First medical writer’s congress in the GCC gives authors the inside scoop on scientific publishing

I just attended the 1st International Congress of Medical Writers in Dubai last week. As a member of QScience.com’s editorial team, I found it both illuminating and reassuring. Illuminating, because it’s important for me as an editor to understand what researchers are facing and what they care about (or should care about). Reassuring, because while the speakers—all highly-reputed and well-published experts in the field of ethics and science publication—discuss how many journals, even big-named ones, are too strapped for resources to care consistently about their authors, we, at QScience, have not only focused on ensuring the highest possible standards in journals publishing, but have also made author care a cornerstone and constant focus. Flat rejections are not the name of the game—helping authors get published and cited is.

According to Karen Shashok, an editorial consultant at AuthorAID with a wealth of experience in author care in the Middle East, most of the researchers contributing to journals worldwide have English as a second language (ESL). This fact underscores the importance of considerate editorial process to bring important findings to light. What’s happening in the world of publishing nowadays, she said, is that many journals are unable to provide author care beyond the basics, if they can at all. In some cases, for instance, the paper might be completely sound but the peer reviewers disagree on some points and the journal’s editor mandates that those points be addressed, each one, exactly, in order to proceed with publishing, she explained.

The point here is that nobody is perfect—the reviewers might have a bad day or have other motivations, the copy editors may reject the paper because of challenges with English usage. And, again, this is regardless of whether or not the paper is perfectly sound in its science. In the MENA region, as scientific output ramps up, it’s imperative for authors to think critically about this situation so that findings—both particular to the region and critical to the advancement of science worldwide—are not passed over unjustly.

Among other things, Karen discussed techniques to make your manuscript sing and strategies that give your work a fighting chance in terms of making an impact in the scientific community. Part of what she talked about is that authors need to do more research about the journals they submit to. They need to shift modes, from finger crossing researchers waiting at the gateways of certain journals, to choosy authors with a strategic plan about where they submit so that they a) have a good chance at publishing in a quality journal, quickly and b) have a good chance of being read and cited widely.

In a publishing world where open access, altmetrics and great shifts in technology related to internet search engines are availing way more visibility, authors need to look into things like: What is the theme of the journal and how does their research fit into that it? Is the journal keen on the latest advancements, interested in the author’s success and working to make sure that the work is easy to find, use and cite? And of course, what are the standards of that journal? Are they members of accredited societies?  These realities are key to successfully matching the manuscript to the right journal.

A researcher today needs to get beyond the fact that the impact factor and size of the journal will make their paper a success in the ways they would wish it to be over the long run, because these two ideas, while nice on the surface, are laden with a lot of other considerations.

Dr. Farrokh Habibzadeh, president of the World Association of Medical Editors, editor-in-chief and founder of the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and honorary editor of The Lancet, Middle East Edition, as well as director of NIOC Medical Education and Research Center discussed impact factors and implications of over-focusing on them. He talked about some well-known facts about impact factors and how they were developed. He also told me during lunch that a myriad of alternative strategies are being developed to sidestep the impact factor.

Another issue Dr. Habibzadeh brought up during the discussion on the last day revolved around publishing research that is specifically targeting problems of the place where it is conducted. Journals from the West, he explained, tend to want to cover diseases that affect people therein. But in the Middle East, many health concerns facing people in the West do not apply, and many conditions that do impact the lives of residents here do. For example, inflammatory breast cancer is a huge problem in the MENA region: genetically favored, rapidly advancing and highly-lethal, yet it is very rare in the West—studies from consortiums around this form of cancer must be brought to light, quickly and through high-quality channels.

The crux of the last day’s discussion, however, involved a focus on impact factors as imperative to career advancement and the problems this causes. The conclusion was reached that the current situation is damaging the notion that research should take place to solve local problems and impact the advancement of science in a meaningful way. The focus has shifted greatly to competition and striving for brands and impact factors and away from discovering and solving the most urgent problems facing human and planetary health and welfare.

A fruitful discussion took place around this, with audience members standing up to talk about the challenges they are facing in the world of academia and research. What became evident was a world where, if publish or perish wasn’t enough, they must strive for journal brands and publications that are largely after profits and not always so interested in issues that are particular to where they live … issues that must be brought to light, shared and used as stepping stones, regionally.

