Science, Rio+20 and young people

June 18, 2012

Luisa Massarani

Luisa Massarani
Latin America regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

About 50 science museums and scientific institutions are joining efforts to engage children, teenagers and families in Rio+20-related science issues, in an initiative led by the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MSTI), in the warehouse Pop Ciência na Rio+20 (Pop science in Rio+20).

Its main philosophy is that science and technology (S&T) are increasingly present in everyday life and that S&T can help find solutions to Earth’s greatest problems. With a key aim of the initiative to give a voice to young people, the debating arena offers young people the opportunity to talk with experts on Rio+20 themes.

“Biomes”, a 2,000 square metre warehouse, which brings fantastic images of the Brazilian ecosystems deserves special attention. Another exhibition talks about how tropical biodiversity was a source of inspiration for Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace.

I asked Ildeu de Castro Moreira, director of the Department of Popularisation of Science and Technology of the MSTI and ‘father’ of the idea. He said: “I would say that it is the messages left by thousands of children in the Tree of Life, on their thoughts about Rio+20 and the challenges for the Planet”. These messages will be posted later on their website. Children also have the opportunity to grow a tree “to compensate the carbon emitted by the initiative, for example with transport”, he said.

More about the activities at:

This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.

Football provides electricity to children living off the grid

June 18, 2012

Mićo Tatalović

Mićo Tatalović
Deputy news editor, SciDev.Net

Apart from the high-level discussions, side events at Rio+20 showcase interesting innovations – one of them, that caught my eye, is a football that turns kinetic energy into electricity: SOCCKET.

A 30min football game could power more than 3 hours of light, and a two-hour game will charge a mobile phone, Jessica Matthews, CEO of Uncharted Play, which produces the SOCCKET football, told SciDev.Net.

The ball is built of durable materials with a patented technology packaged at the center of a little black box inside the ball. The ball also lasts for at least three years – much more than an average football, said Matthews.

She was promoting the ball to business people gathered at the Corporate Sustainability Forum, hoping to strike new partnerships to custom-make and distribute the ball to children in poor areas of developing countries.

So far, the football has been distributed to children in Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa, but Uncharted Play is looking to expand and reach more of the 1.6 billion people who are currently without electricity.

But at a price of around US$40 it may prove a tough sell.

This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.

Engineering crucial for sustainable development, poverty reduction

June 14, 2012

Mićo Tatalović

Mićo Tatalović
Deputy news editor, SciDev.Net

Engineering organisations from around the world – consisting of some two million engineers in total – have supported the UN secretary general’s Sustainable Energy for All Initiative, it was announced today at the forum.

These include institutes and organisations from Chile, India, Malaysia, Maurititus, South Africa and Zimbabwe, as well as the Society of Women Engineers.

“Engineers did more than any other profession to improve the quality of life over the past century,” Gordon W. Day, president of IEEE said. He gave examples of energy, computing, health and transportation technologies.

Engineers are keen to complete “the unfinished business” – providing basic technologies and amenities, such as electricity, to people around the world.

“Access to technology is one of the principle distinguishers between a rich country and a poor one.”

India and Sub-Saharan Africa consume only a third of the world’s average energy consumption – bringing them up will require much more energy creation, presenting a challenge to engineering, he said.

To boost innovation it is fundamental to create skilled high-tech workforce drawing upon talents of citizens – and this requires strong education system.

“Innovation comes form people, not from institutions – companies, governments, universities don’t innovate – people innovate.”

Success examples of countries achieving this are Korea, Singapore, China, India and Brazil.

And there is still a need to attract more women to engineering, he said. “If you want to stimulate innovation you cannot ignore half of the population – you need to attract all the best minds.”

“Without science engineering would have no roots, but without engineering science would bear no fruit. They’re both critical to our future.”

Engineers are creative in the same way as artists are, he said.

“They imagine what could be and then they proceed to create it – it really does create the world that never before existed and it produces the fruits of science.”

Gretchen Kalonji, head of natural sciences at UNESCO said: “Engineering has a vitally important role to play [in sustainable development]… to make sure the products of research are translated into real products, real services, that can improve people’s lives.”

“It’s indispensable to getting things done with respect to these challenges [of sustainable development],” she said. “Poverty eradication without engineers is very difficult to envision.”

And engineering is also a “major job creator”m Kalonji added.

A group of enthusiastic engineering students from Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro, which is hosting the forum, said it was important to go out and change things by engaging with activists and local projects as well as communicating their knowledge with the society. “Let’s go out and do it,” one of them said

This blog post is part of our Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development blog which takes place 11-15 June 2012. To read news and analysis from the conference please visit our website.

Rio+20: How to reduce your message to humanity by a third

June 11, 2012

Aisling Irwin

Aisling Irwin
Consultant news editor, SciDev.Net

If you had three minutes to address heads of state on your concern for humanity the last thing you probably want to hear is … that it’s been reduced to two.

ICSU president Yuan Tseh Lee’s three minutes (see previous post) has been chopped in just this way as, I understand, has the slot of each of the other eight Major Group leaders due to address the opening of the Rio+20 summit next week.

