Australia’s top scientist has identified seven “megatrends” that need action now to avert threats to our health and way of life.

The next 20 years will bring superbugs, disrupted global trade, water and food scarcity, and deaths in an unstable climate, the CSIRO warns in a report launched on Wednesday at the National Press Club.

“Climate change began as an environmental emergency, then it became an economic emergency, and today it is a human health emergency,” CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall said.

In Australia, heat-related deaths are expected to grow by 60 per cent by 2050, with Perth forecast to be the worst hit.

There were 673 heat-related deaths in the WA capital in 2020, and the city’s annual toll is forecast reach 1400 by the year 2050, one among many climate-stricken Australian cities.

“The uncomfortable truth is the world has missed its opportunity to limit dangerous climate change within this century,” he said, as new laws for deeper emissions cuts were introduced to federal parliament.

“We will need to wait until the beginning of next century to see the benefit of emissions reduction that we do today.”

In the meantime, he urged Australia to adapt the healthcare system, critical infrastructure and settlement patterns, and lift its game on disaster preparedness.

The landmark report suggests out-thinking bushfires, predicting droughts, accelerating vaccine development and stabilising energy supplies are all possible as technology advances.

But to have a chance at the best solutions, Australia will need another 6.5 million digital workers by 2025, an increase of 79 per cent from 2020, the report says.

The war in Ukraine and tension with China are tipped to have long-lasting impacts, driving defence spending higher and influencing the development of security and technology, trade and supply chains.

But Dr Marshall says Australia can also have a different future and use science to create it. 

Currently available technologies could contribute $140-$250 billion to Australia’s GDP by 2025.

“Australia has the highest wind and solar capacity of any developed nation and a wealth of critical energy minerals – we can be a leader in feeding the world’s hunger for clean energy,” he said.

Australia could become a leading producer and exporter of green hydrogen, but significant infrastructure investment and efficiency gains are needed to make it commercially viable, the report said.

“Green metal” manufacturing is identified as another opportunity, with international steelmakers looking to eliminate emissions from their supply chains.

Australia’s abundant metals and minerals are in demand for clean energy technologies and future transport.

Electric vehicles are tipped to reach price parity with petrol and diesel by 2025, and leading car makers have committed to phasing out the internal combustion engine over the next two decades.

Australia could also use artificial intelligence to solve some of the greatest challenges, but must tackle trust issues held by citizens about its use.

The rapid adoption of digital and data technologies during the pandemic has meant many sectors and organisations have experienced years’ worth of digital transformation in the space of months. 

But experts predict this is the tip of the iceberg, with the vast majority of digitisation yet to occur.


* Adapting to climate change as natural disasters and unprecedented weather events escalate

* Renewables tipped to surpass coal as the primary energy source by 2025

* Health woes post-pandemic from an ageing population and the burden on services from chronic disease 

* Geopolitical tension, disrupted trade and growing spending on defence and cyber security

* Diving into digital as teleworking, telehealth, online shopping and digital currencies become mainstream

* Increasing use of artificial intelligence across all industry sectors

* Unlocking the human dimension as consumers seek trust, fairness and environmental and social good