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Matt Field

British Diplomat

Part of Speakers' Corner

30th December 2014

Back to 2015

marty mcfly an doc brown

It’s that time of year when many of us look ahead at the coming year, and wonder what lies in wait. Fortunately, 2015 has already been predicted and captured on film, 25 years ago, in Back to the Future II. OK, so we’re still waiting on hover-boards, but the film did seem to hit the mark on flat screen TVs, skype, head-mounted displays, control-free video games, and cameras everywhere.

But before looking at what else might lie ahead, how did we do last time round? The reliable Oliver Stuenkel of Post Western World wasn’t far off in his predictions for 2014, though there wasn’t as much good news as we all might have hoped for, including Iran and the rise of Africa. The Brazilian elections were probably easier to predict from afar, with the final result of an incumbent victory for Dilma Rousseff much clearer in February than it looked in the final month. The New Yorker’s bluffers guide to 2014 did hit quite a few marks, especially when it was being pessimistic – no to progress in the Middle East Peace Process, no to peace in Syria and (I’m afraid) no to a Brazilian lifting the World Cup. What no-one, perhaps understandably, saw coming were two crises which came to dominate the year, Ebola and Russia’s annexation of Eastern Ukraine. And very few outside of Washington or Havana, perhaps the Vatican too, foresaw the recent announcement on normalisation of US-Cuba relations.

Generally speaking, we are all prone to predicting things that we would like to see happen (e.g. the fall of Assad, or collective action against common threats). The low oil price will continue to have an impact in 2015, perhaps better for global growth but a serious headache for producers including Venezuela and Iran. It will affect Russia’s behaviour, especially in its own neighbourhood. Islamic State will continue to present a huge security challenge, though there may be more reasons for optimism in Iraq than Syria. Chinese growth seems set to slow, by its own standards, US growth continues, while Brazil and many others have some tough economic decisions to take at home. Cyber issues will no doubt keep cropping up, with or without North Korea and James Franco featuring.

In the year of the 70th anniversary of the UN, there will be major multilateral events that could undermine, or bolster, the international system. The search for a successor to the Millennium Development Goals, aka the Post-2015 agenda, comes to a conclusion – the challenge will be to accommodate a wide range of views in a focused and measurable way. Climate change talks come to another crunch point in Paris at the end of the year, as the UNFCCC negotiations aim to agree an ambitious deal that takes us beyond 2020. Before then the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference is likely to be difficult and politically charged. And looking back, we will also mark the sombre anniversaries of Auschwitz, Ypres, Hiroshima and Srebrenica, as well as 800 years of the Magna Carta.

There will, of course be, many things that we cannot begin to imagine today. As Prime Minister Harold MacMillan reportedly said when asked what made his job difficult, ‘Events, dear boy, events’. And you don’t need a time-travelling DeLorean to imagine there will plenty of those in 2015.