The discussion around open access was mostly informative and clear. It was also short, which told me that open access is now a given among the experts. Karen said that there is no difference in the range of quality in open access journals and paid subscription ones. In the end, Karen and Dr. Habibzadeh were vocal proponents of open access. Karen went so far as to say that there is a lot of erroneous and misleading information floating around about open access journals—when really, the quality range is the same as for-profit counterparts.

Astronomy comes to Qatar

Beep. I got an email a couple nights ago telling me that I have been finally moved from the waiting list and now would be able to attend the keynote lecture by Professor Lord Martin Rees at the 1st Doha International Astronomy Conference, taking place from 10-13 February in Doha, Qatar. I arrived at the Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC) much earlier than the recommend time and received my ‘Public Guest’ badge. Walking towards Auditorium 3 among other members of the public as well as scientists, officials, and about one hundred primary school students, I could not help but feel like my 7-year-old self. I was as excited as the day I first picked up a book on astronomy and discovered the solar system, comets, and the Milky Way.

astrony qatar2

 

The 1st Doha International Astronomy Conference was organized by Dr. Khalid Al-Subai of Qatar Foundation and Dr. Martin Dominik of the University of St Andrews. Dr. Khalid Al-Subai is also the founder of the Qatar Exoplanet Survey (QES), which over the last couple of years has conducted a wide-angle photometric survey and successfully found two exoplanents (planets outside the Solar System): Qatar-1a and Qatar-2b.

Astronomy has come home  – Dr. Khalid Al-Subai (Qatar Foundation) 

As all the attendees took their seats, Dr. Khalid Al-Subai, took the podium and declared ‘astronomy has come home’. He then introduced the guest speaker, Professor Rees: Astronomer Royal and fellow of Trinity College and Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge. Professor Rees started his talk, entitled ‘Planets, Life and the Cosmos’ with a brief history of Astronomy from the works of Galileo in the 17th century to the invention of the reflecting telescope by a ‘most unpleasant man’ from Cambridge, Isaac Newton. What followed was an interesting fast-track Astronomy 101 lecture. Professor Rees introduced the solar system and past efforts in space exploration.

With respect to extraterrestrial intelligent life, Professor Rees remains skeptical about stories in the press and from those sent to his email inbox. He believes ‘if we were to detect a signal from space, it would be very artificial’. Whether we do find life outside Earth or not, he believes that life will spread from Earth into space in the future, as humans will start exploring and settling in outer space. His talk was followed by an award presentation by Dr. Mohammad Fathy Saoud, President of Qatar Foundation.

After a brief coffee break, Dr. Khalid Al-Subai took stage again and announced that Qatar Foundation is planning to establish the Astronomy and Space Center in Qatar, which will host QES’s own observatory. He reiterated that Qatar has the opportunity now to engage in explorative science and to have a substantial share in a research field that is much underfunded. Dr. Al-Subai then announced that QES is expecting to discover three new expolanets by the end of 2013.

Astronomy research is coming to Qatar.

Whereas, it is still at its early stages, the project is indeed exciting and promising. And if I learnt anything from today’s talks it is that the next generation here can dream again. My astronomy dream died at the age of 9 (coincidentally with the time I tried to build a spaceship by using twenty-odd plastic and wooden chairs in my grandmother’s living room). I wish I had attended this talk when I was 7 years old. However, I am encouraged and do choose to believe that the inspiring messages from Dr. Khalid Al-Subai and Professor Rees have reached at least one of the future-astronomers sitting a few rows behind me.

– For more information about the 1st Doha International Astronomy Conference, click here .

– For more information about the Qatar Exoplanet Survey, click here.

The Science of Urgency–Reflections on COP 18

Outcomes of COP meetings are usually discussed in terms of policy and international buy-in to agreements. By this definition, COP 18 results were less than what were expected yet still a step forward. The Kyoto Protocol will continue on for a second commitment period, eight years on, yet it only legally binds a 15 percent reduction of emissions.  And while stocking the green climate fund by 2020 with the US$ 100bn promised is still high on the to-do list, it seems a tall order from developed nations still watching the dust settle on the financial crisis of last decade.

