When people ask me what was the most important news of 2015, my answer is that — aside from the global rise of Islamic State terrorism — it was several things that in some cases barely made headlines.
Here they go:
▪ First, the recently signed Paris climate accord, which for the first time committed the United States, China and nearly 200 other nations to limit their greenhouse gas emissions and take other measures to fight global warming.
The deal made big headlines around the world, but drew less attention in the United States, where part of the population — led by Republican presidential candidates and congress members — dismisses climate change as a liberal fabrication. While some countries may not fully comply with it, the deal may have marked a turning point in the history of the global climate crisis.
▪ Second, the collapse of oil prices, which hit their lowest levels in seven years in 2015, leading to widespread speculation that we are heading toward “the end of oil.” A global oil supply glut, new technologies to produce green energy, and the Paris climate accord to reduce long-term oil production, among other factors, suggest that we may see a steady — perhaps permanent — decline of oil prices.
Plummeting oil prices are already causing economic havoc in Venezuela, Russia, Saudi Arabia and other oil producers, and may permanently erode the previous diplomatic clout of authoritarian petro-states.
▪ Third, Uber — the smart phone application that matches people who need a car ride with private car owners who are willing to provide that service — reached a market value of $50 billion in 2015, prompting forecasts that we are heading toward an “uberization” of the world economy.
Uber’s market value means that the 6-year-old company, which neither produces nor owns cars, is worth almost as much as General Motors, which produces about 10 million vehicles a year. Uber’s business model is expanding rapidly.
Just as Uber is threatening the taxi industry, Airbnb — an application that matches people looking for accommodations with homeowners who want to rent out their homes — is rocking the hotel industry. Hundreds of similar applications that reduce consumer prices by matching people and eliminating intermediaries are threatening virtually every industry.
▪ Fourth, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement reached by the United States, Japan, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile and five other Pacific Rim countries. The trade deal represents 40 percent of the world economy, and is a little-disguised effort by the United States and Japan to counter China’s economic clout in the Pacific Basin.
The deal needs to be ratified by member countries, and is opposed by all leading Republican and Democratic candidates for the 2016 election. But, much like happened in previous U.S. elections, the next U.S. president is likely to drop his or her anti-free trade stance and embrace the agreement.
Fifth, the threatened breakup of the European Union (EU) as we know it following an avalanche of Syrian refugees and the Greek debt crisis. While it’s not the first time that the 28-country EU has been in trouble, European Council President Donald Tusk said that the refugee crisis “has the potential to change the European Union we have built,” and European Commission President Juan-Claude Juncker has conceded that Europe’s “love affair” with integration may be over.
Sixth, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, amid a growing trend to legalize gay marriages in the Western World. More than a dozen countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, South Africa, Spain and Sweden, now allow same-sex couples to marry.
The trend is likely to continue, with states and cities in other countries following suit. But, at the same time, legalization of same-sex couples is creating a growing culture clash with fundamentalist Islamic states that see it as an alleged sign of the West’s moral decline, increasing their repression of gays.
There were other important events in 2015 that will have a worldwide impact, including the U.S. Federal Reserve’s first hike of U.S. interests in seven years. But I would pick the rise of Islamic State terrorism, the collapse of oil and the uberization of the economy as the ones that will dominate the global agenda in 2016.
Watch “Oppenheimer Presenta” Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera
Watch “Oppenheimer Presenta” Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español