Three Turning Points From 2019, Three Directions For 2020

Aleksi Neuvonen and Demos Helsinki team summarise three important turning points that shaped the future in 2019. We also list three themes to follow in 2020.

1. Fridays For Future: youth climate movement

Becoming a global phenomenon in just a few months, Fridays For Future climate movement urges us to unite behind science and accuses politicians of lying. Youth revolutions are not new, but this time the urgency for change is widely recognised throughout society. There is a consensus between the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and leading scientists that a global transformation is essential by the end of 2020. It seems that the symbolic strike days will grow into something much bigger. The young generation fears climate change more than anything else.

2. Debate on the crisis of capitalism.

The Financial Times and a number of US corporate executives announced that capitalism is in crisis and needs to be renewed. The global economic system has been constantly challenged, but not so openly and forcefully by the actors who have traditionally believed in the market’s superior ability to solve societal problems. The problem in both the US and Finland is that companies do not invest in innovations. The world now has many challenges to solve, climate change at the core, and that should be reflected in investments. Political incentives also play an essential role here. It seems clear that we are witnessing the birth of something new.

3. The fragmentation of digitalisation into geopolitical camps.

In October, Trump invited the President of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, to discuss 5G, Nokia and alternatives to offerings from Chinese telecoms. Although it could be argued that it was only a rhetorical matter in trade policy between China and the US, it’s really about the battle for digital supremacy. It shows us how the internet, the tool that was supposed to unite humanity, is becoming the battleground of the great geopolitical conflict of our time. In practice, China, and to some extent, Russia, are building their own internet, as the UN secretary general António Guterres stated in November 2019. Meanwhile these states define the rules of the data economy that their companies apply all around the world. Will the EU be able to make its opening in building a fair data economy and an internet that favours European values – or will we just end up following the US in the big game?

Three Directions to Follow in 2020

1. Climate change litigation to test the strength of the current legislation.

Climate change is the most significant political, and therefore legal, issue of the 2020s. Several lawsuits are now pending against companies and states in various countries regarding their liability for causing climate change. We are currently testing whether current legislation is capable of defending citizens against economic interests. Part of the challenge is that climate change mitigation is regrettably slow in the arenas of global politics and decision-making.

From a legal perspective, it is interesting to see who can be held legally responsible for the damage caused by climate change: the state, companies or perhaps both. The legal principles of liability will likely have to be redefined. At the same time, the question arises of how court rulings can direct stronger action on climate change policy.

2. Attitudes towards China divide people in the West

Information on China’s internal turmoil is often made public in the West months or even years later. However, the ongoing upheaval in Hong Kong has been monitored almost real-time. It is impossible to say whether something more significant will escalate within China. On the other hand, we do know that attitudes towards China are emerging in the West as a new factor dividing people into different camps. As China’s economic and political power has grown, a growing number of people and organisations have a strong economic interest in taking a pragmatic approach to its internal affairs. In other words: not to criticize China for the violence and other acts of force used by the authorities. Thus, there will be more talk about China and its governance in 2020.

3. Demography and migration (in Finland) – A new stage 

At the end of the year, the Finnish fertility rate fell to a record low (1.35 children/woman), sparking a debate about closing schools and daycare centres and the end of the workforce. Demographic calculations show that the problem will not be solved even if fertility returns to the rates of the early 2000s. A new phase in the immigration debate will inevitably open up: immigration will become a matter of demographic and economic policy, justified by demographic forecasts and the need for labour in different sectors.

Follow Aleksi Neuvonen on Twitter: @leksis

Article photo: NASA