I find myself in London on my way to Geneva for the launch of the Katerva Sustainability Awards and of course sitting in a café to get away from the London weather. Which by the way reminds me so well why I left London to escape the dark, dreary and rainy days.
As I opened my morning’s emails I find two very important emails. The first is the publishing of the much-awaited Canadian Government’s Policy Horizon’s team MetaScan 2: Building Resilience in the Transition to a Digital Economy and a Networked Society Report. The second, also much awaited, is the result of the outcome from Rio+20, to negotiate the setting up of a UN High Level Political Forum, this is to replace the dysfunctional UN Commission on Sustainable Development, and as of yesterday has now been completed.
Turning first to the MetaScan 2 Report. I am huge fan of the work of the Policy Horizon foresight team within the Government of Canada. They have a mandate: “to help anticipate emerging policy challenges and opportunities, explore new knowledge and ideas and experiment with methods and technologies to support resilient policy development.” I should also point out that the views contained in Policy Horizons Canada documents do not necessarily represent the views of the Government of Canada or participating departments and agencies. Which is a shame.
Now back to the report itself, it looks at the growing influence of digital technologies these include robots, artificial intelligence, and 3D printing and how they will be shaping our world. It asks questions such as: how might our economy and institutions change? What policy challenges and opportunities should we prepare for?
I have touched on some of these in a previous blog. I believe the Policy Horizon team have the most robust scenarios for what this will mean. The four scenarios that they present are:
- The scramble 2025 (the expected future)
- Global consolidation 2025 (incremental decline)
- The digital economy arrives 2025 (incremental progress)
- Leap-frogging to the co-creation economy 2025 (transformation)
On the issue of policy challenges they identify the following:
- The accelerating rate of technology-driven change:
- The emergence of digital supply chains:
- The rise of virtual workers:
- Growing income inequality:
- Just-in-time skills development:
- Pool of skilled virtual workers as a competitive advantage:
- Growing pressure to collaborate and networked governance:
The report links to some good online videos and should be read and watched by as many policy makers as possible. Although the end ‘conclusions and credible assumptions’ relate to Canada much of the logic should be discussed by all governments who can work out what their response should be. The report doesn’t give estimates of job losses but those can be found in an interesting blog by Thomas Frey called ‘2 billion jobs to disappear by 2030’.
He identifies a similar area of technology development and lists the jobs that will go and be created in five areas. I though id share what he thought would disappear
1) Power Industry
- Power generation plants will begin to close down.
- Coal plants will begin to close down
- Many railroad and transportation workers will no longer be needed.
2) Automobile Transportation – Going Driverless
· Taxi and limo drivers, gone.
· Bus drivers, gone.
· Truck drivers, gone.
· Gas stations, parking lots, traffic cops, traffic courts, gone.
· Fewer doctors and nurses will be needed to treat injuries.
· Pizza (and other food) delivery drivers, gone.
· Mail delivery drivers, gone.
· FedEx and UPS delivery jobs, gone.
· As people shift from owning their own vehicles to a transportation-on-demand system, the total number of vehicles manufactured will also begin to decline.
4) 3D printers
· If we can print our own clothes and they fit perfectly, clothing manufacturers and clothing retailers will quickly go away.
· Similarly, if we can print our own shoes, shoe manufacturers and shoe retailers will cease to be relevant.
· If we can print construction material, the lumber, rock, drywall, shingle, concrete, and various other construction industries will go away.
- Fishing robots will replace fishermen
- Mining robots will replace miners.
- Agriculture robots will replace farmers
- Inspection robots will replace human inspectors.
- Warrior drones will replace soldiers.
- Robots can pick up building material coming out of the 3D printer and begin building a house with it.
Back to the Policy Horizon Report the most benign scenario is of course the one ‘Leap-frogging to the co-creation economy 2025’. It talks of a big value change “co-creation, co-produce and co-consume goods and services with others to make ends meet.” One of the other scenarios does warn of the possibility of “a global underclass has also emerged, as they are both enabled and disabled by open source innovation that has accelerated the rise of free and low-cost digital goods and services.”
The Economist on June 1st pronounced the ;strange burth of liberalism’ and that we are now living in the era of liberalism both economic and social. This is well indicated by the recent Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. Polling of the ‘younger generation’ shows that old divisions that helped define left and right of gender, sexual orientation and race are becoming increasingly irrelevant as this generation accepts social liberalism. It was perhaps Mrs. Thatcher and President Regan who politically put us on the path to economic liberalism and the last thirty years have seen the growth of the ‘me’ generation.
This has coincided in the United States with the growth of libertarianism both within the Republican Party but also parallel to it. One of the problems in the US over climate change is that it requires cooperative action to address it and this goes against the philosophical position of a proportion of the US citizens. This feeds into why many of them do not want to believe that climate change is happening. I do wonder if the world is to look similar to that suggested by the Policy Horizon team and by Thomas Frey how that will sit with these people. If you ‘value’ individual liberty above everything else then ‘co-creation, co-produce and co-consume of goods’ may not be the world you want.
This brings me to the second issue the recent delivery on another of the Rio+20commitments. This being the setting up of the new UN High Level PoliticalForum’ in fact birth the major governance decisions in Brazil last June have now been enacted. The first was the elevation of the United Nations Environment Programme to universal membership, which was achieved in December 2012, and it had its first meeting under this new arrangement in February 2013. Now the second major governance change the closing down on the dysfunctional UN Commission on Sustainable Development and the creation of a hybrid body between EcoSoc and the UN General Assembly has now been agreed to.
This new body will be the place where the monitoring of the follow up to the yet to be developed sustainable development goals (2015) will be done. There will be a Heads of State session every 4 years and the modalities for stakeholder engagement in the new body (except the UNGA session) seem to take the best of that which existed under the old UN CSD. There is still work to be done to decide how stakeholders will be engaged in the Heads of State session every four years but the intent seems to be to find a way to enable that to happen.
The question is is the elevation of sustainable development to this level enough? The United States played a less than helpful role during these negotiations and one would have to wonder why. Here was the chance to put in place a robust and strong body for sustainable development and that chance was lost. The new body will be stronger but hardly what will be needed to address the future challenges.
The old UN CSD became the home of environment ministers an easy test will be to see which ministers will be coming to this new body. If it again becomes the home of the environment ministers then it will not have the clout in governments to address the challenges ahead.