Cidob predicts 2024 will be a year of elections and armed conflict WE CANNOT EXPECT MUCH PROGRESS AFTER THE FAILURE OF COP28

In his New Year’s message, the Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, stressed that 2023 had been a year of great suffering mainly because of climate change and war, and he urged a change of course to make 2024 “a year to rebuild trust and restore hope”.

Yet there is little evidence to suggest that those good wishes will become reality. The forecasts of the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (Cidob) says 2024 will be a year of ballot boxes, with up to four billion people voting in some 70 countries. Cidob also predicts it will be a year of weapons, after 2023 was one of the most violent years in recent history with wars in Ukraine, Palestine, Sudan, Congo, ethnic cleansing in Nagorno-Karabakh (South Caucasus) and Myanmar and the sixth coup (Niger) in West Africa since 2020.

In short, we are seeing an accelerated process of the “deregulation of the use of force” in parallel with the “erosion of international norms”, in Cidob’s words, and diminishing trust in the liberal order and the UN, which seems unable to impose peace and international law. Nor can much be done by the International Criminal Court, which issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin, who will attend the G-20 meeting in Brazil, and which is processing a case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza.

The fact that half of the world’s population will go to the polls in 2024 does not mean any great advance for democracy, because many elections will be held in countries with authoritarian or hybrid regimes (Russia, Tunisia, Iran, Rwanda, Belarus, Algeria...), where the election results only serve to mask the repeated violation of human and civil rights.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the duel between democrat and conservative values will come to a head in the US presidential election, with the polls predicting a victory for Donald Trump, if the courts do not prevent the former president from standing. That election will decide which of two octogenarian candidates, who support the Israeli government despite the massacre in Gaza, will preside over the home of democracy but without any project capable of leading a world increasingly under the growing influence of the Chinese totalitarian regime. The fear is that the US will continue to oversee the decline of Western hegemony and governance based on the liberal order that emerged at the end of the Second World War.

Equally decisive will be the European Parliament elections in June (there will also be elections in 12 EU member states), which will reveal how willing the European People’s Party (EPP) is to do a deal with the radical right and therefore influence the future of the EU in essential aspects such as climate challenge, the bloc’s enlargement, aid to Ukraine, and so on.

Also important will be the elections in the United Kingdom, India, Taiwan (with the impact it will have on China’s foreign policy and security in the South China Sea), Indonesia, Mexico and, the ongoing war permitting, Ukraine.

It seems clear that certain trends that have been noted in recent years will continue in 2024. Among them is the growing lack of interest in politics and traditional parties, distrust of the conventional media and the preference of the younger generation for social networks, which can be fertile ground for fake news. There is also the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI), which will inevitably proliferate no matter how much we try to regulate the harmful use of the technology.

Disinformation and the volatility of information, where new issues are constantly overshadowing previous ones (Gaza has largely displaced Ukraine in the news), exacerbate the feeling of political fatigue, weaken party loyalty and can lead to unpredictable election results. This and a growing lack of reading comprehension favour simplistic messaging and political polarisation, fertile ground for the growth of populist and radical political movements.

As for the medium term (up to 2030), the inter-institutional working group of the European System for Strategic and Political Analysis (ESPAS) pointed out in 2016 a trend that is now consolidated: the shift of economic and political weight towards Asia. According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), in 2022 Asia contributed 35.1% of world exports (China, 14.8%); North America, 13.3% (the USA, 8.5%), and the EU, 29.4% (Germany, 6.8%), while in 2003 the respective percentages of these three regions were 26.1%, 15.6% and 46.2%. In absolute terms, China has become the world’s leading exporter, surpassing the US by 30%.

At the same time, the sustained development of the world economy has become more vulnerable to the weaknesses of globalisation, because global interdependence does not run parallel to the strengthening of global governance and the United Nations cannot cope with ethnic cleansing, humanitarian catastrophes and the breach of international law. At the same time, the emergence of new regional powers points towards a more multipolar world, although that does not mean that less conflict and multilateral policies based on consensus are more likely.

As for the economy, the world is still suffering from the effects of the crises of the last decade and a half: the systemic economic crisis of 2008 to 2014, the result of the financial deregulations initiated by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan 40 years ago (between 1986 and 2004, world GDP – the real economy – tripled; but financial products multiplied by 98), the climate crisis, which has worsened in recent decades and is directly related to the health crisis caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus (environmental changes cause alterations in the virus reservoir in animals, they mutate and through a mechanism of zoonosis people are infected with new diseases), which also disrupted world trade, and the war in Ukraine, which in 2022 led to an increase in the prices of fuel and cereals.

The consequences of the war and the pandemic were global debt and an inflationary process that has forced a rise in interest rates to deal with the biggest increase in inflation in 40 years. Consequently, weak growth (2.9%) is forecast for 2024 as long as interest rates remain high and if the price of oil becomes a source of tension again in a context of high geopolitical uncertainty.

In the short term, we cannot expect much progress in energy transition after the semi-failure of COP28 (United Nations Climate Change Summit). There are also no good prospects for the adoption of international commitments on the issue of forced displacement (at the end of September 2023 there were 114 million displaced people worldwide and 1.6 million new asylum seekers)or for reducing the extraction of coal and hydrocarbons.

In 2024, food prices will continue to rise, new humanitarian emergencies will occur and the El Niño phenomenon, which causes the Earth’s temperatures to rise, will make the situation worse by causing excessive precipitation in some areas of South America and the United States, the Horn of Africa and Central Asia, and conversely severe droughts in Australia, Indonesia and parts of Southeast Asia. The World Health Organization (WHO) forecasts that food insecurity and malnutrition are likely to be exacerbated by the effects of El Niño. And it also warns of “the threat of another emerging pathogen with an even more deadly potential [than Covid-19].”

In conclusion, the prospects do not look great despite a possible UN agreement to end plastic pollution or the process to make gender apartheid a crime against humanity. There is a glimmer of hope in the willingness of many young people to mobilise to defend the environment, and women’s and LGTBI+ rights or against racism, the criminalisation of immigration, the arms trade and the war in Gaza.

analysis international

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