US intelligence report paints a grim picture of a post-COVID-19 world

A recent intelligence forecast from the National Intelligence Council paints a grim picture of a world fragmented by the lasting impacts of the novel coronavirus and climate change. 

The report — published every four years — is titled "Global Trends," and was released on Thursday by the National Intelligence Council. It is intended to help policymakers and citizens anticipate the economic, environmental, technological and demographic forces likely to shape the world through the next 20 years.

The National Intelligence Council said it hopes to "provide an analytic framework for policymakers early in each administration as they craft national security strategy and navigate an uncertain future."

The report said the ongoing coronavirus pandemic highlighted vulnerabilities around the globe that won’t be going away anytime soon. 

"During the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded the world of its fragility and demonstrated the inherent risks of high levels of interdependence. In coming years and decades, the world will face more intense and cascading global challenges ranging from disease to climate change to the disruptions from new technologies and financial crises," the report read. 

The pandemic was a primary focus throughout the document. The report called the event the "most significant, singular global disruption since World War II, with health, economic, political, and security implications that will ripple for years to come."

Nations in different parts of the world set new records Thursday for COVID-19 deaths and new infections, underscoring the lingering global toll of the virus.

"COVID-19 has shaken long-held assumptions about resilience and adaptation and created new uncertainties about the economy, governance, geopolitics, and technology," the report says.

While the novel coronavirus has proved to be an existential threat for millions of people around the world, the report also details various other issues that create concern for nearly all aspects of life. 

It warns, for instance, that the effects of climate change are likely to worsen the problem of food and water insecurity in poor countries and hasten global migration. Though health, education and household prosperity have made historic improvements in recent decades, continued progress will be hard to sustain because of "headwinds" not only from the effects of the pandemic but also aging populations and "potentially slower global economic growth."

Advances in technology have the potential to address problems including climate change and disease, but can also provoke new tensions, the report suggests.

"State and nonstate rivals will vie for leadership and dominance in science and technology with potentially cascading risks and implications for economic, military, and societal security," the report says.

The report also warns of eroding trust in government and institutions and of a "trust gap" between the general public and the better informed and educated parts of the population.

The National Intelligence Council’s dark forecast is among many warnings from the intelligence community and scientists urging the U.S. and other countries to address the issues of climate change and other threats before it’s too late.

RELATED: ‘Wake-up call’: Doomsday Clock remains at 100 seconds to midnight amid COVID-19 pandemic, political strife

In January, the Doomsday Clock was set to 100 seconds to midnight, the closest symbolic point to humanity’s destruction since the Cold War when the U.S. and Soviet Union tested their first thermonuclear weapons. 

The decision to move the hands of the clock is made by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board in correspondence with the Bulletin’s board of sponsors, which consist of 13 Nobel Laureates. 

The time is unchanged from 2020, when the hands move the closest to midnight in the clock’s history.

On Jan. 23, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists announced the decision, saying the mishandling of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is a "wake-up call" that "governments, institutions, and a misled public remain unprepared to handle the even greater threats posed by nuclear war and climate change."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.