Yet, as Wael Hmaiden, Director of Climate Action Network International–the largest climate change organization of more than 700 NGOs–explained early in the proceedings: action taken at the policy level is one thing and the attention COP draws to the issues at hand is another.

In Doha, especially, this notion proved important as the meeting took place for the first time in an OPEC nation. Specifically, having a COP in a country that is deeply entrenched in a carbon-based economy did much to foster an information highway to the region, encouraging knowledge transfer on topics like energy subsidization, incentivizing renewables and designing smart cities as well as best practices for carbon capture. What’s more, it drew attention to the fact that residents in this region—with its low-lying populated areas, tapped water reserves and intensely-hot climate—are all-too familiar with the effects of climate change. It’s clear that people across the Gulf are eager to get involved and are starting get a hold of information that can help them assess the situation and do something about it.

Candid discussions around fossil fuel subsidization reform, renewable energy initiatives (namely Saudi Arabia’s unprecedented investment in solar energy production) and the release of the first ever ecological footprint assessment for the MENA region showed a solid effort on the part of the region to move swiftly on climate change. Yet side events (see previous posts) provided deep insight into how complicated this move is given local circumstances.

No matter where in the world you target, you first need to research and understand what exactly you’re looking at in terms of market viability, need for external funding, feasibility of setup and maintenance of any technologies, need for capacity building, issues of equity, and a myriad of other factors, not the least of which would be political makeup. Only then can you design an intelligent and workable plan of action. The types of events and discussions taking place under the UNFCCC are beginning to reflect the dire need for such R&D and knowledge transfer. But will this issue—of adapting climate change strategies—move far and fast enough from behind the shadow of the mitigation strategies and debates that have dominated discussions so far?

Adaptation vs. Mitigation

A debate around adaptation and mitigation has emerged as a key to understanding some of proposed strategies as well as the gridlock at policy level. Adaptation implies ground-level approaches to preparing for effects of climate change. Examples include shifting economies toward renewable resources, basing farming practices on more sustainable methods—including working more closely with meteorologists to plan crops and tapping into time-tested traditional land-use practices—and generally overhauling at every level to reduce climate impacts and prepare everyone for unpredictable conditions. Mitigation, on the other hand, implies directly targeting carbon emissions with policy to incentivize a reduction in fossil fuel use and carbon emissions (creating a side-effect shift toward renewables), as well as the promotion of techniques like carbon capture and storage.

Mitigation and adaptation measures overlap, especially when you consider that mitigation-based taxation and subsidization policies shed more attractive lighting on the renewable market. Yet the call for adaptation, to change the trajectory of developing countries toward a more sustainable one—vs. a follow-the-polluting leaders approach—is emerging as vital, because as more and more people move out of rural poverty and into the urban middle class, energy demands are only projected to rise, markedly.

Policy is now forming around terms of climate change funding for countries that can’t afford the R&D, implementation and maintenance of renewable strategies that work in their environments. These developing countries have so far depended on and suffered the brunt of effects from polluting technologies. For this reason, a UNFCCC  work program on loss and damage has formed, and the Green Climate Fund is under negotiation as a support mechanism for capacity building as well as technology development and transfer.

This COP resulted in continued support of the Technology Executive Committee, which is the newest initiative in UNFCCC aimed at chartering a way forward in terms of implementing effective and climate-friendly technology based on location. Key aims of this committee include developing strong communications with ground-level administrators in developing countries and devising ways to make investment in renewables attractive to private investors based on a long-term prediction of economic success in any given location. Part of this effort hinges on location-specific R&D. For instance, in Qatar, solar energy poses a technology challenge due to the scarcity of water and the amount of it needed to cool the units under unusually hot conditions. Alternative solar-based solutions and cooling technologies must be considered as research targets.

Adaptation technology platforms (as discussed in this post) have popped up to address the incredibly complex conditions on the ground. These data-rich, web-based portals allow access to information not only on the technology in use today but also on the important location-specific information that helps decision makers and investors see the feasibility of implementing any given strategy based on localized conditions—current market drivers, natural resource availability, economy, population, weather, capacity building requirements, etc.

