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.”


India celebrates Republic Day with military parade

Updated 26 January 2020

India celebrates Republic Day with military parade

  • Schoolchildren, folk dancers, and police and military battalions marched through New Delhi’s parade route

NEW DELHI: Thousands of Indians converged on a ceremonial boulevard in the capital amid tight security to celebrate the Republic Day on Sunday, which marks the 1950 anniversary of the country’s democratic constitution.
During the celebrations, schoolchildren, folk dancers, and police and military battalions marched through New Delhi’s parade route, followed by a military hardware display.
Beyond the show of military power, the parade also included ornate floats highlighting India’s cultural diversity as men, women and children in colorful dresses performed traditional dances, drawing applause from the spectators.
The 90-minute event, broadcast live, was watched by millions of Indians on their television sets across the country.
Brazilian President Jair Messias Bolsonaro was the chief guest for this year’s celebrations.
He was accorded the ceremonial Guard of Honor by President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Rashtrapati Bhawan, the sprawling presidential palace.
Bolsonaro joined the two Indian leaders as the military parade marched through a central avenue near the Presidential Palace.
At the parade, Bolsonaro watched keenly as mechanized columns of Indian tanks, rocket launchers, locally made nuclear-capable missile systems and other hardware rolled down the parade route and air force jets sped by overhead.
Apart from attending the Republic Day celebrations, Bolsonaro’s visit was also aimed at strengthening trade and investment ties across a range of fields between the two countries.
On Saturday, Modi and Bolsonaro reached an agreement to promote investment in each other’s country.
Before the parade, Modi paid homage to fallen soldiers at the newly built National War Memorial in New Delhi as the national capital was put under tight security cover.
Smaller parades were also held in the state capitals.
Police said five grenades were lobbed in the eastern Assam state by separatist militants who have routinely boycotted the Republic Day celebrations. No one was injured, police said.
Sunday’s blasts also come at a time when Assam has been witnessing continuous protests against the new citizenship law that have spread to many Indian states.
The law approved in December provides a fast-track to naturalization for persecuted religious minorities from some neighboring Islamic countries, but excludes Muslims.
Nationwide protests have brought tens of thousands of people from different faiths and backgrounds together, in part because the law is seen by critics as part of a larger threat to the secular fabric of Indian society.