Bioprospecting and Sustainable Development

Bioprospecting and Sustainable Development

 

Bioprospecting and Sustainable Development

 

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.”[1] 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.[2] 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[3]. 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”[4]— 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.

[1] https://undp-biodiversity.exposure.co/the-new-gold-rush-bioprospecting

[2] https://www.vox.com/22434172/us-cbd-treaty-biological-diversity-nature-conservation

[3] p. 189 in “Ethnoveterinary Botanical Medicine: Herbal Medicines for Animal Health

[4] https://undp-biodiversity.exposure.co/the-new-gold-rush-bioprospecting

 

 

Striking the right balance with edtech

Striking the right balance with edtech

 

 

Thanks to the investment made in advanced ICT infrastructure in some parts of the region, technology has provided a lifeline to help keep students learning in the past two years, and this has brought many benefits. It also raises the question: How do you find the right balance of digital and in-classroom learning to ensure education is effective and sustainable moving forward?

This new shared experience of edtech (education technology) has generated some interesting feedback from the education community, and from parents who have undergone the shared challenges in terms of their children’s education. Parents typically believe that technology needs to be used to a certain extent in learning, but not too much – perhaps meaning not an over-reliance on technology.

Balance is something that has to be considered when discussing the evolution of e-learning, because (to use a technology industry expression) children are the end-users. So, while it’s true to say that video tools enabled remote learning and continuity of education during the recent crisis, it’s critical to get children back into classrooms and interacting with their peers and teachers.

According to Microsoft, one in five students in the Middle East & Africa region did not have access to the internet or a device to support them during lockdowns.

Pros and cons of remote learning

When online schooling became mandatory practice, education establishments and parents had no alternative but to adapt quickly and make the best of a difficult situation. Technology enabled online learning, much as it did for remote working. It’s something that simply wouldn’t have been possible even a few years ago, as the technologies and tools just did not exist then to make large-scale online learning a reality.

However, after several months of home-schooling and online learning, some parents began to find their patience tested, reporting that children were becoming more distant, with the lack of social interaction with friends and other students in class becoming a major issue.

Peer-to-peer interaction has positive effects and can help pupils be more stimulated and engaged in classes, and it can help them establish emotional bonds with teachers and other children. Without these interactions, some students began to feel isolated.

Hybrid work, hybrid learning?

There are commonalities between remote working and remote learning, and the impacts of both practices on adults and children are similar. So perhaps one of the ways forward those enterprises have embraced could also apply to education, too: a hybrid model.

Recent times have seen many children engage in hybrid learning models without even knowing the term. Hybrid classes can be a mix of online exercises, pre-recorded videos, and other educational materials that support in-person classes.

When done with the right balance and tools, this approach offers the combination of the best aspects of in-person and online learning and gives students and parents the choice of what learning format suits them best at different times. Hybrid learning might fit very well but is indeed a challenge as it will not always be the perfect solution for some children.

Many of the same technologies apply in hybrid education as in hybrid working. Cloud-based infrastructure and use of managed mobile and video communication and collaboration systems can help education establishments keep students connected, engaged and participating.

According to Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Global Director for Education, “Hybrid learning is here to stay. The challenge will be the art of combining technology and the human factor to make hybrid learning a tool to expand access to quality education for all.”

Indeed, the hybrid model appears as a positive way forward, but education establishments will need the expertise and experience of technology providers to help guide them along that journey and to strike the right balance.

Sahem Azzam is Vice President for the Middle East, Africa & Turkey, at Orange Business Services.

Disruption to Earth’s freshwater cycle has exceeded the safe limit

Disruption to Earth’s freshwater cycle has exceeded the safe limit

Human disruption to Earth’s freshwater cycle has exceeded the safe limit, our research shows

By Arne Tobian, Stockholm University; Dieter Gerten, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and Lan Wang Erlandsson, Stockholm University

The above-featured image is credit to Scott Book/Shutterstock

Green water – the rainwater available to plants in the soil – is indispensable for life on and below the land. But in a new study, we found that widespread pressure on this resource has crossed a critical limit.