Knowledge transfer has emerged as an essential and pressing concern around adaptation approaches and mitigation approaches alike. At COP 18, experts called repeatedly for more investment in research and publication of findings from developing countries. And now more than ever it has become obvious, the need for open access and open source databases to share findings and minimize duplicate efforts. Similarly, the green patent approach would make technology specs available in a third of the time.

On the mitigation front, the degree of investment into carbon sequestration methods depends directly on knowledge acquisition and transfer related to the most effective strategies to both store maximum carbon and clear out hard-to-reach oil and gas patches. This is not to mention the legal considerations around carbon leakage over time, the potential for which demands focused research and investment therein.

Research in Qatar is addressing many of the issues on the table at COP, some of which were covered here. And a partnership announcement with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research marked a strong step forward and commitment on the part of the host country.

The Science of Urgency

The issues on the table are the greatest humankind has ever faced and, while self evident in countless cases, are most provocative when backed by scientific research. Yet some government officials at COP and much of the general public are ill equipped, information-wise, to to comprehend the full extent of climate change, Hmaiden said.

“Climate change has been here for 20 years,” he explained. “So why didn’t everyone know about it 20 years ago. I am an environmental activist, and it took me seven years as in this role to fully understand what climate change is. Imagine the general public who are even farther away from this information. It’s very complex scientific information that doesn’t trickle easily to the public.”

This combined with the fact that climate change is not an attractive issue complicates the sense of urgency that needs to build around climate change, fast. In Sweden, Hmaiden said, the government has considered naming their ministry of climate change “The Ministry of Existence,” to raise awareness about the seriousness of climate change.

“It’s like cancer in your body; you have to treat it,” he said. “But if you fall down and you have a cut on your head and your head is bleeding, you’re definitely going to treat this more urgently than going to get chemotherapy to cure cancer. Cancer is more important than a cut, more serious than a cut on your forehead. But a cut on the forehead you prioritize in terms of action.

“And what’s happening in the world is that we’re facing one cut after another. We are in a constant state of stitching but we are forgetting that the cancer needs to be treated and that it’s growing. The more we delay, the more it will spread. At some point, whatever chemotherapy you do, it’s not going to be enough. So at some point we’re going to have to say I have to treat this cancer.”

Achim Steiner’s talk at the high-level panel on food security is worth a listen as he headlines with the fact that the UNFCCC’s role in part is to bring science to the policy arena. The UNEP Executive Director and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Steiner’s urgent appeal for effective application of science and technology, to steer humans away from destructive and highly-entrenched modes of operation, is palpable.

Toward Greener Business Practices in MENA

MainA fast pace of development in the Gulf has taken its toll according to environmental experts. The region’s first ever ecological footprint atlas, put out by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED), prompted authors to formally name it a “Survival Report.”

“Since 1979, Arab regions have experienced huge ecological deficit and it is increasing,” said Najib Saab, Secretary General of AFED, as he introduced a panel of representatives from companies who participated in a sustainability program.

“We cannot do this forever—use oil income to buy imports,” he continued. “The other consideration is the over-exploitation of natural resources. We are robbing future generations of their right to live.”

Saab explained that since ... every country in the region except Mauritania is at a resource deficit

Saab explained that from 1961-2008, every country in the region except Mauritania developed itself into resource deficit, according to findings through the Arab Forum for Environmental Development

Saab chaired the side event entitled The Role of Arab Business in the Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy, wherein representatives of big business and resources in the region spoke about their participation in a program designed to raise awareness and reduce environmental impacts–120 companies participated. The program entailed periodical sustainability reports specifically outlining mitigation programs and results.

“A lot of information needs to be addressed,” said Rashid Bin Fahed, the UAE’s Minister of Environment and Water, who provided more context on the region. “We need data to arrive at a better assessment of what we have.”

The UAE’s figures were initially off, Fahed explained, because unlike more closed systems where consumption is easier to track, the UAE is a trade hub for the entire region, and 90 percent of goods are re-exported, i.e., in transit rather than consumed or simply traded. Adjustments revealed actual consumption patterns, however.

