The end of the year is a logical time to start thinking about the future, even more so this year after COP21. According to Dr Stefan Hajkowicz, principal scientist, strategy and foresight with the CSIRO, climate change is now back on the agenda for 2016, and we will see growth and increased activity in renewable energy.
Other major trends he sees emerging for next year and the immediate future include a rapid transition in the labour market, both at home and offshore, through the impact of digital technologies and task automation.
“We are the beginning of the information revolution,” Dr Hajkowicz told The Fifth Estate.
“It will change the way the workforce works.”
This will create challenges, particularly for those classed as lower skilled, in a jobs market that will increasingly offer work that involves complexity, creativity, social interaction and exercising judgement – qualities humans can have but machines can’t replicate.
He doesn’t think accountants, for example, will disappear, but the profession will be reinvented with the routine work increasingly done by technology.
The education, aged care and healthcare sectors will continue to expand, offering more jobs. The health sector, for example, is currently growing at double the rate of the rest of the economy, Hajkowicz says.
This is thanks to both people living longer, and requiring more healthcare in their later years, but also due to the pressures created by diet and lifestyle related illnesses, such as obesity.
“There has got to be a rethink of diet and activity,” he says.
Cue the urban planners to step in and really up the ante in terms of design that encourages active travel, walking and cycling, and architects who design buildings where people move about and use stairs.
In the renewable energy and low-carbon transition space, Hajkowicz says that the Tesla battery will come down in price, and that increased uptake will challenge the grid.
“It is interesting to play around with those futures,” he says.
In terms of climate change, which is bringing a more unstable climate with higher extremes, the new game in town will be adaptation.
He says it is fantastic seeing the efforts coming out around COP21 in terms of carbon emissions reductions, with so much in the pipeline, but there are other trends arising too.
“There’s a lot we can do to mitigate climate change through intelligent engineering and settlement patterns,” he says.
It’s an “intergenerational benefit” we are creating.
“In the near term Australia’s challenge is with engineering solutions for mitigating climate change.”
For example, how will it change practices for construction workers when there are more days people can’t be outside working in the middle of the day? Do we need to shift practices around sending kids to sit outside on summer school days for an hour at lunchtime?
“A big dose of realism is needed,” Hajkowicz says. “We need to adapt.”
This includes how we dress for work, and Hajkowicz would love to see an end to the wearing of clothing that doesn’t suit the hotter summer climate, like the business suit.
Innovations on the drawing board that might prove better than the suit include intelligent textiles such as self-cooling fabrics.
“I’d love to see a more rational world that abandoned the things that don’t work with the climate,” he says.
He’s also in favour of things that do work, like planting more trees in urban environments to reduce heat impacts. They also look nicer.
“A community planting could be a low-cost solution to keeping your suburb cool. It would be great to see more of that happen.”
“There’s so much we’re not exploiting – things that don’t cost much.”
Hajkowicz says it’s a myth that dealing with climate change has to come at a huge expense to the economy or our lifestyles. For example, the new Tesla sports car is faster than a Ferrari – no sacrifice there. And you can fully solar-power a Tesla car, making it a big win-win, he says.
An imminent trend is decreasing costs of batteries. Currently, these comprise around 40 per cent of the cost of an electric vehicle, he says. When the price of storage drops, EVs will become competitive with conventional vehicles.
We can also look forward to recharge times decreasing, and possibly a similar trend to the east coast of the US, where EV charge points are becoming commonplace.
The recent government innovation policy announcements are a positive sign, and show recognition that there is a necessity to build a new economy and new sources of wealth creation beyond extractive industries, Hajkowicz says.
This process of diversifying the economy will mean we move heavily into knowledge-based and cultural creativity exports.
The next step is to address the “how-to factors” of this transition. There is also a need to focus on ensuring the benefit is broad-based, and doesn’t leave certain types of workers behind. It’s a matter of making sure “innovation works for everyone”.
Innovation and ideas are also key to improving multi-factor productivity, which has been in decline, he says.
An interesting question is what people and companies will choose to do with the money they save through uptake of renewable energy and energy efficiency reducing power bills. Watch this space!
Other trends he sees emerging include a shift away from the “presenteeism” culture that is still pervasive.
The attitude that assumes workers are working because they are at a desk in the office and does not encourage remote flexible work will “modernise”, and a more flexible agile workforce will evolve. The rise of co-working spaces is a clear indicator, he says.
This is helped by the fact the technology that enables remote working and “creates greater capacity to do things” is getting better all the time.
Hajkowicz says construction and how houses are made is also going to change considerably. The CSIRO is currently working on a project on modular and prefabricated construction, two things that will change how we do things.
“We are also going to see more incredible building materials emerge. Things like graphene are going to totally reinvent materials.”
Solar PV is also evolving, and in the near future we will see more integrated PV that will be put into just about every part of a building, he says.
Dr Hajkowicz released a book this year, Global Megatrends – Seven Patterns of Change Shaping our Future.
It outlines seven major global megatrends and makes a strong case for paying attention and being prepared, because if we don’t we’re like a mountain climber who falls off the slope and had not prepared for the possibility of freefall.
His trends that have major implications for Australia are: creating more from less; the window of opportunity to protect biodiversity, habitat and the climate; rapid economic growth in the developing world; the impact of the ageing population; digital technology; increased consumer and societal expectations; and the “innovation imperative”.
The good news is, by looking at how those megatrends can be used to imagine a better future and innovating to achieve it, we can generate the kind of disruption that actually creates a better world.