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Climate change, digital and autonomous: the 7 megatrends that shape the world according to CSIRO

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About 3.7 million Australians are accidentally caught in an ocean rift. For the unprepared it can be a harrowing experience – but for experienced surfersrips are a convenient way to ride through the whitewash to the break.

We’re not surfers, but we work at the Australian National Science Office in ‘strategic foresight’, which can be seen as the study of the currents that are taking the world into the future. These currents are a bit like ocean rifts: they present risks for those who don’t understand them, but opportunities for societies, organizations and people who are prepared.

We call the largest currents”mega trends“, and in a new report we examine the megatrends that will shape the next 20 years.

From learning to live in a changing climate and shrinking our carbon footprint to navigating geopolitical earthquakes and the rise of artificial intelligence, these seven megatrends will change many aspects of our lives over the coming decades.

Our future world

In 2012, CSIRO published a report called: Our future worldwhich provided an evidence-based look at future megatrends so Australia could take early action.

The new report provides an update on where we stand and where we are going. It captures the impact of the pandemic, among other trends and drivers.

Many of the things we saw as possible or plausible in 2012 have now become reality.

Australia, like many other countries, is struggling with flooding, wildfires and extreme heat related to climate change. Pandemics and infectious diseases, which were a footnote in our earlier writings, have had inescapable consequences of late.

And the global economic restructuring that we talked about ten years ago, especially as an opportunity, has an increasingly important geopolitical dimension. These trends will have important implications for countries like Australia who want to maintain peace and stability.

So, what does the future hold?

What are the new megatrends?

The first and perhaps most worrisome megatrend we’ve identified is “adapting to climate change.” Weather-related hazards are becoming more common and severe, and many communities, industries and societies are unprepared for what lies ahead.

Heatwaves in Australia could be more than 85% more frequent and last up to a month if the Earth’s temperature rises between 1.5°C and 3°C. Building resilience to extreme weather events will be critical over the next decade.

The second megatrend is what we call ‘sleaker, cleaner and greener’: innovative solutions to meet the demand for the world’s finite food, water, mineral and energy resources.

Thanks to renewable energy and low-emission technologies, synthetic biology, alternative proteins and advanced recycling, we can all operate within much tighter frameworks. Recent Estimates suggest that Australia is on track to generate half of its electricity from renewables by 2025.

Health at risk in a changing world

The third megatrend is “the escalating health imperative”: An aging population, high rates of chronic disease and a pandemic-induced rise in mental health problems are driving unsustainable growth in health care spending. This expenditure is expected to grow faster than GDP in most OECD countries in the next ten years.

The risks of infectious diseases associated with pandemics, outbreaks and resistance to antimicrobial drugs will increase in the future. There is an urgent need for innovation in the healthcare sector to find ways to do more with less.

The fourth megatrend is ‘geopolitical shifts’: distorted patterns of world trade, geopolitical tensions and increasing investment in defense.

While the global economy shrank by 3.2% in 2020, global military spending hit record high of A$2.9 trillion. This spending coincides with rising geopolitical tensions in the Asia-Pacific region.

At the same time, we have seen increased cooperation between democratic countries, including the recent expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to include Finland and Sweden.

The digital and the human

The fifth megatrend is “diving into digital”. While the digital economy has been growing rapidly for some time now, the pandemic has fueled a boom in telecommuting, telehealth, online retail, education and entertainment.

about 40% of Australians now regularly work remotely. The digital workforce is expected to increase by 79% from 2020 to 2025.

The sixth megatrend we identified is “increasingly autonomous”. As the capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI) have increased, it has found applications in virtually all industrial sectors.

AI research is taking up an increasing share of global research and development spending and peer-reviewed research publications. These developments open up opportunities to increase productivity and address some of humanity’s greatest challenges.

CSIRO, Author provided

The latest megatrend is “unlocking the human dimension”. Issues of trust, transparency and environmental and social governance are of particular concern.

While Australia saw a temporary boost in public trust in institutions in 2021, this trust bubble was short-lived. Public confidence in Australia fell again below the global average in 2022.

The need for innovation

Our study of the current state of global megatrends paints a sobering picture of the future and the challenges ahead. But this knowledge also empowers us to shape this future, by understanding the ocean fissures we want to ride or survive.

As we look to the future of this work at CSIRO, we will focus on partnering with industry, government and academia to address Australia’s biggest challenges. Using these megatrends, we can focus our science and technology on the big things that matter most and create real value for all Australians.The conversation

This article was republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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