“We found that 80 percent of our footprint is from carbon,” Fahed said. “We and other Gulf countries rely on carbon to generate energy … we initially lacked the means to develop sustainable sources for such commodities.”

Fahed said that the UAE is counting on Masdar City to test and customize renewable technologies, with an aim of deriving a significant amount (around 8 percent) of energy from renewable sources.

“Conservation is not a choice anymore,” he said. “We have to do it according to a standard, and a lot of awareness campaigns are underway. We believe that the green growth strategy will be the umbrella for the development of the UAE. We have the means to achieve it. We’ve already done a lot in the energy and transport sector.”

Steer describes the migration pattern of people, worldwide, to the city

Steer describes the migration pattern of people, worldwide, to the city

When the World Resources Institute (WRI) surveyed citizens around the world, asking if climate change was an urgent matter that demanded an immediate response, 50 percent of US residents, 60 percent of Europeans and 90 percent of Arabs said yes, Andrew Steer, WRI’s President and CEO said, mentioning that, unsurprisingly, 99 percent of small island state residents think along these lines as well.

“We’ve moved from an empty world to a full world,” he said, “and we are pushing the barriers … with a massive increase in the middle class, 800 million vehicles on the road today that could increase to 3 billion by 2050.”

With 70 percent of the human population projected to live in cities by 2050, Steer said urban environments have potential to be part of the solution or part of the problem. He cited Beijing as an example where the footprint of city residents is higher on average than that of those in rural China. In contrast, he said, the footprint of New Yorkers is smaller than that of residents living outside the city.

The topic of electricity and fuel subsidization echoed repeatedly throughout the side event rooms

The topic of electricity and fuel subsidization echoed repeatedly throughout the side event rooms; Steer suggested an overhaul of subsidies schemes to push demand and funding into renewables

In addition to suggesting a shift in taxation schemes to create a shift toward renewable development and a stop to subsidies on fossil fuel-based energy, Steer suggested an overhaul of business as usual at large companies in terms of assessing their impacts.

“We need to reset the compass in terms of measuring progress … it’s better to cut down quarterly reports so people have a longer-term view,” he said.

In the end, he echoed a common sentiment throughout these events calling for more investment in technology and collaboration. “It’s nice to stay up all night and argue [referring to the final days of COP, featuring round-the-clock policy negotiation], but we need to see something happen; we need to stop this zero-sum game.”

Raji Hattar, Chief Sustainability Compliance Officer at Aramex, an Arab-based provider of logistics, transportation and shipping services, spoke about sustainability measures the company has taken to cut down on resource consumption. The company–which involves more than 66,000 employees based out of more than 12,000 offices and operates in more than 240 countries, with a fleet of around 33,000 vehicles–has implemented many eco-friendly programs at every level of its operation, he said.

In addition to the regular generation of footprint reports, Hattar said the company has adopted strict standards around everything from vehicles (based on low emissions ratings) and printers (double-sided only).  He said that the ISO 14000 standards of environmental management and mitigation strategies are exercised from training to high levels of operation. Recycling and smart (degradeable and recycled/reclyclable) packaging are standard as well, he said.

Salabi describes the impact of awareness campaigns in addition to sustainable policies company-wide

Salabi highlighted the potential impact of awareness campaigns in addition to sustainable policies region-wide

Alain Saliba, speaking on behalf of Kharafi National, Kuwait, described measures the company is taking to reduce their environmental footprint, placing emphasis on awareness campaigns. As business development manager at Kharafi—which  specializes in infrastructure development around water, wastewater treatment, reclamation, solid waste management, oil recovery as well as facilities management across the MENA region—Saliba described an e-mail campaign based on repeated messages to all employees encouraging energy-saving practices around the office and home.

“You have to hit repeatedly with the information,” he said. “It’s as if you are tapping on someone’s shoulder, at first they are bothered but don’t turn around, but eventually, they will turn around and ask ‘why are you tapping me with this?’  That’s when the message gets through.”

Michael Nates, Director of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability at ACWA Power International, Saudi Arabia, gave an overview of the impact of subsidizing electricity across the MENA region (highlighting that every country in the MENA region is subsidized) and offered an alternate financial model wherein payment for electricity could be channeled toward solar power in Saudi Arabia. The goal, he explained, is to understand the impact of subsidies and then minimize them so that the system is tight and the market can decide the value of power, no matter the source. With this scheme, over time, renewables would prove advantageous.

