Updated: Oct 6, 2020
What are The 21st century’s big challenges ?
Historically, evolution has been in nature’s hands.
Now, suddenly, it is largely in human hands, but we need to be cautious, using our scientific know-how as responsibly as possible.
The job of today’s young people, or the "Transition Generation," will be to get humanity through the coming period of chaos, peril, and opportunity. A massive transition is needed, and the agenda should be created for the generation that will bring about this transition. Much of what needs to be done is not happening. Today's computer models show that we are not adapting quickly enough because we are not thinking ahead.
There must be an absolute crusading determination to address the changes ahead. Today's young people will collectively determine whether civilization survives or not. We need to give them a foundation for making wise choices by helping them understand humankind's likely possible, probable and preferred futures. What can humanity become? Our future wealth will increasingly relate to knowledge in the broadest sense of the term.
Topics plain-facts Humanity Climate Crisis Events in West Asia have raised the spectre of the 21st century’s first World War. Preventing the US-Iran conflict from escalating might be the world’s immediate challenge in 2020 but, taking the long view, several, more critical challenges remain unresolved. For all the progress made so far, addressing these challenges will define our future. We highlight 10 below.
I. Challenges of the 21st Century
1. Climate crisis
From fires to floods, the world has been ravaged by disasters in recent years. Though they are natural calamities, the cause is man-made. Emissions from human activity have driven rising temperatures across the world. This, in turn, is disrupting weather patterns and increasing the frequency of extreme weather events. If left unchecked, emissions could cause global average temperatures to increase by over 4 degrees Celsius (°C) above pre-industrial levels by 2100, according to Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific group tracking climate change. Even in the best-case scenario, with an active response towards reducing emissions, it would limit the increase to just 2.8°C and still inflict a heavy toll on the environment and humanity. Achieving 1.5°C, as established in the Paris Agreement, will require much more global commitment and coordination .
2. Air quality
The same emissions that clog up the atmosphere also clog up our lungs. And while much of the rich world has cleaned up its air, in India and other poor countries, breathing itself has become fatal. The death rate from pollution is steadily increasing in India and other low-income countries, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), a global population health research centre. Though a daunting task, tackling air pollution is not impossible. China, for instance, used to have the highest rates of pollution-related deaths in the world but this has steadily improved over the last decade .
3. Sustainable growth
Both the climate crisis and pollution have been driven by a relentless quest for growth. Yet, it is this growth that has generated unprecedented prosperity and improved the lives of millions. Now governments will have to balance growth with the environment. And this task will only get harder as growth dries up across the world. According to one projection, average growth rates for almost all the major economies are expected to steadily decline in the coming decades .
4. Productivity stagnation
Growth is slowing because its key engine is fizzling out. Whether it’s the conveyor belt or the computer, long-term growth is ultimately driven by innovations and processes that use labour and capital more effectively. But these innovations and processes, known as total factor productivity (TFP), are drying up. Globally, TFP growth rates have fallen in recent years, apart from India. High productivity growth in India, however, reflects issues with the way output is measured in the country rather than productivity improvements .
5. Income inequality
One immediate effect of stagnating productivity is on wages. In many parts of the world, workers’ wages have not increased much over time, especially when compared with the top earners, and inequality has risen significantly. One estimate suggests that 44% of the world’s wealth is owned by just 1% of its population. How this inequality is tackled will define politics in the 21st century (Chart 5).
6. Automation-led disruption
Another risk for workers is automation. A 2013 study estimated that nearly half of all jobs in the US could be automated in the coming decade. Building on this model, the World Bank estimated that 43% of India’s employment is vulnerable to rising automation. An International Monetary Fund study found that women could be hurt more than men. Even if these estimates are exaggerated, the risks of automation eating up jobs remain. Whether it’s through basic income or retraining, governments will need to find ways to manage this transition (Chart 6).
7. The globalization backlash
After years of increasing globalization, the tide seems to be turning. Trade wars are escalating, borders are getting tighter and nationalist governments are growing in popularity. All this will have important implications for global value chains that underpin the world economy. But, more ominously, rising nationalism could affect both domestic and international security by fuelling internal and external conflict (Chart 7).
8. Big tech dominance
Over the last decade, a handful of technology firms—Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft—have grown in both size and clout. From communication channels to entertainment, their services now underpin much of human activity. But their universal pervasiveness also raises big questions—especially on privacy infringements, market power and political influence (Chart 8).
