2030: Which Path Will We Take?

by | Jun 3, 2020

This article is part of our Scenarios Week series, exploring and expanding on the Long Crisis Scenarios. You can find the other articles in the series on our Scenarios Week page.

Scenarios for our post-COVID future kept coming up in discussions over at the Red Button Club. So we teleported ourselves into the year 2030 and took a seat at the desk of a recently retired foreign secretary, getting ready to pour his/her heart into an honest end of the year op-ed. Actually, we did this twice because – as the Long Crisis Scenarios remind us – there are some very different directions in which we could head…


Joshua Mills, 30 December 2029 

As the 2020s end and we shift into the 2030s, I’m reminded about a saying attributed to Bill Gates, one of the major tech leaders of the 2010s : “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”

Gates was right about one thing: we have achieved a huge amount in the last ten years. But he was wrong about the importance of a year. Let me explain.

The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 isn’t something people talk about much anymore. For many, it’s a hazy memory of being forced in and out of ‘lockdowns’. But that year set the world on the path to the change we see today. 

The critical turning point came in December 2020, shortly after the COVID-19 vaccine was announced. The United Kingdom convened over a hundred countries at the Oxford Summit. First, they agreed to co-operate on the vaccine’s production to ensure that every person could be guaranteed a dose within six months.

Second, and more radically, they agreed that the order of distribution would be decided purely on the basis of need: nationality would not determine who got the vaccine first.

None of this was assured. The whole ‘Winning Ugly’ initiative was initially unpopular amongst a fearful population in the midst of a brutal second wave. But then-Prime Minister Johnson was proven right in tenaciously pressing on: this giant act of international solidarity somehow turned our fear into hopeful confidence. And even with the G2 absent – leaders in both China and the US were doubling down on nationalist platforms at the time – the Oxford Summit jolted the G-Other into action on other global problems.


“Whilst it was a slower march, the centrality of trust, openness, and inclusion to our political systems became much more widely accepted.”

What we did with our newfound confidence and solidarity is now well known: a hugely ambitious agenda was established by the G-Other on the side-lines of COP26. This unleashed a wave of radical green policies crafted by villages, towns, and cities around the world. These actions set us on the path to the Green Deals that transformed how we live, work, and relate to one another – and ensured that our planet is now on a trajectory away from the danger zone.

Whilst it was a slower march, the centrality of trust, openness, and inclusion to our political systems became much more widely accepted. The spectre of tech-totalitarianism has retreated – including in China. This shift, which began as a means of escaping the 2020 pandemic, was only sustained through patient but deliberate support by the global community for those fighting for change.

It is true that the enormous transitions of the last decade led to violent upheaval in some places. The scars of Saudi Arabia’s collapse, for example, are still with us. But our international institutions are today better able to prevent a range of risks from escalating into conflicts.

Things are far from perfect. The exponential progress in technology continues to outpace our ability to manage its worst excesses. The movement of people continues to strain relations between countries and societies. And of course, as the 2028 Ebola crisis brought home, we still live with the constant threat of many infectious diseases.

And yet we’ve undergone a green transformation, a quiet political revolution, and made the world safer. We’re on track to demonstrate real progress against the SDGs. Decisions made in the very first year of this decade set us on course to somewhere better than before. It wasn’t just about sharing a vaccine fairly. It was about recognising that we’re in this together and always will be.

Let’s keep this in the back of our minds for decisions made in the year 2030.

Joshua Mills served as Secretary of State for Global Engagement from 2026–2029


Grace Butler, 30 December 2029

As we end the 2020s, I’m reminded of the man who led this country through the last decadal transition, Boris Johnson.

We often joke about his reign of calamity now the details have been somewhat forgotten, but learning from his catastrophic stay in Number 10 is as important as ever. In 1948, his idol, Winston Churchill, famously said that “those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” That Johnson failed to heed Churchill’s advice goes some way to explaining how we got to where we are today.

2020 fundamentally altered the course of the last decade. We had a chance to change the way we view security – to create preventative solutions to address challenges that threatened humanity’s very existence. But this never came. Instead, just like the response to the 9/11 attacks in New York, we dealt with the crisis through a narrow understanding of national security. And we made things worse.

With our government increasingly discredited as it struggled to contain the pandemic and its repercussions, they sought to regain the confidence of a frightened public with a move straight out of then-President Trump’s playbook. Defence figures were appointed to prominent roles in our government. Welcomed because they were seen as apolitical, these figures soon repackaged tried and tested (and failed) security agendas marked by their emphasis on military spending and aggressive expansions of the state’s extraordinary powers.

We have made some progress in our self-declared ‘war’ on viruses – no-one dies from novel coronaviruses any more and diseases like Ebola have been neutralised swiftly. But looking back, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the price of this has been too high.


“How did we let ourselves get to this Rise of the Oligarchs? Indecision by opposition parties rendered them irrelevant.”


‘Pandemic eradication’ became the new ‘counterterrorism’. As with counterterrorism, there was little political space to challenge whether pandemics were really the ‘number one threat’. Legislative assaults curtailed our rights, new apps and devices have made privacy non-existent, and public funds have been funnelled towards leading ‘pandemic eradication’ corporations – the post 9/11 playbook to a tee.

Overseas, under the guise of health security, we propped up repressive regimes with the narrow objective of stemming ‘high risk’ migrants. And we’ve witnessed the spread of tech-totalitarianism directly off the back of pandemic control.

Today in 2030, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals were supposed to have been achieved. Instead, the UN is defunct as the UK sided with US belligerence towards China and intransigence against multilateral efforts. The failings of our international system have been laid bare by the disastrous Saudi civil war and our failure to make any meaningful progress on the existential threat of our times – climate change.

How did we let ourselves get to this Rise of the Oligarchs? Indecision by opposition parties – stuck in a perpetual dilemma, unable to decide whether to push the government on their many failings or to back misguided policies for the sake of national unity – rendered them irrelevant at home and across many former liberal democracies. By the time we entered government in 2026, much of the damage was done. Just like the Obama Administration in the US in 2008, who found a state with a myopic focus on counterterrorism, we struggled to dismantle the systems that were in place.

2020 set us on course for a bad decade, but now we see many worse ones to come. Instead of a green transformation and a much safer world, we now enter a new phase of human existence that is as uncertain as it’s ever been.  Decisions made in the very first year of this decade trapped us into crisis. We failed to heed Churchill’s advice.

Let’s keep this in the back of our minds for decisions made in the year 2030.

Grace Butler served as Foreign Secretary from 2026–2029


These pieces were originally published through the RBC substack. Here, they have been edited for length and linked specifically to the Long Crisis Scenarios.


  • The Red Button Club is a new, non-partisan group for progressives looking to start a debate about what British foreign policy should look like over the next decade.

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