Nates discusses an approach to subsidization that would drive development in the renewable market

Nates discusses an approach to subsidization that would drive development in the renewable market

Nates outlined the compelling case for renewable across the MENA region—if electricity becomes a paid commodity—stressing the financial viability of setting up the technology and implementing it through both public-private partnership and independent providers so that the cost is competitive. Saudi Arabia plans to invest US$ 109billion in solar energy systems—plans to finalize in 2013 and first farm to be operational in 2015 with a goal of covering 30 percent of its energy needs by 2030.

Considering that US$ 136billion was invested worldwide in solar in 2011, this move toward independence in the energy sector could potentially “spur the next wave of innovation and local capacity building in the region in terms of renewable energy,” according to Nate’s presentation. This is not to mention skilled and semi-skilled job market such an investment will create.

Climate Change Through Religious Lenses

Distribution of world religions. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Distribution of world religions. Source: Wikimedia Commons

According to the CIA World Factbook, more than 88 percent of the world population subscribes to a religion.* And the amount of social research around climate change in this area is growing.

At the World Council of Churches (WCC) side event Ethical and religious insights on the climate crisis, religious leaders from various denominations formed a panel to discuss perspectives on climate change through the lenses of different belief systems.

The WCC is composed of 349 churches and denominations and has been working on climate change since 1988, Reverend William Somplatsky-Jarman, representing the Presbyterian Church in the US, explained, saying that the organization participated in every COP meeting since its first in 1995. “Climate change is a deeply moral and ethical issue as well as scientific, economical and political,” he said, as he lauded the panel for being multi-denominational and expressed regret that the expert on Islam was unable to attend.**

Somplatsky introduced the video: “Have you seen the Rainbow: Climate Change, Faith and Hope in Tuvalu,” a short film which featured perspectives of a religious leader, children and a climate scientists on an island midway between Australia and Hawaii that’s said to be shrinking at a rate of 2 mm per year.

Perspectives of the panelists provided insights from completely different angles on an issue facing all of humanity that until this point in the COP had been explored almost exclusively through the lenses of science, development, policy and economics. Their worthwhile insights follow:

Father John T. Brinkman, Japan, of the Catholic Church

Ecology does not function within economics; economics must function within ecology. (Q&A response:) Revelation of the natural world according to the scriptures is described as absolutely equal [to humankind] … if there is anyone who denies climate change in the Catholic church, they do it against their own theology. ~Father Brinkman

Sister Jayanti Kirpalani, UK, of Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University 

If there is this awareness of the human family, then surely our compassion and generosity of spirit and heart would allow us to make simple changes within our lives, to be able to help them protect their country and their environment.~Sister Kirpalani

 

Archbishop Seraphim Kykotis, Zimbabwe and Angola, of the Orthodox Church

It’s better not to call this climate change … we should call it climate crisis … there are 6 billion people who claim a faith and we have to be strong.~Archbishop Kykotis

* Global population estimated (as of 2009) distribution of religions follow: Christian 33.35% (of which Roman Catholic 16.83%, Protestant 6.08%, Orthodox 4.03%, Anglican 1.26%), Muslim 22.43%, Hindu 13.78%, Buddhist 7.13%, Sikh 0.36%, Jewish 0.21%, Baha’i 0.11%, other religions 11.17%, non-religious 9.42%, atheists 2.04%.

**Scholarly insight into Islam and the environment can be found in our QScience COP18 Collection.

Partnerships

As we are on the finishing day for COP18/CMP8 the science around climate change is yet again taking centre stage. The evidence from the science community is compelling and clear, and partnership between countries will probably be able to advance the agenda even further.

As an observer with Qatar Sustainability Network, I was allowed into an informal ministerial session on Wednesday. The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon in his keynote made clear again that to fight the global climate crisis, partnerships are needed. They are multidimensional and expected to address the full spectrum of agendas climate change prompts. “Climate change is not an environmental issue for ministers only; it poses a challenge for all policy makers including [those overseeing issues like] transport and finance,” he said.

