On June 30th, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) published a report, titled ‘The New Gold Rush: Bioprospecting,” which elucidates the benefits of bioprospecting for sustainable economic development for underdeveloped countries. Bioprospecting is the exploration of biodiversity for animal and plant substances for medicinal, biochemical, or other commercial purposes. One cause of the socio-economic disparity between rich and poor countries stems from colonial practices of environmental exploitation; larger countries pilfered the resources of smaller countries or current or former colonies to support the metropole’s industrialization and growth.
As underdeveloped countries aim to promote economic growth and political stability, the UNDP report encourages the sustainable extraction of plant and animal substances for pharmaceutical and biochemical purposes, specifically discussing bioprospecting’s potential in Cambodia due to its wealth of biodiversity. As the report articulates, as Cambodia transitions from a “subsistence agriculture-based economy to an agro-industrial economy, its biological resources are increasingly under threat.” Bioprospecting would thus harness traditional environmental knowledge alongside modern science and technology to promote sustainable development; in this way, the UNDP report attempts to revitalize the goals of the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
Policy and scientific recommendations on how to deal with the loss of biodiversity due to climate change gained traction with the IUCN’s (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Commission on Environmental Law in the 1980s. Their efforts fed into the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Ad Hoc Working Group of Experts on Biological Diversity in November 1988, which advocated for a multilateral institution to establish norms and protection over biodiversity– ultimately leading to the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The CBD sought to reconcile the need to conserve biodiversity, but also recognize its utilization towards economic and societal development for underdeveloped nations. The CBD begot a Treaty that established three goals: the conservation of biological diversity; the sustainable use of its components; and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from its resources. 196 parties have ratified the treaty, including China, the U.K, Canada, and the E.U, but not the U.S due to its failure to pass the Senate. Its failure derived from three fears of U.S policy makers: that U.S biotech corporations would be required to share their intellectual property in genetic research with other countries; that the U.S would become financially responsible for other country’s conservation; and that the CBD would impose more environmental regulations on the U.S. Even after the Biden Administrations’ efforts to reimpose environmental policy slashed by Trump, similar concerns are thwarting their efforts to ratify the CBD.
These guidelines thus recognize the right of a country to benefit from the extraction of its resources and attempted to prevent biopiracy – a centuries old practice through which indigenous environmental knowledge was exploited and turned to profit. While not a new practice, biopiracy surged throughout the 20th century as modern biotech fields crystallized, often developing by drawing on indigenous knowledge of plants and animals and then patenting them. Furthermore, the Treaty stipulates that potential bioprospectors would need permission from the country’s government,and would require them to state the country of origin of the resource in the patent. The country’s government may also impose access fees or royalty payments for bioprospectors and obtain the research results. Supplementary protocols sprouted from the initial CBD Treaty, including the 2010 Nagoya Protocol, which helped promote the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources, and the 2000 Cartagena Protocol, which ensures the safe handling of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from biotechnology. Such guidelines attempt to reaffirm small countries’ sovereignty over their land and resources, promote sustainable utilization of plant and animal substances, and avoid the recurrence of environmental exploitation that has, among other factors, impeded development in the past.
The inhabitants of the mountainous upland regions of Cambodia have a rich knowledge base of natural resources and conservation. Their cultural norms and worldviews, as well as their livelihoods depend upon a symbiotic relationship with their environment. Climate change currently threatens more than 300 medicinal plants that are native to Cambodia and face extinction. One such plant is Tepongru (Cinnamomum cambodianum), a species of cinnamon that grows in the Cambodian mountains. The healers and herbalists of Khmer traditional medicine– or Kru Khemer, harvest the bark of Tepongru to cure indigestion, tuberculosis, and the regulation of menstruation. The bark also has high concentrations of cinnamaldehyde and eugenol, which biotechnology companies synthesize to use in both perfumes and essential oils, but also as an anesthetic. Furthermore, Kru Khemer engage in a variety of traditional medical practices including bone setting, herbalism, and divination; in this way, Kru Khemer maintain a vital societal role given their deep knowledge not just in medicinal plants and animals, but also in their knowledge of spiritual rituals that mediate the supernatural and the plant.
The CBD Treaty has been interpreted as an important step in sustainable development, a goal for which the U.N established its own ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ protocol under its department of Economic and Social Affairs. Furthermore, the report describes how the UNDP has attempted to support the goals of the CBD in actionable policy: “since 2011 the UNDP, with funding from the Nagoya Protocol Implementation Fund (NPIF) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), has been supporting governments, local communities, and the private sector to develop national ABS frameworks, build capacities, and harness the potential of genetic resources”— and specifically, the UNDP is working with Cambodian officials to implement the new project “Developing a Comprehensive Framework for Practical Implementation of the Nagoya Protocol in Cambodia”. And so, despite lacking crucial support from the United States, responsible bioprospecting, and the revitalization of the CBD, presents an opportunity in combating climate change while encouraging sustainable development and international economic equality; the most effective practices for successful environmental protection derive from supranational pursuits, but they still require national cooperation.
