How technology can help forge a sustainable future

A new way to fight climate change, such as trapping excess carbon pollution that's already warming the Earth, and lock it away, is being tested in Japan. (Reuters/Aaron Sheldrick)
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Updated 17 December 2019

How technology can help forge a sustainable future

  • Move away from 'throw-away' society towards 'circular economy' seen as essential
  • The latest 'exponential technologies' could be harnessed to solve Africa's challenges

DUBAI: Urgent steps must be taken if the fight to curb climate change is to have any chance of success, according to growing global scientific consensus.

Climate scientists say the situation has become untenable because current global carbon emissions — estimated to be 45 percent above pre-industrial levels — exceed the amount that nature can cope with.

Earlier this month, 11,000 scientists in 153 countries declared in a letter a climate emergency and warned that “untold human suffering” was unavoidable without huge shifts in human lifestyles.

“Clearly and unequivocally the planet is facing a climate emergency,” the scientists said, adding that they have a moral obligation to “clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat” and “tell it like it is.”

The letter, which was published in the journal BioScience, focused on six main objectives: Replacing fossil fuels, cutting pollutants such as methane and soot, restoring and protecting ecosystems, eating less meat, converting the economy to one that is carbon-free, and stabilizing population growth.

EXPONENTIALTECHNOLOGIES

  • Artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality.
  • Data science, digital biology and biotech.
  • Medicine, nanotech and digital fabrication.
  • Networks and computing systems.
  • Robotics and autonomous vehicles.

The major transformations required — how global society functions and interacts with nature — were among issues addressed by a conference on technology held recently in Dubai.

Participating in a session entitled “Technology for Impact” at the EmTech MENA conference, scholars and lawmakers said only sustainability, collaboration and innovation can help ensure a smoother transition into the future.

“To be able to survive using the current resources, we would need 1.7 planet Earths,” said Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al-Nahyan, founder and CEO of Alliances for Global Sustainability.

“If we add a growing population to that equation, we end up with an unimaginable scenario. The truth is harsh, but the situation might not be hopeless if we all contribute to halting climate change.”

Curbing the consumption patterns of our purchasing power will prove paramount in that shift, Sheikha Shamma said.

In her view, what is needed is a move away from a “throwaway society,” which is strongly influenced by consumerism, and an embrace of a “circular economy,” an economic system aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources.

 “Today, 143 million people are at risk of becoming climate migrants,” she said, appealing for greater understanding and empathy. “For them, redefining borders could be vital for their survival.”

Climate change is believed to a key driver of migration in Africa. Experts think the continent’s development challenges — running the gamut from farming and health care to water management and supporting small businesses — are almost all related to sustainability.

According to research by the European Council on Foreign Relations, Africa is highly dependent on natural resources and agriculture, which are the first assets to be undermined by climate change.

It has poor climate-resilient infrastructure, such as flood defenses. Africa countries are often characterized by weak institutions, which are less able to adapt to climate change. Finally, Africa’s high poverty rate undermines the resilience of local populations to massive changes in society.

“Our role is to think about how ‘exponential technologies’ can be harnessed to solve Africa’s issues,” said Solomon Assefa, vice president of Africa and emerging market solutions at IBM Research, referring to technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics.

“We hired a lot of scientists and engineers from around the world in African labs to think about these problems and we found that we focused on sustainability because it is a global problem today.”

Speaking at the EmTech MENA conference, Assefa said that, on the one hand, Africa is paying a high price for unsustainable development: 8 to 10 million people are dying annually from air pollution, species loss is expected to cross the 1 million mark in the next 10 years and large parts of the continent are water insecure.

On the other hand, Assefa said, artificial intelligence, blockchain, quantum computing and the “Internet of Things” could turn out to be the technologies that can help the continent address each problem.

He added that by 2050, a number of innovations is expected to emerge from Africa in areas such as agriculture, water management, new types of fertilizers and food security.

“We’re realizing when we’re solving these problems that we’re getting a lot of interesting scientific insights,” Assefa said, adding that “the scientific discoveries could have a significant impact later on.”

Incidentally, the group of scientists warning of a “climate emergency” said that despite the gloomy outlook there is room for optimism.

On the downside, they pointed out some negative trends such as rising meat consumption, more air travel, accelerating rates of deforestation and an increase in global carbon dioxide emissions. But on the bright side, they said: “We are encouraged by a recent surge of concern. Governmental bodies are making climate emergency declarations. Schoolchildren are striking.

“Ecocide lawsuits are proceeding in the courts. Grassroots citizen movements are demanding change, and many countries, states and provinces, cities and businesses are responding.”

