Is the next industrial revolution in the works?

Written by By Paulette Jenkins, CNN

According to “The Sustainable Industrial Revolution: Taking a Lead in Revolutionizing Global Life by 2020,” the planet’s ecosystem is entering a new age of sustainability. This may sound like a tough sell to some, but the authors of the groundbreaking new report point to the changes taking place in areas such as artificial intelligence and robotics as potentially having a major impact.

More than 1,500 experts were consulted for the study, which also included an assessment of current state-of-the-art technology, the average level of activity and behavior related to sustainability and future projections.

While this is not the first report to analyze the potential impact of modern technology on natural systems, it is the first to be funded by the sustainable business brand IPRI, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and a coalition of institutional partners including the International Chamber of Commerce, the World Wide Fund for Nature, the UK Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the United Nations’ Rio Group.

“What we have seen is this transformation taking place that is more than just taking place in science and in technology — it’s affecting the way we conduct our daily life and the economic system,” the report’s principal author and director of IPRI’s Sustainable Energy and Forests program, Richard Velmore, said at a press conference to launch the report.

The report offers a range of predictions on how the next decade may play out for people and the planet. The authors claim that, by 2020, the world’s “financially, technologically and politically advanced nations will strive to lead the world in the development of a new industrial revolution, designed to improve the way we live and breathe, and also the way the planet works.”

The IPRI report outlines how a new approach to manufacturing and retailing is bringing digital transformation to a wide range of industries including finance, construction, retail and agriculture. Combined with the growing use of industrial 3D printing, they say a “new multibillion-dollar industrial revolution” may be at hand.

Rio Group Chairman Miguel Angel Fernandez Ordonez echoed Velmore’s view.

“We hope that this new revolution will start in 2018, that it will be sustainable and that it will be quality-led.”

‘A new paradigm’

According to the report, the next industrial revolution is expected to link all of society – from cities to the natural environment and citizens’ daily lives.

“It will usher in a new paradigm of designing, building and managing for the future, recognizing the interdependencies between human beings, humans and nature, human society and human society, economy and environment,” the report says.

Velmore said the report aims to identify the technologies and tools that may be used to understand how a change in the way we manufacture may result in various benefits for the economy, society and the environment.

According to the report, the 2020 target is more ambitious than that laid out in the Paris Agreement. But Velmore said that despite the changes already taking place, today’s environmental “meltdown” was by no means inevitable.

“One of the big questions is that the Paris Agreement is aspirational,” Velmore said. “As a result, we do need to be able to demonstrate to policymakers that it does work, and that is why we have decided to set a very ambitious number for 2020.”

The report’s authors are not waiting until 2020 to begin developing new ways of managing the impacts of technology. A large part of their discussion is based on understanding how industrial innovations can play into the efforts to mitigate climate change and create new methods of sustainable economic growth.

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