Megatrends impacting the way we live

SEVEN megatrends will have substantial and transformative impacts on businesses, communities and governments and will expose new risks and opportunities, according to a new report.

Megatrends, as defined by the “Our Future World: Global Megatrends Impacting the Way We Live Over Coming Decades” report, “are trajectories of change that typically unfold over years or decades and have the potential for substantial and transformative impact.” They occur at the intersection of multiple interconnected trends that are narrower in scope. The late John Naisbitt, who coined the word “megatrends,” once said: “Trends, like horses, are easier to ride in the direction they are going.”

The seven megatrends are as follows:

Adapting to a changing climate. Extreme and unprecedented weather events are increasing in frequency and scale of impact. Current forecasts predict that we are likely to experience extreme weather conditions that exceed historical norms and concurrent climate hazards are likely to compound the overall risk for sectors and regions. Adapting health care systems, critical infrastructure and settlement patterns will become a growing reality for many countries.

Adapting to a changing climate highlights the cost of disasters; health impacts of climate change; preparation to live in a hotter world; declining water quantity, quality and availability; impact on critical infrastructure; climate-driven mass migration; and insuring against climate change. This megatrend speaks to new ways of operating for organizations and communities.

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Leaner, cleaner and greener. As the global population continues to grow and as more people transition from lower to higher incomes, there will be escalating pressures on finite resources. At the same time, these constraints are driving cutting-edge innovations that aim to do more with less, achieve carbon neutrality, reduce biodiversity loss and address the global waste challenge.

Being leaner, cleaner and greener covers future demand for food, a growing appetite for alternative protein, synthetically engineering new biological solutions, increasing demand for minerals, biodiversity decline and investing in conservation, turning today’s goods into tomorrow’s resources, net-zero and beyond, more demand for renewable energy, clean energy’s environmental footprint, transport electrification and the dawn of the hydrogen era.

This megatrend explores the opportunities pushing us toward a more sustainable future and the importance of science, technology and innovation in helping organizations to operate within much tighter envelopes.

Escalating health imperative. Health care expenditure continues to show an upwards trajectory and this will likely be exacerbated as global populations age and as new health challenges emerge. Covid-19 revealed and intensified existing health challenges around the burden of chronic illness and mental health difficulties but it also emphasized the importance of social and economic determinants of health.

Escalating health imperative includes rising health care costs, the heightened risk of infectious diseases, the emerging antimicrobial resistance risk, changing health insurance patterns; aging populations, a growing chronic health burden, a strong case for preventive health, the burden of mental health and the promise of precision health. It highlights opportunities provided by preventative health and precision health.

Geopolitical shifts. Winston Churchill once said: “If the human race wishes to have a prolonged and indefinite period of material prosperity, they have only got to behave in a peaceful and helpful way toward one another.”

Recent geopolitical developments are likely to have long-lasting impacts. The war in Ukraine and ongoing Asia-Pacific tensions pose challenges for democratic countries, with advanced economies seeking to ensure peace and stability. These events have led to record-level defense spending and increasing collaboration and cooperation across matters of security, technology and defense.

These geopolitical shifts involve rising investments in defense capability, emerging technologies titling the strategic defense arena, increased collaboration between democratic countries, changing trade dynamics, reducing the risk of supply chain disruption, future supply chain risks associated with seaborne trade, return to global connectivity, cybersecurity threats and resilience, and uncertainty around future scientific knowledge flows. This megatrend explores the implications of emerging geopolitical shifts relating to science, technology, trade, supply chains and defense strategy.

Diving into digital. The rapid adoption of digital and data technologies has meant that many sectors and organizations have experienced years’ worth of digital transformation in the space of months. This is evident in the growth in online retail, remote working, telehealth, virtual education, digital currencies and data-driven organizations. While progress has been significant, experts predict that it is just the tip of the iceberg.

Diving into digital lists mass adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies, pandemic-fueled in e-commerce, the emergence of data-driven organizations, an office-less workforce, the rise of regions enabled by teleworking and online services, a new era for the central business district, digital health becoming mainstream, distributed ledger technology and cryptocurrency, enhancing the transparency of exports, increased digital inclusivity, future demand for digital workers and the risk of spending too much time online. This megatrend details the next wave of digitization for organizations, and the opportunities enabled by digital and data technologies.

Increasingly autonomous. We have seen astonishing improvements in the ability of software and machines to solve problems and perform complex tasks without explicit human guidance. This is driven by ongoing breakthroughs in AI (artificial intelligence) and global investments in technology-driven research and development. Today, practically all industry sectors and policy spheres worldwide are increasingly adopting AI technology and developing their AI capabilities. This megatrend unpacks how AI and related science, research and technology capabilities are helping to boost productivity and solve humanity’s greatest challenges and the socioeconomic considerations of technology developments.

Unlocking the human dimension. Emerging social trends have heightened the influence of human perspectives and experiences on future community, business, technology and policy decisions. Consumers are demanding increased transparency from organizations, governments and scientists to maintain their trust and there are concerns around the spread of misinformation. The rapid rate of change associated with technology is also driving new considerations around ethical design and deployment.

Human dimension talks about trust and patterns of social cohesion; an “infodemic” within the pandemic and beyond; communicating the complexities of science; a prolonged timeline for global poverty mitigation; patterns of wealth distribution and income inequality; putting environmental, social and corporate governance on the agenda; socially aware and empowered consumers; reinstating the value of indigenous knowledge; evolving labor markets and workforce cultures; and workplace gender diversity. It highlights the social drivers influencing future consumer, citizen and employee behaviors.

The author is the executive director of the Young Environmental Forum and a nonresident fellow of the Stratbase ADR Institute. He completed his climate change and development course at the University of East Anglia and an executive program on sustainability leadership at Yale University. You can email him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @WiggyFederigan.