There are clear country-wide challenges to take care of. The French co-chair of the session mentioned the Philippines who are again tackled by another typhoon and spend around 5% of their GDP to repair damages. Later that night, the negotiator from the Philippines made a powerful statement on behalf of his country which is widely covered.

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We really need to “abandon silos” (Ki-moon)

There is interesting and exciting work going on between China and the USA with the Centre of Climate Strategies, but I was really exited to learn about the latest research links forming between the developed and the developing world.

Qatar Foundation earlier that day singed with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and will provide a research bridge between the east and west, the north and south, and the developing and the developed world. The institute was founded with great foresight in 1991.

Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, people shared in the enthusiasm and joined hands in believing the east-west conflict might be over and free resources to tackle climate change. “In 1992, people thought about the entire planet, not the east-west conflict,” Professor Schellnhuber, founder of the PIK, said at the signing press conference today.

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(l-r)H.E. Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, Mr. Faisal Al-Suwaidi, H.H. Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Ban Ki-moon, Professor Chellnhuber and Christiana Figueres

The centre aims to take a 360 degree view, focusing on science, technology and policy, dealing with all aspects of climate change, from eteorology to policy (and I would guess that this would include finance as well since it underscored virtually every issue at the conference).

Qatar is located in an arid region, and the centre aims to internationalise the research and bring PIK’s renowned analytical capacity to contribute to global solutions.

Professor Schellnhuber is firmly rooted in fundamental sciences, and the centre shall be set up with the principles of best scientific practices and could lead to the creation of other thinktanks. If the evidence is there, he believes they will be transformed into action. And in applying these principles, I believe that both regions can learn from each other.

This new centre–which has the support of Ban Ki-moon, Christiana Figueres and, last but not least, the leadership of Qatar Foundation, represented in the meeting by Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser and QF president of research, Faisal Al Suwaidi–could contribute substantially to the challenges we are facing. Al Suwaidi believes that they are transforming research in bringing the cooperation together.

Communication and the integration of leading climate change research into the global research community will be as important as bringing the best science. We have to act quickly, and the entire Qscience Team is hoping to work together with the new research centre to help advise on scholarly communication strategies and ensure that the research world will connect quickly and transparently into the development in this region.

Innovative partnerships are needed to advance us all on the global stage. On Friday speaking on behalf of the Qatar Sustainability Network, Noor Jassim al-Thani summed it up perfectly in her closing statement of the high level segment:

Noor Jassim al-Thani speaking at the High Level segment

Noor Jassim al-Thani

“We need partnerships between east and west, north and south, developed and developing world, arid and and non-arid regions–partnerships involving governments, industry, financial institutions, education, research and science. Partnerships which help us here to bridge the knowledge gap.”

The rising importance of technology transfer in the UNFCCC

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Mark Radka (second left), Chief, Energy Branch, UNEP’s Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (DTIE), discusses the proposed structure of the newest body in the UNFCCC, the Climate Technology Centre (CTC)

A new area of focus for the UNFCCC is that of technology transfer. Referred to as the ‘baby’ of mechanisms, technology transfer has gained considerable traction since its establishment as a priority at the 2010 Cancun COP. The reasons behind this involve a pulled focus on ground-level infrastructural work to mitigate and adapt to climate change. This movement is seen as a refreshing complement to the relatively slow push toward carbon emissions pricing and mitigation strategies around established systems. With the developing world eager to move forward, the UNFCCC has grown increasingly aware of the need to research and develop technologies that pull away from systems proven outdated given the climate change science that has been embraced.

Gabriel Blanco, Chair of the Technology Executive Committee, kicked off the high-level side event Experience and Outlook on Climate Technology Transfer saying “since we established the technology mechanism back in Cancun, something new happened under the convention regarding the technology transfer process; for the first time, we opened the door for participation of relevant stakeholders in this field.”

Blanco especially addressed business and private sector members of the audience citing the big opportunity to engage in a UNFCCC process like technology transfer and development—“the door is open now within this tech mechanism,” he said.

