(Bloomberg News) New technologies, dwindling resources and explosive population growth in the next 18 years will alter the global balance of power and trigger radical economic and political changes at a speed unprecedented in modern history, says a new report by the U.S. intelligence community.

The 140-page report released last month by the National Intelligence Council lays out dangers and opportunities for nations, economies, investors, political systems and leaders due to four “megatrends” that government intelligence analysts say are transforming the world.

Those major trends are the end of U.S. global dominance, the rising power of individuals against states, a rising middle class whose demands challenge governments, and a Gordian knot of water, food and energy shortages, according to the analysts.

“We are at a critical juncture in human history, which could lead to widely contrasting futures,” Council Chairman Christopher Kojm writes in the report.

Leading the list of the “game-changers”––factors the report says will shape the impact of the megatrends––is the “crisis-prone” global economy, which is vulnerable to international shocks and to disparities among national economies moving at significantly different speeds.

The report reflects the consensus judgments of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, who consulted or contracted with academics, research institutes, political leaders and corporations in 14 countries and the European Union.

While technological advances, migrations, wars and other factors drove change in earlier periods, what sets the next quarter century apart is the way seven “tectonic shifts” are combining to drive change at an accelerating rate, said NIC Counselor Mathew Burrows, the report’s principal author. Those factors are: the growth of the middle class, wider access to new technologies, shifting economic power, aging populations, urbanization, growing demand for food and water, and U.S. energy independence.

“It’s hard to wrap your mind around it, to tell you the truth; it’s just been happening at great velocity,” Burrows said.
That velocity is a function of several mutually reinforcing dynamics, the report found. One is what the report calls a “definitive shift of economic power to the East and South” as the U.S., European and Japanese share of global income is projected to fall from 56% today to well under half by 2030.

The report envisions an international economy that remains prone to potential “black swans” such as the collapse of the euro and the European Union, a pandemic, a Chinese economic collapse, a nuclear war or a debilitating cyberattack.
A world population that’s projected to rise to 8.3 billion from 7.1 billion today by 2030 will add to the strains, the report says. More people will join the middle class, especially in the developing world, and even conservative estimates forecast the global middle class doubling to more than 2 billion in 18 years.

Demand for food will rise 35% by 2030 as global gains in agricultural productivity decline, the report says. Worldwide water requirements will reach 6,900 billion cubic meters in 2030, 40% more than current sustainable water supplies, making water a likely cause of regional conflicts, particularly in South Asia and the Middle East, the report says. Climate change will complicate resource management. 

At the same time, communications technology is shifting political power from nations “toward multifaceted and amorphous networks that will form to influence state and global actions,” the report says.

“Those nations with some of the strongest fundamentals––GDP, population size, etc.––will not be able to punch their weight unless they learn to operate in networks and coalitions in a multipolar world,” according to the report.