Introduction to the 2022 Strategic Intelligence Estimate

13 January 2022
Emergent Risk International CEO and Founder, Meredith Wilson (left) and Chief Operating Officer, Brady Roberts
Emergent Risk International CEO and Founder, Meredith Wilson (left) and Chief Operating Officer, Brady Roberts

A note from ERI Executive Leadership

Looking Forward after Another Year of Uncertainty

Every September, since we began putting together a Strategic Intelligence Estimate (SIE) ahead of the new year, we have debated internally whether it is worth the effort. And this year was different only in that we had to take a very hard look at what our internal capacity would allow, as we grappled with rapid growth and training a large cadre of new staff. Ultimately, we have always decided there is great value in building this compendium of work for our clients – and for our analysts. It is both a prospective and retrospective piece of work, with much thought given to just how much the echoes of the previous year – and years – will affect the coming months, as well as a chance to question what new challenges and opportunities the world will face. As analysts, this helps us build a strategic mindset about the coming year. And as a business, it helps us plan for what is on the horizon. We hope it serves the same dual purpose for our clients.

This year we look at “The Sputtering Global Recovery” largely from a thematic perspective, rather than zeroing in on specific countries or regions in individual pieces. This allows us to thread together recurrent themes globally – and most importantly – outline their interdependency and integration with other problems – and solutions.

Recognizing the Role of Companies in Change and Uncertainty

The focus of the annual SIE is nearly always about how external global events will impact the company, government or organization it is written for in the coming years. While this is an important point of view, this limited perspective focuses too much on that entity as a passive player in global events, when it is anything but. In fact, our clients, companies and multilateral organizations, have broad influence on global events. Their actions, products, technologies and growth contribute to global challenges, as well as being a major part of solutions to these problems. Consider the race to find a vaccine for COVID-19. This, and the speed at which it was accomplished, was an impossible feat without private sector involvement, offering a shining example of what can be accomplished when interdependent groups – public and private – collaborate. Then, look at the roles traditional and social media have played in fomenting global change, both their positive contributions and downsides. This year, we encouraged our analysts to think about the role of business and business decision-makers in global events. While we have still taken in how the world is changing and how it will affect business, we have also focused on the impact of business on the world around it. At the heart of this is a look at global complexity and the power of global business to affect outcomes, both good and bad, and what is at stake in an era of rapid global change and near constant uncertainty.

Diversity of Thought

This year, we have also integrated several outside voices into the product to diversify the perspectives we offer. Within these pages, you’ll see not only the thoughts of our analysts and leaders, but also those of White House Correspondent and author Paul Brandus, who gives us his perspective on Washington DC’s orientation to the world this year; disinformation expert and technology CEO Doowan Lee, with a look ahead at where disinformation will affect us most; an outlook on cyber-regulation from Foreign Policy contributor Jill Kastner; and thoughts on how different ways of thinking could improve intelligence outcomes from author, analyst and former Deputy Director for Analysis at CIA Carmen Medina and neuroscientist Julia Mossbridge, thoughts on new ways of thinking about intelligence questions. Not all these experts’ assessments and ideas will necessarily line up with our own; however, we believe that the importance of bringing in new perspectives and ideas from a range of backgrounds, generations, nationalities and professions is far more valuable than an assessment that suggests that there is only one way to look at the world.

More Upheaval on the Horizon

Very few things in life have a straight upward trajectory, be it careers, political developments or economic growth and recovery. Many of our topics this year consider the coming year amidst hope for recovery – but with a tacit understanding that, where this pandemic is concerned, few things can be bet on with real certainty. However, we feel confident in saying that, even though the recovery is long, and its trajectory is at times uncertain, the world is learning from the past two years. Companies are adapting to changing circumstances quicker, contingency plans are more defined, and changes in operational tempo are slowly but surely seeing quicker and more agile adaptation. Similarly, despite inflationary concerns, the economy is likely to continue its upward trajectory, if with a few bumps along the way. Some things we’ll be keeping an eye out for include the end to most pandemic support programs in the US and abroad, calls for political change in places where pandemic measures have led to deep division or exacerbated existing ones, and emergence of additional variants that could cause further disruption.

Note: Inflation – and all of its side effects – will be a global challenge this year with erratic energy prices, labor shortages and supply chain complexities all contributing to tightened supply, higher demand and overall higher prices. On January 13, 2022 the US Federal Reserve released inflation figures for December 2021 that hit 7%, showing the highest year on year jump in inflation in 40 years.

Upheavals from other problems, some an outgrowth of the pandemic, are more likely in the coming year, however. Deepening political cleavages in the US amid redistricting, new voting laws, and a lopsided Supreme Court could bring serious political change – and accompanying unrest as the mid-term elections near. Important contests in India, the Philippines, Brazil, Hungary and France, as well as the US, are set to be accompanied by an avalanche of disinformation. Climate related disinformation will also be a concern, as the US and others expect to act to enact at least some climate commitments this coming year – to the detriment of some industries and entrenched stakeholders. Labor strains will continue to plague companies – both in the form of shortages and major strike actions – aimed at increasing wages and support for workers in essential roles. Globally, tensions will remain strained between China and the West, with geopolitical pain points like Taiwan and Hong Kong fueling persisting tension, underpinned by a global technology race and increasing competition for human and natural resources. This will fuel diplomatic and physical conflict in other parts of the world, from the South China Sea to Africa and Latin America. Meanwhile, our data, supply chains and our awareness, or lack thereof, of how data and technology transform our understanding of the world will present new challenges, risks and opportunities for growth as technology continues to develop at breakneck speed.