Accepting industry money risks distorting research and allowing polluting firms to greenwash their reputations, says Zak Coleman. However before A fossil fuel divestment ‘how-to’, it is advisable not to overlook or ignore what has been said before now.
Fossil fuel research ties undermine universities’ climate change response
I became the University of Cambridge’s students’ union undergraduate president in the wake of the university’s historic decision to divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry. I felt hopeful. The university was waking up to the urgent need to combat the climate crisis. It finally understood the damaging consequences of lending its reputational legitimacy to the industry driving this emergency.
Or so I thought.
Working at the students’ union, I became increasingly aware that the university’s involvement with fossil fuel companies extended far beyond its investments. The BP Institute and the professorship of complex physical systems sponsored by offshore drilling company Schlumberger are just two of the countless industry links that Cambridge retains. Everywhere I looked, I saw the university inviting the very same companies it had just condemned as unconscionable investments to be senior partners in its core research activities.
This felt like an enormous betrayal. Universities are supposed to be committed to supporting young people and our futures. But here was my university collaborating extensively with the companies destroying that future.
But it’s not just the hypocrisy that concerns me. Universities’ research partnerships with the fossil fuel industry also undermine their ability to effectively address the climate emergency.
Let’s be clear. Industry executives have known about the devastating climate impacts of their business for more than 50 years. Instead of acting on the science, however, they spent millions of pounds spreading climate disinformation and expanded their fossil fuel operations. They continue to engage in extensive anti-climate political lobbying and resolutely focus the overwhelming majority of their business on fossil fuels, including building new infrastructure and exploring for new reserves. Meanwhile, the world’s top scientists and energy experts are clear that no new fossil fuel infrastructure can be built if the world is to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and avoid runaway climate breakdown.
In contrast, universities like Cambridge are respected globally for upholding the highest standards of scientific integrity and intellectual rigour. Like it or not, partnerships between such higher education institutions and companies that have spent decades ignoring, silencing and discrediting these universities’ very own scientists are a PR gift for the fossil fuel industry. They allow these firms to misrepresent themselves as reformed leaders of the green transition. They send a clear message to governments, policymakers and wider civil society: if universities like Cambridge deem these companies serious on climate-related issues, why shouldn’t we? Ultimately, they help to stall desperately overdue political action to address the climate emergency.
Accepting funding from the fossil fuel industry also raises serious questions about researchers’ ability to conduct truly independent climate-related research. Academics must be free to determine their own research agendas, speak their minds and publish their findings without fear of censorship, reprisal or the denial of funding for future projects. Yet numerous studies demonstrate that industry funding skews research agendas and outcomes in directions favourable to industry interests, and that common safeguarding measures are often inadequate mitigation. This is why, for decades, research institutions have rejected tobacco industry funding for public health research. The same principle must be extended to fossil fuel funding of climate-related research. Independent climate research is just too important to tolerate such risks.
Governments and universities now have a profound responsibility to provide alternatives to industry funding. This is especially true for our wealthiest universities, which frequently accept the most fossil fuel research funding. Indeed, despite being Europe’s wealthiest university, Cambridge accepted more from oil companies between 2017 and 2021than all other UK universities bar one – Imperial College London.
Such universities have large, well-established fundraising departments capable of raising phenomenal sums. Philanthropic giving to US universities rose by 6.9 per cent in 2021 alone, topping $52 billion (£40 billion). The notion that there are no alternatives to fossil fuel industry funding is dangerously false.
Last month, more than 500 leading academics signed an open letter calling for universities to cut research ties with the fossil fuel industry. Among those supporting the letter, which is still open for signatures, are Nobel Prize winners; the former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson; and numerous scientists on the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
We know the fossil fuel industry will continue to ignore the calls of these distinguished climate experts. But we expect better from our universities. Our planet is in ecological cardiac arrest, yet it is the fossil fuel industry that our universities are helping keep on life support. It is long past time for this to end.
Zak Coleman is undergraduate president of the Cambridge Students’ Union. Twitter: @SU_PresidentUG
Deserts may seem lifeless and inert, but they are very much alive. Sand dunes, in particular, grow and move – and according to a decades-long research project, they also breathe humid air.
The findings show for the first time how water vapor penetrates powders and grains, and could have wide-ranging applications far beyond the desert – in pharmaceutical research, agriculture and food processing, as well as planetary exploration.
