Dr Stefan Hajkowicz and his team at Data61 have updated their thinking on global megatrends during COVID-19. At the forthcoming Integrated Project Engineering Congress (IPEC) conference he will give the audience a sneak-preview of their global predictions for next 20 years.
Looking into a crystal ball isn’t something you’d necessarily expect from a leading scientist. But helping organisations explore plausible futures and make wise choices is the remit of Dr Stefan Hajkowicz, Senior Principal Scientist at CSIRO’s Data61 data-driven strategy and a member of the OECD Government Foresight Community.
Hajkowicz is delivering a must-see presentation on the organisation’s strategic forecasts at the conference, which is held on 27–28 May.
“I’m going to give the audience an update on CSIRO’s global megatrends, which are gradual yet powerful shifts in the environment. This is an ongoing piece of work we do to analyse changes over the coming two decades,” he said.
“I’ll be sharing with the audience what we’re thinking about the drivers that are going to reshape their landscape and impact the engineering profession over the coming 20 years.”
Technology will help tackle scarcity
One issue that will be of interest is resource scarcity, including limited food, water and mineral energy resources, and the technological innovation that follows, Hajkowicz said.
This includes significantly declining barriers for things such as electric vehicles and household solar power, as well as a significant slowdown in consumption of coal and fossil fuels for energy. The CSIRO forecasts that in terms of energy use, solar will overtake coal by about 2030.
“Another thing we should come to expect is big changes in the food space, in terms of synthetic biology, which is going to be critical to meet the anticipated 60 to 100 per cent increase in food consumption the world will see,” he said.
Climate change leads environmental concerns
“Climate change is continuing apace, the models are getting more accurate and forecasts are getting worse,” Hajkowicz said.
Each year sees bigger incremental greenhouse gas emissions, but Hajkowicz feels that the mood to tackle it is changing for the better. The US is heavily re-engaging at an international level by pushing towards things such as carbon markets, and Australia has seen an increased focus on emissions since the 2019 bushfires.
“The other big environmental concern is microbial changes, whether invasive disease risk or COVID-19 escalating. We’re looking at a two to three per cent probability that we could have another pandemic in any year,” he said.
“All of the science and analysis is pointing towards an elevated infectious disease risk from things such as increased livestock production and animal interaction, coupled with the phenomenal range of microbial drug resistance. There’s a risk in the future that antibiotics will stop working as well as they do now.”
A whole new world
Emergent economies (particularly in Asia) beginning to flex their muscles, as well as sudden shocks in the geopolitical sphere also cannot be ignored.
“There’s big increases in military spending in Australia and in the region. While it is on a peaceful pathway, there’s definitely heightened tensions,” he said.
“Shocks to global trade have been significant for us as well.
“In terms of the engineering profession, we need to be able to make a lot more than we have been here in Australia.”
Digital is only getting bigger
The next 10 years will see increased capability, adoption and application of intelligent machines, namely the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning.
“For the engineering and science professions, AI is changing how we do science and what we can do,” he said.
“We’ve [also] seen an explosion in the digital economy. Tech sector companies have done so well during and after the COVID-19 crisis in Australia, and tech jobs are growing about double the rate of other jobs in the economy.”
Hajkowicz added that the ability to acquire and analyse data is now built into every profession that handles large and complex datasets.
“Finally, the ageing population and chronic illness and healthcare expenditure continues to spiral. And I think that’s the narrative of our future,” he said.
In 2017, the proportion of the Australian population aged 65 and over was 15 per cent. By 2057, it is estimated that older people will account for 22 per cent of the Australian population, or almost nine million people.
Hajkowicz hopes to challenge attendees at IPEC to think about the future in narrative terms and most importantly to make smarter decisions.
“I hope engineers will leave thinking about where their skills are going to be most needed, and what kind of capabilities they need to develop for the world that we’re moving into,” he said.
“They can decide where they need to upskill, where there might be an opportunity, or a risk they want to mitigate, both in their career and for the companies they work for.”