9. Ageing populations
By 2100, the United Nations estimates that there will be 11.2 billion humans on the planet. And more than half will be aged 42 or above. In India, the median age will be even higher at 47. As fertility rates fall and healthcare improves, the world will get much older. Ageing populations bring a host of challenges for economies and societies. Labour forces shrink, while public finances and healthcare systems get strained (Chart 9).
Prosperity and shifting demographics will also change the nature of public health threats. In the 20th century, lack of food was the defining nutrition issue; in the 21st century, there may be too much of it. According to IHME, obesity is already one of the biggest risk factors to public health and this will only increase as societies get richer (Chart 10).
More generally, as the diseases associated with poverty are eliminated, those associated with prosperity, such as blood pressure and high sugar, are likely to grow. This is the concluding part of a two-part series on the achievements and challenges of the 21st century.
II. Business Strategies for Surviving and Thriving in 21st Century
Pressured by globalisation, standardisation and the income inequality typical of capitalist economies, Uneven resource distribution across countries and regions also contributes to drastic inequalities in education. Education Ecosystem should be better equipped to offer not only General Education and Professional Courses, but also Vocational Education and Knowledge Base to lead more sustainable way of life.
What is Sustainability ?
“The quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance.”
In Other Means, Sustainability is :
“Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations.
Sustainability is important to make sure that we have and will continue to have, the water, materials, and resources to protect human health and our environment.” There is more and more research that suggests that customers care about sustainability and want to partner with businesses that incorporate social responsibility into their Business Strategy.
As consumers become more educated, they look for businesses that share their values. Regardless of the size of the organization, there are things we can all do to participate in conserving resources.
8 Sustainable Business Strategies for 21st Century
1. Be Intentional About Sustainability
Sustainability needs to be incorporated into corporate strategies and reflected in organizational business goals. This means making this a priority in every aspect of organizational operations.
As with any other business initiative, you need to make a plan of action and assign accountability. Hold people accountable and measure the results. Once that is done, do it again. This will create momentum in your sustainability efforts.
2. Partner with Employees
Invest the time in training employees on the importance of sustaining the environment and share what the organization is doing to help conserve resources. Solicit additional ideas from employees for resource conservation. You might be surprised at what employees are experiencing and can offer ideas to reduce waste and improve their work environment. Case Study: Walmart had a manager in one of its stores that noticed that employee vending machines had lights that ran all the time even though employees could see the products without additional lighting.
Walmart made some changes, turned off those lights in all employee lounge vending machines, and saved a staggering $1 million dollars a year in energy costs! What similar ideas do your employees have?
3. Water And Electric Conservation
Conserving our water is something we can all participate in by reducing the opportunities for wasting this valuable resource. For example, converting to energy-efficient faucets, toilets, and lighting can be a great way to save water, energy, and budget dollars.
4. Supply Chains
Statistics show that customers prefer working with sustainable companies that are environmentally friendly. Maintain a list of sustainable friendly vendors and make it a priority to only use organizations that embrace sustainable business practices. Negotiate contracts with this expectation made clear. 5. Develop a Recycling Program
Develop an in-house program for recyclable products like:
computers and monitors
Use your waste management vendor to help create a process for this.
6. Chemical Management
We are learning more and more about the impact of chemicals on our environment. Strive to use green cleaning products and non-chemical products for pest control and weed management. Use your chemical vendors to help train employees on the proper use and disposal of chemicals. If you outsource your facility cleaning to a professional cleaning company, insist on the use of green products.
7. Purchase Only Energy Efficient Products
Look for energy-efficient electronic products and use environmentally friendly settings on office equipment. Choose computer, electronic, and IT acquisition products that are Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool ( EPEAT ) registered to ensure the highest levels of efficiency.
8. Develop Sustainability Work Policies
Develop sustainability policies and procedures to reinforce the efforts. Things like, power down equipment at the end of the day and enable energy savings settings on all computers and desktops, are examples of policies that can support the cause.
9. Creating Green Economies
Companies in general and Nations in large must create a conducive environment and design Green Strategies , which will lead to Green Economies, which makes the Countries and Regions into Carbon negative and also controls Greenhouse Effects
Megacrunch - Ten Survival Strategies for 21st Century Challenges by Joseph N. Pelton, BS, MA, Ph.D. is the former Director of the Space and Advanced Communications Research Institute (SACRI) at George Washington University. He is also the founder and Vice Chairman of the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation. He was the founder and First President of the Society of Satellite Professionals International (SSPI), the former Dean and Chairman of the Board of the International Space University.