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Harnessing technological breakthroughs for people and the planet

The so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) – the current explosion of technological innovations characterised by connectivity, speed, breadth and depth of transformation – is gathering pace. Underpinned by the digital economy, rapid advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), Robots, Autonomous Vehicles, the Cloud and Big Data, to name but a few, are rapidly transforming industries and societies across the world.

At the same time, today's customers expect businesses to continue to deliver positive social, environmental and financial outcomes. Harnessing technology for good is about balancing business understanding, with innovation and human insight to solve important problems and ensure long term sustainability. 

The challenge to Earth: there is mounting scientific consensus that the Earth systems are under unprecedented stress. The model of human and economic development, developed during past industrial revolutions, has largely come at the expense of the planet. Our climate, water, air, biodiversity, forests and oceans are under increasing strain.

Making the 4IR a sustainable revolution is the opportunity of this generation. The systems change required to deliver a clean, resource-secure and inclusive economy can be enabled by technology and supported by public policy and investment. But these same technological advances could also have unintended consequences in accelerating risks to the Earth and society if they are not designed and scaled in a ‘smart’ and sustainable way. Setting the course for a ‘responsible’ 4IR now, will be key to tackling our planet’s urgent environmental, social, and economic challenges.

At the 2017 World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, we launched our report.

Our research led us to screen over 150 technologies to identify the top-ten emerging technologies which have both the potential to mainstream into the business world in the coming decade and have the greatest ability to address key earth challenges. These we call the “Top Ten” technologies for the earth.

The report then takes a deeper-dive into how our Top Ten can address climate change, and specifically the transition to a low-carbon economy. We prioritise five key “game-changing” solutions for immediate action that can be addressed by fusing together multiple 4IR technologies:

  1. next-generation distributed grid;
  2. electrification of the transport system;
  3. a smart and automated road transport grid;
  4. smart and transparent land-use management; and
  5. technology-enabled urban planning and design.

To ensure the 4IR is a sustainable revolution we conclude the report with recommended actions for companies, governments, investors, and research institutions.

Contact us

Will Evison

Will Evison

Director, Sustainable Value Creation, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7718 864854

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