The planetary boundaries framework – a concept that scientists first discussed in 2009 – identified nine processes that have remained remarkably steady in the Earth system over the last 11,700 years. These include a relatively stable global climate and an intact biosphere that have allowed civilisations based on agriculture to thrive. Researchers proposed that each of these processes has a boundary that, once crossed, puts the Earth system, or substantial components of it, at risk of upset.

A comprehensive scientific assessment in 2015 found that human activity has already breached four of the planetary boundaries. Greenhouse gas emissions are brewing a hotter climate, the sixth mass extinction of species is unpicking the web of life that makes up the global biosphere, intensive farming is polluting the environment and natural habitats are being destroyed on a significant scale. Earlier in 2022, researchers announced that a fifth planetary boundary had been crossed with the emission and accumulation of chemical pollution and plastics.

So far, it has been suggested that human use of freshwater is still within safe limits globally. But earlier assessments only considered the extraction of what is called blue water – that which flows in rivers and resides in underground aquifers. Even then, regional boundaries are likely to have been crossed in many river basins due to a sixfold increase in the extraction of blue water over the past century. Besides irrigating crops to sate growing demand from people and livestock, population growth and higher standards of living have raised global domestic and industrial water consumption, disrupting aquatic ecosystems and decimating the life within them.

By including green water in our assessment, we found that freshwater’s ability to sustain a stable Earth system is even more threatened than first reported.

Human disruption to Earth’s freshwater cycle has exceeded the safe limit

The crossing of planetary boundaries could destabilise humanity’s safe operating space in the Earth system. Azote/Stockholm Resilience Centre

Red alert for green water

Radiation from the sun evaporates green water in the soil, cooling the environment and returning moisture to the atmosphere where it forms clouds and rain. This cycle sustains some of Earth’s most important ecosystems, such as the Amazon rainforest which makes up roughly 40% of global tropical forest, stores roughly 112 billion tonnes of carbon and harbours 25% of land-based life.

Research shows that clearing forests reduces the flow of moisture to the atmosphere, dampening how efficiently the Earth system can circulate water and ultimately putting ecosystems like the Amazon at risk of collapse. Global heating and changes to how the land is used, especially deforestation, are among the biggest factors responsible for humanity’s transgression of this planetary boundary. Their combined influence indicates that the planetary boundaries interact and need to be treated as one networked system.

Human disruption to Earth’s freshwater cycle has exceeded the safe limit An excavator digs up soil in a tropical forest clearing.

Deforestation can halt the flow of green water in the hydrological cycle. Santhosh Varghese/Shutterstock

Food production also depends on green water. Around 60% of staple food production globally and 80% of cultivated land is rain-fed. In these areas, the only water reaching the crop is what rain provides. Even irrigated crops rely on rain to some extent.

We found that since the industrial revolution, and especially since the 1950s, larger parts of the world are subject to significantly drier or wetter soil. This shift towards extreme conditions is an alarming development due to the indispensable role of water in maintaining resilient societies and ecosystems

More frequent and severe dry spells mean prolonged and more intense droughts in many regions, like those currently affecting Chile and the western US. This limits photosynthesis in plants, which absorb less of the CO₂ heating Earth’s atmosphere. The land carbon sink, which currently soaks up about 30% of annual CO₂ emissions, is weakened as a result, and could even become a net source of carbon in the future.

Too much soil water is no good either. Water-saturated soils make floods more likely and suffocate plant growth. Abnormally large quantities of water evaporating from wet soils can delay the onset of monsoons in places like India, where the dry season has extended and disrupted farming. High humidity combined with high temperatures can also cause deadly heatwaves, as the human body quickly overheats when sweating becomes impossible in very moist air. Several regions, like South Asia, the coastal Middle East and the Gulf of California and Mexico, are experiencing this lethal combination much earlier than expected.

