Seven global megatrends highlighted in CSIRO report

A once-in-a-decade report from the CSIRO has identified seven global megatrends that will shape the 21st century.

Titled Our Future World, the report revisits the CSIRO’s 2012 report of the same name, exploring the geopolitical, economic, social, technological and environmental forces unfolding around the world, predicting their likely impact on Australia’s people, businesses and governments.

The report singles out climate change, rising insurance costs and food security as some of the key to the challenges and opportunities that will shape our future.

In 2021, the Actuaries Institute released Horizon2035, an environmental scan of the threats, challenges and opportunities for the future of the actuarial profession. The Institute’s report outlined similar megatrends to the CSIRO report, and discussed how these themes will likely impact the profession over the next 15 years.

The seven megatrends identified in the report, as supplied by CSIRO, are outlined below:

  1. Adapting to climate change: with natural disasters expected to cost the Australian economy almost three times more in 2050 than in 2017, we can expect to be living in a more volatile climate, characterised by unprecedented weather events. 

  2. Leaner, cleaner and greener: an increased focus on potential solutions to our resource constraints through synthetic biology, alternative proteins, advanced recycling and the net-zero energy transition. By 2025, renewables are expected to surpass coal as the primary energy source. 

  3. The escalating health imperative: the post-pandemic world has exacerbated existing health challenges posed by an ageing population and growing burden of chronic disease. One in five Australians report high or very high levels of psychological distress and there is heightened risk of infectious diseases and pathogens resistant to modern antibiotics. There is now a burning platform to also respond to our health risks and improve health outcomes.  

  4. Geopolitical shifts: an uncertain future, characterised by disrupted patterns of global trade, geopolitical tensions and growing investment in defence. While the global economy shrunk by 3.2% in 2020, global military spend reached an all-time high of $2.9 trillion and Australia saw a 13% increase in cybercrime reported relative to the previous year. 

  5. Diving into digital: the pandemic-fuelled a boom in digitisation, with teleworking, telehealth, online shopping and digital currencies becoming mainstream. Forty percent of Australians now work remotely on a regular basis and the future demand for digital workers expected to increase by 79% from 2020 to 2025. 

  6. Increasingly autonomous:there has been an explosion in artificial intelligence (AI) discoveries and applications across practically all industry sectors over the past several years. Within the science domain the use of AI is rising with the number of peer-reviewed AI publications increasing nearly 12 times from 2000 to 2019.  

  7. Unlocking the human dimension: a strong consumer and citizen push for decision makers to consider trust, transparency, fairness and environmental and social governance. While Australia saw a record level increase in public trust in institutions during the pandemic, this ‘trust bubble’ has since burst, with societal trust in business dropping by 7.9% and trust in government declining by 14.8% from 2020-21. 

Speaking on a CSIRO webinar on Friday 29 July, the researchers dived into the heart of the research and unpacked the key points from each megatrend. 

The report presents an update on the CSIRO’s global megatrends out to 2042 with the view to guide long-term investment, strategic and policy directions across government, industry, the not-for-profit sector and the broader Australian community.

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