Three unfolding megatrends are getting priced into the global economy and all business activity: a multipolar world, accelerating global warming, and our population’s demographic plateau. 

First, geopolitics. China’s rise; Russia’s belligerence; Europe’s quest for autonomy; India’s growing confidence; and Saudi Arabia’s tilt to Asia are all symptoms of a world that no longer revolves around U.S. hegemony. The global power structure is already multipolar, and in the first time in history, numerous great powers in almost all regions are playing a multi-directional game of perpetually shifting alignments. Notice how Russia has been shunned by the West but embraced in the East and South, and how more countries are circumventing U.S dollar-denominated trade and settling exchange in their own currencies? 

The important takeaway is that even though America is not likely to regain its global leadership position, no power will replace it, not even China. This means a more chaotic and bumpier world of fragmented regulations rather than a “new iron curtain” dividing the world into two systems. Despite the push for trade harmonization across the Pacific and Eurasia, protectionist measures and industrial policy means you will need to make where you sell, simultaneously navigating “Buy American,” Europe’s green subsidies, China’s “Great Firewall,” and “Make in India” – all at the same time. 

The second great disruption is climate change. Each year brings new record average temperatures, ice melt, hurricane strength and damage from natural disasters. This year or next, the world will officially pass the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold considered an even more dangerous tipping point for chain reactions threatening our oceans, biodiversity and agriculture. The physical risk from direct climate hazards and the transition risk from new regulations may combine to bring about a so-called “climate Minsky moment” as asset prices – from public equities to real estate – suddenly correct. 

This is the time to accept that mitigation is not enough. Investments in decarbonization are crucial, from reducing emissions in buildings and automobiles to greening our supply chains and energy sources such as oil and gas and the mining sector. Indeed, we may well need serious geoengineering projects such as reflecting solar radiation to buy ourselves more time to green the economy. But even then, we must give equal attention to adaptation, which entails major capital expenditure into new and resilient infrastructure, from water desalination to relocating populations to more stable geographies. Governments alone have neither the cash nor competence to pull this off alone. Companies will need to act with foresight and lead the way. 

Third, and perhaps most surprising, is the demographic tipping point. Most conversations about demographics highlight an aging world due to rising life expectancy and dependency ratios. But it is the collapse in the birthrate over recent decades that suggests we will reach “peak humanity” far sooner than expected, leveling off at under 9 billion people before mid-century. Unlike the 20th century in which the world population quadrupled, the coming decades will witness demographic decline – perhaps a significant one unless plummeting fertility reverses. But there is no evidence pointing to that. Rather, most wealthy Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries are already past their peak: their populations would be shrinking were it not for immigration.

And so, the future holds not a continuation of today’s xenophobic populism but rather an unbridled war for young talent among nations in search of a new generation of workers, taxpayers, homeowners, caregivers and innovators. For all the world’s complexity, success and failure in the 21st century will boil down to capturing mobile youth as they vote with their feet. The winning societies of the future will be those that stay young and populous while others age and depopulate. Expect far more incentives to attract new migrants ranging from education subsidies to nomad visas to fast-track citizenship for entrepreneurs and high net-worth individuals and their families. 

Putting it all together, we have a world in which climate change is driving youth away from highly stressed areas and mobile talent is seeking geopolitical and environmental stability. More than 1 billion people may be displaced by war or climate disasters in the decades ahead, suggesting that business leaders should strongly advocate for mobility to be viewed as a paramount human right. Meanwhile, more habitable regions need to think about how to reprogram themselves into an archipelago of centers for our future civilization. We should build that future today for the sake of the people of tomorrow.