As the new year begins we can abandon the relaxed feeling of the holidays and get back to usual business. With that in mind, I would like to start 2014 with some expectations. Most are bad, some are good, but, in general, they are all a reflection of the state in which the world is today.
#1 – Struggle for the Arctic
I will start with a fairly unknown subject. There has been a race for the Arctic territories for a few years but events escalated in 2013 and the tension is bound to increase this year. It is estimated that the Arctic has 15% of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves and 30% of its natural gas, numbers that mean a lot to the countries that border the region. Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, and the United States are all in the race to get their share of the resources that lie beneath the frozen North. But, as global warming reduces the ice caps, there are two main competitors that stand out. Russia and Canada are reinforcing their military presence in the region and they have been trading verbal punches to see who gets the bigger slice of the Arctic. Canada is deploying ships and starting ranger patrols in the area and Russia is reactivating soviet-era bases closer to the area and building two nuclear submarines, especially designed for the icy waters of the North pole. Both countries seem relentless to give up any of their rights to the region and their efforts are bound to escalate as global warming increases temperatures and improves conditions for mineral extraction in the area. It is hard to imagine a dispute of this kind that does not involve the United States or the European Union (through Norway and Denmark). I expect both powers to get actively involved in the dispute and bring it to the front pages. There is also an ecological angle to the matter so environmentalists will provide some extra attention.
#2 – World Cup Fiasco
My second prediction is regarding sports and, as you may have guessed by the title above, I believe the 2014 World Cup will not be a success, for numerous reasons. The first is that Brazil is a big country, the largest in the Southern hemisphere and the 5th largest in the world. It has three timezones and tropical temperatures, specially around noon (when most games will be played, to get the biggest possible audience in Europe and Asia). The weather and the long distances the players will have to travel from one game to another will surely have an effect on the competition. I believe, quality-wise, the game will suffer with these conditions. Besides that, socially, the country is not ready. Brazil has seen a surge in its economic growth in the past few years, but there are still lingering social issues. The country has seen violent protests in the past year which are bound to continue if conditions for the middle and lower classes do not improve (as I believe they will not). Citizen movements will try to take advantage of the spotlight, that will shine over Brazil during the world cup, to try and get the government to meet their demands. In conclusion, there will be more protests and they will likely take place during the competition. On the World Cup per se, I predict Germany will take the trophy.
#3 – Worldwide political awareness
As protests will intensify in Brazil, I predict they will do so in other parts of the planet as well. South America, Asia (mainly China) and Africa. The current communications panorama favours the exchange of values and ideas and people are demanding increasingly more from their governments. Access to more stable and just societies leads nurtures unrest which will lead to violent protests, when in face of incapable governments. People in developing countries, as well as those in some developed countries, will strive for better working conditions, free(er) elections, freedom of speech, welfare and education. I predict 2014 will be a year of social and political awareness worldwide, that will lead to a new surge in the fight for a better, more equal society. I hope I am right on this one.
#4 – EU and US still in economic slump
Most of the protests will have economic motivations, especially those in Europe. And that leads us to my next prediction: the European and the American economies will still under-perform in 2014. Despite the good indicators both economies provided near the end of 2013, they are still going through a transitional period, still recovering from the crisis. In the US, with an important race for the Senate (which the Republicans finally have a chance of winning back) there is a big uncertainty on which direction the country is going to go. The Federal reserve is slowly reducing the stimulus package but it intends to keep low interest rates throughout the year or even in years to come. The same will happen in Europe where the ECB has no intention of increasing the current rates that stand at a minimum record. It will be a decisive year for the block, with Ireland just exiting its assistance programme and Portugal bound to do the same in June. The EU will have to prove to investors that its economy is worthy of the millions it needs. That means proving it is stable enough and capable of reinventing itself, with new industries, new ideas and, most importantly, new policies. The political ineptitude of the European Union has been questioned under the current crisis. Member countries need to figure out how to speak as one, if they want companies and countries to do business with Europe. My guess is that we are still a long way from that and, even if 2014 will be a better year than the last couple, it will still be lacking in economic growth.
#5 – Cure for HIV
Last but not least, the best prediction, to end on a positive note. In 2013, scientists announced that, for the first time ever, an infant was “functionally cured” of HIV, through the administration of an aggressive antiretroviral treatment immediately after the child was born. The drugs are thought to have prevented the formation of viral reservoirs in the infant’s immune cells, that harbour the virus. It is a hopeful sign for the future, for all the children that are born with HIV and even for adults with access to immediate treatment, after they are infected. A huge leap forward towards a potential cure which, at the rate at which technological evolution has been taking place, can be a good indicator of things to come. So, more than a prediction, let this last item on this list be more of a wish, a hope that the world can come close to, or even discover a vaccine/cure for HIV.
That is it for me. Happy 2014 everyone!