One of the ways in which businesses are responding to the challenge of climate change is through technological innovation.

Carbon capture and storage — the process of capturing wasteful carbon dioxide from its source and depositing it where it will not enter the atmosphere — has been described as a promising solution, with the latest technologies able to capture up to 30 percent of carbon dioxide and 75 percent of hydrogen sulfide.

There has also been a commitment by the global aviation industry — which is believed to produce up to 2 percent of all human-induced carbon dioxide emissions — to halving its 2005 emission levels by 2050.

Pledges have also been made by numerous companies to reduce their carbon footprint through such steps as purchasing new electric vehicles, investing in reforestation projects, and setting a target of 100 percent renewable energy use.

As Sheikha Shamma told the EmTech MENA conference, “the changes we need to make are often viewed in terms of cost, burden, blame and disaster rather than opportunity, intervention, partnership and collaboration.

“Dealing with climate change will affect all of us, forcing us to think beyond our borders because nature has no borders.”


Indonesia begins human trials of anti-virus vaccine

Updated 12 August 2020

Indonesia begins human trials of anti-virus vaccine

  • The third phase of the clinical trials of the vaccine — which is manufactured by China’s Sinovac Biotech in collaboration with its Indonesian pharma counterpart, Bio Farma — began on Tuesday
  • The third phase is a must before the vaccine, known as CoronaVac, goes into the production stage and is a prerequisite for all pharmaceutical products, including medicines and vaccines

JAKARTA: Indonesia is stepping up efforts to find a COVID-19 vaccine by launching human trials of a potentially effective drug amid criticism of its lacklustre handling of the pandemic and concerns about its plummeting economy.

The third phase of the clinical trials of the vaccine — which is manufactured by China’s Sinovac Biotech in collaboration with its Indonesian pharma counterpart, Bio Farma — began on Tuesday and is being conducted by the Padjadjaran University School of Medicine at six locations in Bandung, West Java province, where the university and the state-owned pharma company are based.

“The first day of the trial went well, with 20 volunteers in each of the six locations injected with the potential vaccine. We have no complaints so far, and we are preparing the second injection batch on Aug 14,” Iwan Setiawan, a spokesman for Bio Farma, told Arab News on Wednesday.

He added that the six-month trial would require the participation of 1,620 volunteers who were “in good health and had not tested positive” for the disease.

Ridwan Kamil, governor of West Java, Indonesia’s most populated province, is among the volunteers who have signed up for the trial.

The third phase is a must before the vaccine, known as CoronaVac, goes into the production stage and is a prerequisite for all pharmaceutical products, including medicines and vaccines.

“The potential vaccine had gone through three trials; the pre-clinical, the clinical trial first phase and the second phase in China,” Bio Farma CEO Honesti Basyir said in a statement.

According to Basyir, Sinovac is one of the few institutions that have progressed to the third phase of the clinical trial from among hundreds of research institutions around the world that are developing the COVID-19 vaccine.

According to Oxford Business Group’s COVID-10 Economic Impact Assessment, there are more than 150 different vaccines that international researchers are working on. However, only 26 have reached the human trial stage so far.

Once the trials are concluded, Bio Farma will register the vaccine with the Food and Drug Supervisory Agency so that it can begin mass-production of the drug.

“We have prepared a production facility for the COVID-19 vaccine with a maximum capacity of 100 million dosages, and by the end of December this year we will have an increased production capacity to produce an additional 150 million dosages,” Basyir said.

President Joko Widodo oversaw the first injections to the batch of volunteers in one of the six locations and also toured Bio Farma’s production facility. 

“We hope this clinical trial would conclude in six months and so we can start producing the vaccine in January and vaccinate our people soon,” Widodo said.

State-Owned Enterprise Minister Erick Thohir, who is also the head of the COVID-19 mitigation and national economic recovery committee, said that Bio Farma was a well-established vaccine producer whose products were halal-compliant and used in 150 countries, including in the Middle East.

The collaboration with Sinovac is one of three vaccine-development projects that Indonesia is engaging in with foreign parties as it grapples with a surge in infections. At the same time, social restrictions and economic activities were eased. The other two projects are with South Korea’s Genexine and Norway’s Coalition for Epidemic, Preparedness and Innovation.

As of Wednesday, Indonesia had reported 130,718 infections with 1,942 new cases, 85,798 recoveries and 5,903 deaths, although experts suggest that the numbers could be higher due to the country’s low testing capacity.

Cases also surged in the capital Jakarta with workplaces emerging as the new infection clusters after thousands of employees returned to work recently.