I4.0, Advanced Manufacturing and Socio-Economic Change

Industry 4.0 (I4.0), a term coined originally for the policy framework mapping out future directions for German industry, now commonly refers to the emergence of advanced manufacturing systems and the actual and prospective transformative impacts on the organisation of production and consumption, work and employment, education, lifestyles and social structures that accompany them. These systems effectively entail various combinations of physical and digital technologies within machine networks that are in many respects self-organising and self-monitoring – and hence highly flexible and responsive to consumer demand and external/internal disruptions. More, these new systems, enabled through the advanced connectivity afforded by new generation machine-machine communications, are designed to interface with other smart infrastructures, as well as business and social networks both locally and globally.

Initiatives supporting the ongoing development of I4.0, and the digitisation of the European economy more generally, are central to the EC’s A New Industrial Strategy for Europe (2020) with its focus on Key Enabling Technologies and strong interconnections with the European Data Strategy, the European Green Deal and the European Skills Agenda. Here it is recognised as crucial to underpinning the current revival and re-shoring of European manufacturing, with positive flow on effects for growth and employment, as well as maintaining Europe’s position both as a major global supplier of advanced production technologies and world leader in defence industries. Beyond this I4.0 is seen as a spur to innovation and is integral to EU decarbonisation strategies. I4.0 is also emerging as a central plank in the development of Australia’s Digital Economy Strategy and other initiatives designed to facilitate and support Australia’s transition from a 20th to a 21st century manufacturing model. The European influence on Australian approaches to I4.0 has been profound. The Australian ‘Prime Minister’s I4.0 Taskforce’, for instance, emerged as a direct initiative from the Australia-Germany Advisory Group, and the Australian ‘Industry 4.0 Testlabs’ program incorporates numerous structural features of European Advanced Manufacturing Platforms. European corporations (e.g. Siemens AG) have also played a significant role in catalysing and framing debate.

Creative Economy and Workplace Transformation

The category ‘Creative Industry’ covers economic sectors in which wealth and jobs are generated through the exercise of creative thought, skills and talents along with the exploitation of intellectual property. While possessing historically deep roots in craft production, and having long included the arts, architecture and design, contemporary developments, most notably digitisation, have led to a massive expansion in the range and economic significance of Creative Industries – including media and new media, creative services (e.g. VR simulation for training/education) web services and new forms of design thinking. According to the recent GESAC study ‘Rebuilding Europe: The cultural and creative economy before and after the COVID-19 crisis' presented to the EC in January 2021, Europe’s cultural and creative sector in 2019:

  • Employed around 7.6 million people, (2 x as many as the telecommunications and automotive sectors combined), about 700,000 more than in 2013.
  • Had an annual turnover of €643bn (with an annual growth rate of 2.6% per annum over the previous six years)
  • Represented 4.4% of the EU’s overall GDP and posted a net surplus of €8.6bn for the balance of trade in culture.

The European creative economy was, however, hit very hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with revenues falling 31.2% in 2020 (with only the aviation industry suffering a greater fall – 31.4%). This has a significant impact on SMEs and the creative workforce. Allowing for differences in scale, the before-and-after-COVID picture for the Australian creative economy is very similar to that of Europe. Both the EU and Australia, therefore, face similar imperatives to rebuild their cultural and creative industries both as ends in themselves and as crucial (yet often underestimated) components of overarching post-COVID economic rebuilding, work and employment strategies. In this context policy initiatives aimed at harnessing the creative potentials of culture for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth that had been in place for some time prior to the COVID-19 pandemic (eg the Creative Europe Programme and Creative Australia) will assume a new urgency and importance.

Risk, Emergency Management and Global Pandemics

It has been long acknowledged that Australia is one of the most vulnerable nations with regard to the impacts of climate change – including significant increases in the frequency and severity of extreme heat, bushfires, heavy rainfall and flooding, drought and storm surges exacerbated by rising sea levels. Recent research from the UFZ-Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (Leipzig) predicted a 7-fold increase in the frequency and severity of extreme drought across Central Europe, with a doubling of the land area affected, while other research has documented the vulnerability of over half of Europe’s forests to profound disturbances directly related to climate change. The EC European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations estimates that disasters triggered by natural hazards alone cost the EU more than 90,000 lives and more than €500 billion of economic losses between 1980 and 2017 and that due to the combined effects of climate change, urbanisation and environmental degradation. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated how the risks of highly contagious disease outbreaks have been heightened, in complex ways, by contemporary developments including anthropogenic climate change, urbanisation and global mobility.

EU disaster risk management strategies are now incorporated into a range of policy initiatives. Risk prevention and resilience building measures are commonplace, for example, in EU health, transport, energy, cohesion and innovation policies, among others. At the same time the EU is directing considerable resources into bolstering its rapid coordinated response capabilities in relation to range of extreme risks, including the rescEU civil protection mechanism and Platform for European Preparedness Against (Re)emerging Epidemics (PREPARE). These are notable because they represent genuinely cross-border initiatives in policy areas still largely controlled at the national level but where risks are increasingly transnational. They therefore provide the opportunity to explore the importance of and challenges for cross-border cooperation in the provision of disaster risk management and response capability. Advanced digital technologies are increasingly important for the types of collaboration envisaged, as evidenced in the activation of the EU Copernicus Emergency Management Service to assist Emergency Management Australia respond to flooding associated with extreme weather in March 2021, as well as during the 2021 Perth and 2019–20 New South Wales/Victorian bushfires.