What can be done?

Growing scientific evidence suggests that the planet is both drier and wetter than at any point within the last 11,700 years. This threatens the ecological and climatic conditions that support life.

Our analysis shows that the sixth planetary boundary has been crossed. But ambitious efforts to slow climate change and halt deforestation could still prevent dangerous changes to the cycling of Earth’s green water. Along with other measures, switching farming practices to sustainable alternatives would prevent more soil being degraded and losing its moisture. Explicitly governing green water and its protection in policy and legal frameworks may also be necessary.

Research has shown that farming is a major cause of multiple planetary limits being breached. Shifting diets towards sustainable plant-based food is a simple yet highly effective option for keeping humanity within these boundaries.

Humanity is no longer in the safe zone. Immediate action is needed to maintain a resilient and nourishing freshwater cycle.


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Arne Tobian, PhD Candidate in Planetary Boundaries, Stockholm University; Dieter Gerten, Working Group Leader, Terrestrial Safe Operating Space, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and Lan Wang Erlandsson, Researcher and Theme leader, Anthropocene Dynamics, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What is the link if any between the countries of the MENA region?

What is the link if any between the countries of the MENA region?

From Morocco to Oman, apart from the obvious official language and religion, there is history.  In effect, it is the movement of people from the outer edges of the MENA that was always throughout millennia a common carrier upon which carriages would transport migrants away from danger and bad life.  So, what is the link if any between the countries of the MENA region?

Recent examples of mass movements of Syrians into Jordan, Turkey, and the European Union would be the most edifying sample.  More recently, Yemen despite its status as a poorer country compared to other Gulf ones went nevertheless through conflict with its neighbours and its populations had to flee away to its immediate adjacent countries.  Before that, there was the Libyan case where a large desert country with a small population did produce as it were some migrants mostly to Europe for the well offs and the neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt for the masses.

After more than half a century of migratory movements between the two shores of the Mediterranean, the North African migration system was definitively “formatted” as it still stands today: organically linked to France first, and then to Western Europe.

The Levant conflict and civil wars, and finally the crises and successive wars here and there since the 80s, have consequently forced the exodus of millions.  North African countries have in turn been affected, directly or indirectly, by these Middle Eastern crises.

But geopolitical issues are also not the only differentiator of these countries and apart from armed conflicts and/or civil unrest, oil and conflict are felt like the main drivers of migration to and from or within the MENA.

Climate change and its subsequent life deregulations are affecting its inhabitants.  Would this, despite all the goodwill of all the COPs and SDGs, affect the numbers and the flows?

Would all countries be subject to this culturally well-established custom since the Exodus from Egypt, to run away to search for better climes?

The above-featured image is of Wilson Center.

New postgraduate degree to put Paris Agreement into action

New postgraduate degree to put Paris Agreement into action


New postgraduate degree to put Paris Agreement into action

Plans are advancing at speed to create a new postgraduate degree specialising on the Paris Agreement on climate change in a bid to develop future leaders able to tackle the challenges of sustainability and advance transformative climate action, the UNESCO World Higher Education Conference (WHEC2022) in Barcelona, Spain, heard.
World Higher Education Conference 2022.
This conference is convened by UNESCO and University World News is the exclusive media partner.

Professor Shinobu Yume Yamaguchi, director of the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS) in Tokyo, Japan, outlined the aims when opening the session at WHEC2022 on how higher education can accelerate climate action under the Paris Agreement.

She described the UNU-IAS, which she assumed leadership of in 2019, as a bridge between UN agencies and higher education, and told delegates to the Barcelona conference that work was progressing well on launching a new postgraduate degree on the Paris Agreement and climate sustainability, which was first mooted at COP26 (the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference) in Glasgow.

First of its kind

“The degree will be the first of its kind in the world and the goal is to provide the skills needed across the world to teach action… to implement the Paris Agreement through higher education.”

