Geography 2050
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Borders and a Borderless World

November 21-22, 2019 | Columbia University | NYC

An Event by the American Geographical Society



AGS is accepting proposals for the Poster Spotlight section of the upcoming AGS Symposium, Geography 2050: Borders and a Borderless World, to be held November 21 and 22, 2019 at Columbia University.


AGS is accepting proposals for Lightning Presentations for the upcoming American Geographical Society (AGS) Symposium, Geography 2050: Borders and a Borderless World, to be held November 21 and 22, 2019 at Columbia University.


Geography 2050 is a multi-year, strategic dialog about the vital trends reshaping the geography of our planet in the coming decades. Initially organized by the American Geographical Society (AGS) in 2014, the ongoing Geography 2050 dialogue convenes thought leaders from academia, government, industry, and the social sector to facilitate discussion of the major forces that will shape our planet’s future. In the late 20th century, talk of a borderless world began to take hold among many in both academia and the media as the end of the Cold War and the forces of globalization rapidly impacted the planet. While many aspects of globalization led to greater fluidity across international borders in terms of trade, capital, technology transfer, and the movement of people, this same period witnessed the creation of more international borders, not fewer. This symposium questions what the world map will look like in 2050 and how our practice of defining, maintaining, and even understanding the meaning of borders might change. Within each theme, we will look both at scenarios of increasing interdependence and division and how they could play out by 2050.

This year's Symposium will focus on how geography and geospatial science impact the role of borders in our future economy, environment, and geopolitical situation.



Theme 1: The World Map in 2050

What will the political map look like in the coming decades and how will the major players shape our geopolitical order

In 1900, only 51 sovereign states appeared on the world political map, with much of the planet divided among colonial powers. By 2019, the map contained approximately 195 such entities, and only small parts of the world remain dependencies. New powers like China and India are fast rising, while old powers like Russia are reasserting themselves on the geopolitical map. Geography 2050 will examine both the future possible constellations of great power politics and look to the places around the globe where new countries may yet emerge and where ongoing geopolitical challenges strain global peace and security.

Theme 2: Geospatial Technology & the Mapping of Future Borders

How will advances in geospatial technology, remote sensing, sensorwebs, and digital surveillance change the ways in which we map and enforce political boundaries, from the local to the global scale?

Geospatial technology is rapidly changing the manner in which we study the flows of people, goods, and information across international borders. Additionally, geocoded information and expanding forms of digital surveillance change how states monitor within and beyond their borders. Geography 2050 will investigate the ways in which we expect geotech to change both how we perceive and enforce territorial control.

Theme 3: Fences, Walls, & People on the Move

What will the future look like for people as they move across international borders?

The refugee crisis of recent years has highlighted a truism of all human history, that people migrate from place-to-place and are far less rooted than many acknowledge. While the wealthy and highly educated move about the globe more easily and freely than at any other time in history, the downtrodden and poor find themselves trapped by rising fences and walls in Europe, North America, and the Middle East. As conflicts continue to rage and climate change has the potential to create an entirely new category of refugee, the migration journey of people around the world will change and create new political, social, and economic challenges that will be felt everywhere.

Theme 4: Globalization & Trade

How will the international movement of goods and money change by 2050?

Massive economic shocks from outsourcing and automation are driving populist movements from Left and Right across the industrialized world. After an era of lowering trade barriers and rapid globalization, stresses that push in the opposite direction are on the rise for the first time in over seventy-five years. Various scenarios will be addressed to look at how goods and money will flow across borders and around the globe in the coming three decades leading to an either more integrated global economy or one far less open than the one we currently enjoy.

Theme 5: International Organization & Disorganization

How will the global community cope with future challenges at levels above the sovereign state?

Since World War II, a host of global and regional organizations have emerged that help structure the global system and how it copes with everything from peace and security to trade to human rights to coping with natural disasters. While recent decades have seen proliferation of international organizations with remits over practically every issue imaginable, there is also growing pressure from some quarters, especially the United States, to reduce the scope and power of these bodies. Other challenges, such as the UK’s “Brexit” from the European Union also point to the challenges between greater international cooperation and calls for increasing sovereignty for the “nation-state.

Theme 6: The Natural World & the Border

How do borders impact natural process and how will we respond to cross-border issues related to nature?

Borders are a wholly unnatural phenomenon and the natural systems of the world mostly ignore them. Thousands of bounded protected areas such as national parks or wildlife refuges are one way to ensure maintenance of various ecosystems. Many of the great challenges we will face in the future involve this conflict between the artificial border and natural systems, be it pollution flowing by air or water across the border, to conflicts over water resources, the migration of various animals, and the spread of disease. Biogeography, biodiversity and conservation research, hydrography/hydrology, and climate change sciences all help inform this discussion through a spatial and temporal lens. Some of these challenges, especially climate change, impact every corner of the planet. We will look at the central role geography will play both to study these challenges and present potential solutions to address these challenges in the political sphere, especially at the border itself.

Theme 7: Spaces Beyond the State

How will the global community address issues in realms beyond the jurisdiction of sovereign states?

The world political map may look like one where every last bit of the planet falls under the jurisdiction of sovereign states, but many geographical challenges occur in the spaces beyond such control, be that the high seas, Antarctica, the upper atmosphere, and even outer space. How can geography help us govern these spaces together to promote sustainable and peaceful use of the global commons as we move towards 2050?


Dr. Wesley Reisser

Senior Foreign Affairs Officer and Team Leader for Human Rights on Visas and Sanctions
U.S. Department of State



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