Flickr/ SdotCruz

At the coffee machines during the Science Forum I asked him how he was going to reduce by a third his message to humanity.

“I was watching the football over the weekend,” he said “Argentina versus Brazil. I was listening to the commentator. He spoke so fast, he got so much across.”

So much energy! Yuan Tseh Lee is wondering if he could learn from that.

Not a bad idea. If he could inspire the Rio+20 negotiators to act like a football crowd rather than the nit-pickers they currently are, we might score some goals for humanity.

This blog post is part of our Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development coverage which takes place 11-15 June 2012. To read news and analysis from the conference please visit our website.

Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development begins ahead of Rio+20

June 11, 2012

Aisling Irwin

Aisling Irwin
Consultant news editor, SciDev.Net

Yuan Tseh Lee, Nobel prize-winner and president of the International Council for Science (ICSU) will have three minutes, at the opening of the Rio+20 summit on June 20, in which to convey to heads of state the multiple fears the science, technology and engineering communities have about the deteriorating state of the planet.

How luxurious, in comparison, is the full week, beginning today, in which the science, technology and engineering communities will be tossing ideas around on solutions to the same problems, from sustainable consumption to ecosystem services, and indigenous knowledge to water security.

The Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development (11-15 June) may be cumbersomely titled but it is, refreshingly and possibly uniquely here in Rio de Janeiro over the next few days, not purporting to shape the Rio+20 negotiations of the following week.

Instead, says Gisbert Glaser, senior advisor at ICSU,  it is trying to influence what happens afterwards – “the implementation of the outcome or, if it is not as ambitious as we would have liked, it’s a good opportunity to press again government people on the need to move away from just implementing business as usual on sustainable development”.

In other words they are trying to get at the key moment where, arguably, things went wrong after the first Earth Summit in 1992. Scientists had triumphed with the power of their message, persuading politicians to agree to act; an agenda was set and conventions were agreed – but this was followed by many failures of implementation leaving us in a situation 20 years later which is, on many counts, worse than before.

This forum is not about what the goals should be but about how to achieve them, says Glaser. Scientists have been ordered to avoid making science presentations and think instead of the “policy narrative” when they talk. Glaser is particularly excited that a quarter of the 600 delegates are from government delegations. It’s a good place to catch them, just before an international summit.

Very tough though, to get real movement out of such multidisciplinary gatherings. If we spot any fine examples of stakeholders bridging the linguistic and ideological barriers that separate them we’ll be blogging about it here; and tweeting about it from @scidevnet on the hashtag  #sciforum. ICSU will be tweeting, too, on @icsunews. And there’ll be news on our website soon.

This blog post is part of our Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development coverage which takes place 11-15 June 2012. To read news and analysis from the conference please visit our website.

Major science, technology and innovation meeting for Africa

March 31, 2012

David Dickson

David Dickson
Editor, SciDev.Net

Not whether, but how: that’s the question now facing both African governments, and the international finance organisations that back many of their activities, about investing in science and technology.

The change in attitude on both sides over the past decade has been dramatic. Ten years ago, few African governments took the need to build capacity in science and technology seriously.

Today it is widely accepted as essential for priorities that range from increasing food production to providing jobs for young people.

How far things have progressed, and how much further there is to go, will be on the table at a three-day meeting in Nairobi next week, the First Africa Forum on Science, Technology and Innovations for Youth Employment, Human Capital Development and Inclusive Growth, which will be attended on its final day by more than 30 ministers from across the continent.

In the past, these would have been primarily science and technology ministers.

This time, according to Lidia Brito, head of science policy at UNESCO — one of the main sponsors of the meeting — the goal has been to bring together ministers from different departments, including higher education, finance and planning,  to discuss how to make science “one of the building blocks of national development agendas”.

Before that, she explains, there will be two days of meetings with experts from outside Africa. “They will ask questions such as: Where is the innovation? Where is the new knowledge? Where is the capacity?”

In each case, there will be a specific focus on youth employment, inclusive growth and human development.

“Is Africa getting moving, where should it being moving, what are the barriers?” are the questions that the experts will be addressing, says Brito.

The first part of the conference will put the answers to these questions together, she says. They will then be presented to the ministers.

“We hope to achieve a commitment to the idea that we need to integrate policies,” she explains.

“Science ministers need to work more closely with finance ministers, and we want to reaffirm some of the commitments of heads of state to invest more strongly in science, technology and innovation.”

More than 250 delegates are expected to attend the forum, which in addition to UNESCO has been sponsored by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the African Union (AU), and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) , and will end with a declaration on what the continent needs to do to integrate science more fully into its development agenda.

There have been many such declarations in the past. Most have fallen by the wayside, often because of the absence of finance ministers who are able to commit the funds that allow things to happen (a criticism of, for example, the AU science summit of 2007).

This time, with the finance ministers attending and fully engaged in the process, the anticipated Nairobi Declaration will hopefully have a longer shelf life.

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