Note: The end of government pandemic support measures across the world will have implications for poverty reduction efforts, personnel and public health, income inequality, political outcomes and social unrest amid rising inflation.

Making Opportunity out of Chaos

As risk intelligence professionals – always focused on challenges with the intent of helping our organizations address them – one of our frequent thought bubbles when it comes to our SIE process is that it is largely an exercise in negative thinking. Yet we know that all that happens next year will not be negative. We hope that as you page through this assessment, you’ll also be able to identify where seismic shifts in our world the last several years might yet create opportunities for positive change as you consider how to advise your own audience over the coming weeks and months.

Our SIE for 2022

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be releasing our SIE articles one-by-one. Our subscribers will receive each article by email, and they will also be accessible inside our portal, the Emergent Risk Situation Room™.  If you are not a subscriber to ERI, you can also access these articles on our website. A full compendium of the SIE will be available for download at the end of January and will be mailed to our clients. Here is what we have in store, with our first article, The View from Washington: A White House Correspondent’s Perspective, to be released this week.

  • The View from Washington: A White House Correspondent’s Perspective: The Democratic Party holds a slim majority for now; however, the US midterm elections are expected to see the Republicans regain the lead in the House, and possibly the Senate, further stymieing the president’s ability to get his agenda past Congress. Paul Brandus shares his thoughts on the implications for regulation, economic recovery and the foreign policy environment this coming year.
  • China and the World in 2022: While the coming Winter Olympics will draw more attention to China early this year, the Chinese government’s main event will be its 20th Communist Party Congress. We look at what the party’s priorities will be this year, as its policy machine continues to look inward, and how this will impact Beijing’s relations and trade ties with the rest of the world, as well as its expected effects on global supply chains.
  • Companies and the Climate Race: The Harvard Political Review notes that just 100 “investor and state-owned fossil fuel companies are responsible for around 70 percent of the world’s historical greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.” Corporations, whatever the degree to which they have played in the growth of GHG in the past, now have a role to play in slowing, and ultimately reversing, climate change writ large. How will companies address this responsibility? And how will it affect business outcomes?
  • The Future of Data: Data is the new oil. It is vital to our understanding of facts, what is true and what is not and the decisions we make. As we move into the next year, the need for data-driven decision-making will see businesses needing to fully account for not just financial data, but also environmental, social, security and governance data in their decision-making processes. Meanwhile, personal data and the metaverse are set to interact in ways the world may not be ready for – even as companies and governments continue to struggle over who controls data, and what can and cannot be done with it.
  • Automation and the Future of Technology Supply Chains: The pandemic has wreaked havoc with global supply chains for nearly two years. What can be done to insulate them from future shocks to the system? If anything, the pandemic has already proven to be an inducement for firms to automate, rather than to hire and pay human workers. 
  • COVID-19 and the Post-Pandemic Workplace: The rapid development of vaccines to counter Covid-19 and subsequent mutations like the Delta and Omicron variants has made it theoretically possible for more workers to return to their pre-pandemic workplaces. But many businesses have learned, usually to their great surprise, that the work-from-home (WFH) phenomenon of the past two years has generally not hurt worker productivity. Where will we work in 2022, and what are the implications for productivity, collaboration and security? 
  • Disinformation and Corporate Risk: Disinformation is seemingly everywhere today, and has been shown to disrupt markets, sow customer distrust and erode hard-earned corporate reputations. An accelerant to this growing threat is social media, which can allow seemingly anyone to anonymously inflict damage upon a target. What can be done to lower the risk of such incidents, safeguard corporate reputations and maintain the crucial bond of trust between corporations, investors and customers? 
  • Global Extremism and the Workplace: Rising political polarization amid the backdrop of two years of pandemic induced changes in lifestyles, including increased isolation, mental health concerns, and government failures that have emboldened extremists has increased radicalization concerns globally. Here we look at where extremism is rising, some of its drivers and what we should plan for in a year filled with high stakes elections and political polarization spanning the globe.
  • Energy: Powering the Global Economy: Led by China and India, global energy usage is projected to rise nearly 50% by 2050, projects the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Demand is growing faster than renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and possibly nuclear energy can be developed – which means fossil fuels will continue to play a significant role in the world’s energy mix, even as calls to curb carbon emissions grow. 
  • The Global Business of Organized Crime: Transnational organized crime – which reaches every corner of the globe – can be a driver of economic and political instability, forced migration, human and other major geopolitical problems. Organized criminal networks are quite skilled at using the latest technology to achieve their aims, adding to the mounting challenges that law enforcement officials face.
  • Food Security and the Role of the Private Sector: Food insecurity can be a source of societal disruption, civil war and transnational migration. And with the world’s population projected to grow an additional billion people by 2050 – to nearly 9 billion – the challenge of feeding a growing and hungry world will become ever more acute. The need for governments, corporations, investors and others to work together will be more important than ever. 
  • Cyber-risk and Government Regulation in 2022: Continued evolution of cyberattack tactics and methodology in 2021 put critical national infrastructure and human life at risk, forcing government reactions that will see regulation boom next year. What regulatory changes are most likely, and by who? We will especially focus on what companies can expect from the US Biden administration, as well as from other Western nations.
  • Re-thinking Intelligence Models for the Future of Business: Broadly speaking, the public and private sector intelligence community missed the signs of an impending pandemic in November of 2019. Partly because we were looking in the near past for signs of the future, but also because we may have missed some intuitive signs. In this non-traditional intelligence estimate article, Carmen Medina and Julia Mossbridge will discuss some non-traditional ways of thinking about intelligence questions as we launch into 2022.

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