The project, led by lead author Michel Louge, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the College of Engineering, has spanned not only a great deal of time but also a variety of terrain. It began nearly 40 years ago when Louge was studying the behavior of fluids, gasses and solid particles.
Wanting to measure matter with greater sensitivity, he and his students developed a new form of instrumentation called capacitance probes, which use multiple sensors to record everything from solid concentration to velocity to water content, all with unprecedented spatial resolution.
When a colleague at the University of Utah suggested the technology might be helpful in imaging the layers of mountain snowpacks and assessing the likelihood of avalanches, Louge went to his garage, grabbed some probes and tested them out in a snowstorm. Soon he struck up a partnership with a company, Capacitec Inc, to combine their respective skills in geometry and electronics. The resulting probes also proved useful in hydrology research.
In the early 2000s, Louge began collaborating with Ahmed Ould el-Moctar from University of Nantes, France, to use the probes to study the moisture content in sand dunes to better understand the process by which agricultural lands turn to desert – an interest that has only become more urgent with the rise of global climate change.
“The future of the Earth, if we continue this way, is a desert,” Louge said.
Whereas other probes can measure large volumes of matter, Louge’s probes go deep and small, collecting data on a millimetric scale to pinpoint the exact amount of moisture in – and the density of – sand. To function in a new environment, though, the probes needed to be modified. And so began a decadelong process of trial and error, as Louge made periodic trips to deserts in Qatar and Mauritania experimenting with different versions of the probe.
The probe eventually revealed just how porous sand is, with a tiny amount of air seeping through it. Previous research had hinted this type of seepage existed in sand dunes, but no one had been able to prove it until now.
“The wind flows over the dune and as a result creates imbalances in the local pressure, which literally forces air to go into the sand and out of the sand. So the sand is breathing, like an organism breathes,” Louge said.
That “breathing” is what allows microbes to persist deep inside hyper-arid sand dunes, despite the high temperature. For much of the last decade, Louge has been collaborating with Anthony Hay, associate professor of microbiology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, to study how microbes can help stabilize the dunes and prevent them from encroaching into roads and infrastructure.
Louge and his team also determined that desert surfaces exchange less moisture with the atmosphere than expected, and that water evaporation from individual sand grains behaves like a slow chemical reaction.
The bulk of their data was gathered in 2011, but it still took Louge and his collaborators another decade to make sense of some of the findings, such as identifying disturbances at the surface level that force evanescent, or nonlinear, waves of humidity to propagate downward through the dunes very quickly.
“We could have published the data 10 years ago to report the accuracy of our approach,” Louge said. “But it wasn’t satisfying until we understood what was going on. Nobody really had done anything like this before. This is the first time that such low levels of humidity could be measured.”
The researchers anticipate their probe will have a number of applications – from studying the way soils imbibe or drain water in agriculture, to calibrating satellite observations over deserts, to exploring extraterrestrial environments that may hold trace amounts of water. That wouldn’t be the first time Louge’s research made its way into space.
But perhaps the most immediate application is the detection of moisture contamination in pharmaceuticals. Since 2018, Louge has been collaborating with Merck to use the probes in continuous manufacturing, which is viewed as a faster, more efficient and less expensive system than batch manufacturing.
“If you want to do continuous manufacturing, you have to have probes that will allow you, as a function of time, and everywhere that’s important, to check that you have the right behavior of your process,” Louge said.
Co-authors include Ould el-Moctar; Jin Xu, Ph.D. ’14; and Alexandre Valance and Patrick Chasle with the University of Rennes, France.
The research was supported by the Qatar Foundation.
Modern Diplomacy advises that in Iraq: an Urgent Call for Education Reforms to Ensure Learning for All Children is nowadays a requirement that is not only to prepare people for life, with all knowledge and skills to contribute to a thriving society. It is to be noted that Iraq historically witnessed writing in its earliest form as a means of communication and education, etc.
Learning levels in Iraq are among the lowest in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region and are likely to decline even further because of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on education service delivery, including prolonged school closures.
These low learning levels are putting the future of Iraqi children and the country at risk. A new World Bank report says that while, now more than ever, investments are needed in education to recover lost learning and turn crisis into opportunity, these investments must be accompanied by a comprehensive reform agenda that focuses the system on learning outcomes and builds a more resilient education system for all children.
Human capital is essential to achieve sustainable and inclusive economic growth. However, according to the World Bank’s 2020 Human Capital Index (HCI), a child born in Iraq today will reach, on average, only 41% of their potential productivity when they grow up.
