewer children have bent the curve when it comes to population growth”, says Khanna.
“By 2050, the world population would fall from 8 billion people to 6 to 7 billion people. This has serious implications for economies”, he adds.
Ageing populations and insufficient births mean less incentive for economies to invest in their people and infrastructure. There simply aren’t enough people for that.
The 2008 global financial crisis and the pandemic are “baby busts”, where families put off having babies as jobs and economic growth stall. “Having two baby busts a decade apart has massively reduced fertility”, says Khanna.
“Governments need to convince more young people to have children again”, he says. “Otherwise, you will have a massive collapse in world population,” he adds.
While 8 billion people may seem like a huge number, Khanna notes otherwise. There is plenty of space for people to live on earth.
“A billion people can stand shoulder to shoulder in Singapore. We don’t have an overpopulation problem – we have a distribution problem,” he says.
The real issue, according to Khanna, is how to distribute the masses in light of future concerns, such as climate change and a much larger youth population.
Young people vote with their feet
People born in the 1960s and 1970s settled down, had families and became homeowners. On the other hand, the youth of today are priced out of the housing market, leaving them choosing a child-free life and the mobility that comes with it.
“They’re not necessarily loyal to their nation and location,” says Khanna.
“As migrants of the future that could plug declining populations, economies should think about attracting them to their shores”, he adds.
About 25 percent of the world’s youth aged 15 to 29, or about 1.1 billion people, live in Asia too.
This presents two scenarios for industries who want to hire young talent – they can focus on the young nomad, or set up a presence in Asia to target the young Asian workforce.
What should economies do in response to these trends?
“The world needs to plan for the billions who will migrate”, says Khanna. This preparation is what Khanna calls “programmable geography”.
“We can’t just accept geography for what it is – we have to make something of it. We have to consciously redraw lines, move people, or move resources,” he says.
One way to do this is to pre-empt the migration of people to the new civilisational centres, albeit in a sustainable way.
“You don’t want to move billions of people in such a way that you just exacerbate climate change. You don’t want them to turn into rampant consumers, or suburban populations driving fuel-guzzling Humvees,” explains Khanna.
Rather, master planners need to pre-design these humanity hubs to minimise the burden on the planet. Public transportation, energy resources and sustainable buildings are just a few areas urban developers should explore, he says.
At the same time, countries should give young people the resources they need to migrate, by making the process as frictionless as possible.
“It will be better for all of us for our collective future,” he continues.
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