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2016: global experts say instability is the only sure thing

Struggle in the Middle East, tensions in Asia among the likely developments

(photo courtesy NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, via Flickr)

Terrorism, the refugee crisis and the global struggle with climate change dominated the world’s headlines in 2015.

Will 2016 bring any relief?

Given the University of Toronto's reputation as a leading institution for scholarship and research, U of T experts are often asked to comment on current events. But they can also provide some guidance as to what's ahead.

U of T News asked Stephen Toope, director of the Munk School of Global Affairs, and Janice Stein, senior advisor to U of T President Meric Gertler on international initiatives, what they foresee as the major global issues in 2016.

Stephen Toope

photo of Stephen Toope1. There will be growing instability in the Middle East and north Africa. Refugee flows will push Jordan and Lebanon closer to collapse. The Islamic State will remain a significant force, no matter what forms of intervention are agreed to by the reluctant Western powers. Its ideological influence will intensify in Libya and Mali, especially.

2.  Europe will experience political crises prompted by fears of continued refugee flows and by increasing pressures on the public purse. Eastern Europe, especially Hungary and Poland, will remain a primary force of opposition to European acceptance of refugees. Germany will become increasingly less welcoming, and pockets of extreme right-wing reaction will grow in Eastern Germany, Denmark, Greece, France and Sweden.

3. In the United States, Hilary Clinton will be elected president, opening up strong possibilities for continent-wide cooperation on climate change (shared carbon markets) and security, but also raising the risk of further barriers to trade with Canada and Mexico, and subtle forms of protectionism.

Janice Stein

1photo of Stein. The ongoing struggle against the Islamic State. Unlike many, I think its strength is overrated, but when it disappears, others will take its place because of the deep crises of governance and welfare in the Arab Middle East. A 100-year-old order is in the process of crumbling in that part of the world, and it will take a generation or more for Arabs to build a new order that they cannot yet see.

2. A resurgent China that claims its wider neighbourhood as its backyard and seeks to set the rules in that backyard. China’s Asian neighbours are increasingly alarmed, but find it difficult to organize a concerted response. They want the U.S. over the horizon to provide the security deposit, but are unwilling to pay the costs. As China’s economy slows, and it faces the challenge of maintaining the standard of living for its citizens and lifting hundreds of millions more out of poverty, the pressure on China’s leaders to deliver results abroad will grow.

3. Our international institutions are poorly configured to meet the challenges that we face. Even the “success” in Paris does not position the world to meet the targets in greenhouse gas reductions that the conference set. Leaders are turning away from “global solutions” to look for regional and local solutions that will deliver results in a visible and effective way. That is Canada’s opportunity as our new government redefines Canada’s comparative advantage in the world.

(Photo at the top by NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre via Flickrphotos of Toope and Stein by Lisa Sakulensky and Steve Frost)

December 22, 2015

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