NEW DECADE

The peril and promise of 2020s

Technology will break new barriers in the 2020s.

In Summary
  • Not only will more people be displaced today than ever before, but they’ll be displaced for longer.
  • There is reason for optimism...the climate crisis is man-made, therefore may be solved by man.
Smoke billows during a fire in an area of the Amazon rainforest near Humaita, Amazonas State, Brazil.
Smoke billows during a fire in an area of the Amazon rainforest near Humaita, Amazonas State, Brazil.
Image: COURTESY

We could hardly find a name for the decade that started in 2000. The closest we came to was the noughties. Another unnamed decade will end at midnight.

Imagine a world without Google, smartphones, social media, Amazon. Uber and Airbnb have transformed how we travel. I am sure US President Donald Trump cannot imagine a world without Twitter. Yet what has now become normal only happened within the last two decades, which we could not name.

Technology, especially the kind enabled by the Internet of Things (IOT), will break new barriers in the 2020s. Artificial Intelligence (AI), buoyed by big data, will transform warfare, work, life and leisure. Education, agriculture, medicine, manufacturing, security, retail and transportation will be vastly different from anything we know or have experienced.

 
 

Our addiction to fossil fuels will exacerbate the global climate crisis in the 2020s. The signs and impacts of global warming have accelerated in the last decade. The five-year period from 2014 to 2019 is the warmest on record. Sea-level rise has accelerated significantly over the same period, as CO2 emissions have hit new highs.

Perhaps most worrying of all is the data on sea-level rise. The average rate of rise since 1993 until now is 3.2mm per year. However, from May 2014 to 2019 the rise has increased to 5mm per year. The 10-year period from 2007 to 2016 saw an average of about 4mm per year.

Experts believe that in the 2020s, more than in the past decades, we can combine renewable energy, digital technologies, and a sharing economy, to decarbonise local and national energy systems. Moreover, we can transition to a circular economy and radically cut the demand and use of raw primary resources.

The implication is that warmer oceans will present the most disruptive long-term impact on terrestrial climate systems. For example, the 2019 Indian Ocean Dipole, which caused unprecedented rainfall and flooding in East Africa, in October to December, is perhaps the strongest on record.

There is reason for optimism. To paraphrase the immortal words of John F Kennedy, the climate crisis is man-made, therefore may be solved by man. For example, advanced technologies exist, both commercially and pre-commercially to achieve a zero-carbon economy that is both advanced, globally competitive and sustainable.

Experts believe that in the 2020s, more than in the past decades, we can combine renewable energy, digital technologies, and a sharing economy, to decarbonise local and national energy systems. Moreover, we can transition to a circular economy and radically cut the demand and use of raw primary resources.

The global refugee crisis is likely to get worse in the 2020s. Today, nearly 71 million people have been forcibly displaced globally. About 26 million are refugees. These individuals, sometimes whole families, have been forced to flee their homes, countries for fear of persecution or violence for reasons of race, religion, nationality or political association or views. Other reasons include poverty and hunger.

Not only will more people be displaced today than ever before, but they will be displaced for longer. Currently, the average duration of protracted refugee situations is about 25 years. Moreover, the rate of displacement is outpacing the ability of the international community to respond. It is predicted that environmental changes alone could drive hundreds of millions from their homes by 2050. Happy 2020s!