At the heart of Iraq’s human capital crisis is a learning crisis, with far-reaching implications. Iraq’s poor performance on the HCI is largely attributed to its low learning levels. COVID-19 has led to intermittent school closures across Iraq, impacting more than 11 million Iraqi students since February 2020. This report highlights that, with schools closed over 75% of the time and opportunities for remote learning limited and unequal, Iraqi children are facing another reduction of learning‑adjusted years of schooling. Effectively, students in Iraq are facing more than a “lost year” of learning.
“Iraq can use lessons learned from the current health crisis, turn recovery into opportunity, and “build forward better,” to ensure it provides learning opportunities for all Iraqi children especially its poorest and most vulnerable children” said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq Regional Director. “The World Bank is ready to support Iraq in building a more equitable and resilient post-COVID-19 education system that ensures learning for all children and generates the dividends for faster and more inclusive growth”.
The report Building Forward Better to Ensure Learning for All Children in Iraq: An Education Reform Path puts forward for discussion sector-wide reform recommendations, focusing on immediate crisis response as well as medium and long-term needs across six key strategic areas:
1. Engaging in an Emergency Crisis response through the mitigation of immediate learning loss and prevention of further dropouts.
2. Improving foundational skills to set a trajectory for learning through improved learning & teaching materials and strengthened teacher practices with a focus on learning for all children.
3. Focusing on the most urgently needed investments, while ensuring better utilization of resources.
4. Improving the governance of the education sector and promoting evidence‑based decision‑making.
5. Developing and implementing an education sector strategy that focuses on learning and “building forward better”.
6. Aligning skills with labor market needs through targeted programs and reforms.
This year, the United Nations, at a time when the world is struggling with the global COVID-19 pandemic, says that 10 November, will be the focus of World Science Day for Peace and Development on “Science for and with Society in dealing with the global pandemic.”
Established by UNESCO in 2002, the World Science Day for Peace and Development is an annual event that takes place on the 10th of November: all about STEM.
Electric cars line up at the official start of the Zero Emissions Race outside the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), Switzerland.PHOTO:UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré
Celebrated every 10 November, World Science Day for Peace and Development highlights the significant role of science in society and the need to engage the wider public in debates on emerging scientific issues. It also underlines the importance and relevance of science in our daily lives.
By linking science more closely with society, World Science Day for Peace and Development aims to ensure that citizens are kept informed of developments in science. It also underscores the role scientists play in broadening our understanding of the remarkable, fragile planet we call home and in making our societies more sustainable.
The Day offers the opportunity to mobilize all actors around the topic of science for peace and development – from government officials to the media to school pupils. UNESCO strongly encourages all to join in celebrating World Science Day for Peace and Development by organizing your own event or activity on the day.
2020 Theme: Science for and with Society
This year, at a time when the world is struggling with the global COVID-19 pandemic, the focus of World Science Day is on “Science for and with Society in dealing with the global pandemic.”
Throughout this unprecedented health crisis, UNESCO, as the UN Agency with the field of science in its mandate, has endeavoured to bring science closer to society and to bolster the critically needed international scientific collaborations. From the science perspective, UNESCO’s response to COVID-19 is structured around three major pillars: promoting international scientific cooperation, ensuring access to wate,r and supporting ecological reconstruction.
To celebrate the 2020 World Science Day, UNESCO is organizing an online roundtable on the theme of “Science for and with Society in dealing with COVID-19.”
Join the conversation with the hashtags #ScienceDay.
The response to the COVID-19 pandemic requires a far more collaborative relationship between scientists and policymakers, and the fruits of scientific research, including potential vaccines, must be shared universally. LEARN MORE!
Since its proclamation by UNESCO in 2001, World Science Day for Peace and Development has generated many concrete projects, programmes and funding for science around the world. The Day has also helped foster cooperation between scientists living in regions marred by conflict – one example being the UNESCO-supported creation of the Israeli-Palestinian Science Organization (IPSO).
The rationale of celebrating a World Science Day for Peace and Development has its roots in the importance of the role of science and scientists for sustainable societies and in the need to inform and involve citizens in science. In this sense, a World Science Day for Peace and Development offers an opportunity to show the general public the relevance of science in their lives and to engage them in discussions. Such a venture also brings a unique perspective to the global search for peace and development.
The first World Science Day for Peace and Development was celebrated worldwide on 10 November 2002 under UNESCO auspices. The celebration involved many partners, such as governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, UNESCO National Commissions, scientific and research institutions, professional associations, the media, science teachers and schools.
Earth has been used as a building material for at least the last 12,000 years. Ethnographic research into earth being used as an element of Aboriginal architecture in Australia suggests its use probably goes back much further.
Traditional construction methods were no match for the earthquake that rocked Morocco on Friday night, an engineering expert says, and the area will continue to see such devastation unless updated building techniques are adopted.
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