COVID-19 Recovery Scenarios For Young People – Part Two: Primary Forces

Authors: Peter Kelly & James Goring

Primary Forces

Following on from Part 1 in this series, in this post we want to briefly outline what EY calls Primary Forces 


The focus of EY’s discussion in relation to technology is the means by which Human Augmentation (Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality) will be powered. The suggestion here is that COVID-19 enters into and acts on a world that is already heading into the emerging possibilities of Human Augmentation that elsewhere are made known through various names, including the 4th Industrial Revolution and Industry 4.0. These possibilities will be powered by five ‘emergences’:

  1. 5G technologies – able to power 100 times the devices at 100 times the data speed while using 1/10th the energy;
  2. Edge computing – that moves computing from the cloud to the device;
  3. Next-generation batteries — at one-sixth the cost and 20 times the operating life;
  4. Precision sensors – that collect accurate data on usage and performance of digital infrastructure;
  5. Quantum computing – that will allow significantly faster and more efficient computing than the most powerful current supercomputers. (pp.12-13)


The concept of globalisation – and its seemingly beyond question, self-evident benefits – has been an important part of economic, policy, and academic orthodoxies for the past 30 or so years. Even if, at the same time, there have been significant anti-globalisation protests, narratives, and stories in different parts of what has become an increasingly globalised world. For EY, the COVID-19 pandemic is both an outcome of processes of globalisation, and a harbinger of a variety of forces that are profoundly troubling to globalisation orthodoxies:

We have grown accustomed to living in a globalizing world. For more than seven decades, the international economy has moved toward trade liberalization, and increased cross-border flows of labor and capital. Recent developments are shifting globalization’s tectonic plates. Populism and nationalism are on the rise. That’s fueling protectionism, with the US and China imposing tit-for-tat tariffs undermining institutions — such as the World Trade Organization — that are critical foundations of the global order.

What is the long term outlook for globalization? (p.14)

DemographicsGen Z rising: born between 1995 & 2015

Image credit

Of particular interest to the work that we do at UNEVOC, and want to do in the projects that we are developing, is the ways in which EY understands the emergence of the latest generation of young people. For EY, and many other corporates, governments and others, this ‘generation’ is made knowable as Gen Z, a generation, according to EY, that will be the largest generation in human history:

While millennials today are having their moment, the next decade will be shaped by the maturation of the largest generational cohort in history — Generation Z. This cohort of people between 10 and 24 years old comprises 1.8 billion people, making up 24% of the global population…

In some countries there is a ‘youth bulge’. In others there is an ageing population that will need the support of a relatively small youth cohort:

The Gen Z future is not evenly distributed. Generational change is occurring between countries, not just within them. The populations of the world’s leading economies are growing elderly, while developing-market societies have growing numbers of youths.


Importantly, this generation is likely to be profoundly shaped by the reality and experience of the pandemic:

While COVID-19 is a milestone for Gen Z, it is the starting point for the next generation. Generational cohorts are defined by the societal changes impacting those in their formative years, enough to shape their intuitive understanding of how the world works. For the generation coming up behind Gen Z, the post-pandemic new normal will just be “normal.” (p.19)

The impact of this generational shift will likely be profound. Compared with their predecessors, this generation will likely bring very different assumptions and expectations related to society, technology and ethics, and the role of private companies in providing public goods.


In the work that we have done over a number of years, and in a recent post – COVID-19 and the Problem of Generations – we have made that case that COVID and the challenges of sustainable development need to be imagined, and responded to, through ideas of intergenerational entanglement, and an affirmative ethics of hope.

EnvironmentExponential climate impacts

EY is explicit about the climate crisis, and the possibilities that many of the climate, social, political effects predicted for our ‘futures’ are arriving more quickly and with greater impacts than previous forecasts might have predicted.

Source: Megatrends 2020, p.21

The changes, and the possible ‘tipping points’ that they are heading to, are no longer of a ‘linear’ character. There are now strong indications of exponential changes in key elements of various earth systems:

The next wave of disruption in the environment interlinks with and exacerbates these challenges: exponential climate impacts. The earth has passed a climate change threshold. A centuries-long period of rapid but linear warming and change is now behind us. We are entering a new phase marked by exponential climate impacts, volatility and disruption.


We have been arguing, in the work that we do elsewhere, and in many of the posts here, that the climate crisis is not just about ‘nature’ – as something out there, something that humans are disconnected from, or which humans can exploit in the pursuit of profit – and COVID-19 is not just about a virus, and a public health crisis:

What could happen in a time of climate volatility? History provides examples of how rapid climate shifts can tip precarious social and economic situations into disruption with far-reaching impact.


The COVID-19 crisis comes amid the climate crisis. There are hopeful signs that global experience of the pandemic and the lessons learned will help to mobilize the climate transformation. The global community has experienced how connected and mutually dependent, and vulnerable to the natural world, we are.


While EY, here, puts a relatively optimistic and benign spin on the possibilities that might emerge from these connected crises, the possibilities in our futures can also be imagined as being more ‘dystopian’ (see here for a blog on the emergence of a literary genre called cli-fi, or climate fiction that explores the possibilities of futures shaped by climate crises).
In the next post we explore the ways in which EY sees these Primary Forces energising the emergence of a series of Mega-Trends.

Featured Image: NASA @ Unsplash


By Peter Kelly

I am a Professor of Education at Deakin University.

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