Professor Yamaguchi said: “Our UNU institute in Tokyo is dedicated to realising a sustainable future for the people and our planet through policy-orientated research, education and capacity development focusing on sustainability, including looking at climate change and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”

The new postgraduate degree specialisation on the Paris Agreement on climate change is being developed in close collaboration with governments, leading universities and development partners and builds on an existing MSc in Sustainability and a PhD in Sustainability Science offered by UNU-IAS.

Together these two programmes currently have 38 students from 20 developing countries, with scholarships provided to over half of the students.

Develop future climate action leaders

“We are aiming to develop future leaders who will be at the forefront of the climate and sustainable development agenda,” said Yamaguchi, who announced that applications for the new Paris Agreement postgraduate degree will be invited at the end of 2022 and the programme will start in September 2023.

COP26 in Glasgow called on the world to keep the global increase in temperatures to 1.5°C compared to the pre-industrial level, but to implement the measures requires a huge amount of knowledge and government cannot do everything, she said.

“You need large stakeholder coalitions to tackle issues such as phasing out coal and all parties acknowledge the importance of education about environment,” said Yamaguchi.

Transparency a key issue

Transparency, monitoring and accountability are going to be key issues for governments and businesses in meeting the Paris Agreement goals and higher education will play a key role, so people understand climate science.

“We need to develop dynamic training for experts, and coordination across sectors and institutions to collect and share data… and lack of coordination is a problem in many countries,” Yamaguchi told the conference.

Dr Won Jung Byun, programme specialist at UNESCO’s Section of Education for Sustainable Development, welcomed the new qualification from the United Nations University and told the conference that only half of national curricula worldwide mention climate change and fewer than 20% of teachers are able to explain action needed to tackle climate change.

Education systems around the world need to do much more to provide learners with the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to overcome the climate crisis and sustainability challenges, she said.

Can’t just be left to higher education

But it can’t just be left to higher education, speakers at the session at the UNESCO conference stressed.

Laurent Cortese, deputy head of the Education-Vocational Training-Employment and Higher Education Division of the French Agency for Development, which mainly works in education and development in countries in Africa, said: “If we leave it to higher education, it is too late. We need a holistic approach and to work on environmental and climate issues with the rest of the education system.”

Teacher training is part of higher education in many countries, he pointed out, adding: “We need to ensure coordination between those in charge of higher education and education as a whole and show the importance of issues like climate change and biodiversity.”

Akio Takemoto, programme head at UNU-IAS in Tokyo, agreed it was important to start explaining the impact of climate change at the primary and school level and there was a need for innovative ways to provide a continuous and high-capacity educational system.

Need to look at all levels

“While there was a lot of talk about Masters degrees and PhDs, we also need highly skilled technical people and it is important we train engineers to work with these technicians. We have to look at all levels of higher education.”

Dr Kanako Morita, senior researcher at the Center for Biodiversity and Climate Change with the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute, Tsukuba, Japan, told the session: “Youth education is important, but so are other actors, including the companies and financial institutions and local government, who are keen to learn more about climate change. We need to consider education at all levels and social scientists have a big role to play.”

Produce ‘maestros’ to get message across

Cortese said the education system needed to produce “maestros” able to get the message across and with the capacity to handle the difficult questions on a scientific basis.

“We can help identify students who can participate in such programmes in the countries where we intervene. Too often, we all work among ourselves with people who we agree with, but that’s not always the most productive.

“We need to set up partnerships with people who don’t necessarily think the same way we do, [and] that would force students to examine their arguments and to review them.

“It is important to develop soft skills and to meet the needs of different people and not just work with university partnerships with the same outlook.

“We need to establish partnerships with companies, so people go outside their comfort zone and are prepared when they meet people who might not think as they do and who are able to see things in a different way.”


Nic Mitchell is a UK-based freelance journalist and PR consultant specialising in European and international higher education. He blogs at www.delacourcommunications.com.


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