The technical arm, he said, gathers and analyzes information in order to provide recommendations to the COP about technology transfer. He said that this arm has been working actively for a year and a half, participating in constructive discussions with committee members, experts and institutions. He said that observers have also sent their views through forms. He said the conversations revolved around creating enabling environments for technology transfer and implementation as well as assessment of barriers to technology in specific cases.

“Through workshops and dialogues on this issue,” he explained, “we were able to draw some key messages related to the importance of the committee–these key messages may be obvious, but you have to think about this in terms of process.” (His description of the key messages follows:)

Blanco said that the challenge is largely directed at the private sector, specifically regarding adaptation and looking closely at the entire cycle of technology development and transfer. The committee needs the private sector on board, not only for mitigation but also for activities in developing countries, he said.

Through technology needs assessments (TNAs), the committee gathered information related to agriculture, forestry and transport sectors among others. “We can identify from the TNA process the main barriers to transfer and development of technology in developing countries. There are several we see so far including institutional capacity, technical capabilities and, of course, finance,” Blanco said.

The most critical concept to consider, he said, is how investors think about the technology cycle given the need for adaptation. The “research development and demonstration” (RD&D), presents significant challenge because of the lack of financial investment around demonstration—yet this is what is needed to ensure that the technology works in any given location. “There’s a lot of risk in the demonstration of the technology,” Blanco said, “that’s why they call it the ‘valley of death.’”

He finished by touching on intellectual property rights (IPR), saying that the message the committee is delivering to COP regarding IPR is that it’s an issue that would benefit from more clarity and attention on a case-by-case basis. “It is difficult to generalize the discussion on IPRs—it’s not closed and we will continue to work and in this topic depending on where the IPR are located.”

Mark Radka, Chief, Energy Branch, UNEP’s Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (DTIE), based his panel presentation on three images of how the technology committee has taken shape as a mechanism over the past year since the parties approved it.

“We had some good partners, and we assembled a consortium of institutions and put in a proposal that was ranked first by an evaluation committee,” he explained. “It’s a mechanism requiring reporting on how the technology is working—at an operational level, we put into place a core—UNEP and United Nations Industrial Development Organization.”

Surrounding this core, Radka described a technical resource pool of 11 institutions in developing and developed countries. These comprise engineers, scientists, lawyers and policy experts who provide, in addition to their expertise, regional understanding and language capabilities.

Beyond the institutional level exists “the real operational arm,” Radka said. “It’s the intention of the parties, and it’s our intention as well, to build on existing networks of institutions with the help of individuals who can contribute to the faster diffusion of climate change mitigation and adaptation technology. We will use this network to provide support to developing countries.”

In the end, Radka stressed that the UN and the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) will need to figure out how to work closely together. “It’s apparent that there is an amount of expertise that exists in UN programs, that bits of the UN system have capabilities depending on their mission … we have collectively a great deal of experience. I’m convinced that we need to tap it within the local context, with a link to national priorities, a link to national strategies and plans.”

Key will be identifying and coaching nationally designated entities (NDEs), he said, making sure everyone is on the same page so that the transfer of information between the NDEs and the Climate Technology Centre (CTC) will flow smoothly.

Fatima Denton, Program Leader for Climate Change Adaptation in Africa, spoke about challenges in least developing countries which are “quite well known but we can’t overstate them,” she said.

The first challenge, she said, is how to scale technology up in the midst of weak economies, particularly where government architecture is still in transition. “Many countries are poorly equipped to deal with these issues; their institutions are 20 to 30 years old and there’s a certain degree of complexity that we haven’t seen before related to the need for institutional renewal in some cases.”

Radka touched on how the CTCN will work with nationally designated entities (NDEs)

Radka touched on how the CTCN will work with nationally designated entities (NDEs) to evaluate technology needs and best fits as well as how to effectively draw investment and based on sound plans and capacity building over the long-term

She said the cost of the transition is high, and that the lack of incentives for governments in least developed countries precludes a move forward in terms of the overall energy transition.

“Many countries in Africa are still firmly gridlocked and are unable to move forward,” she said. “Many countries that were able to use cleaner energy have now moved back because the subsidies are no longer there. We all know about the story related to the Climate Development Mechanism (CDM); many countries have taken advantage of this—China has 70 percent of the finance available so far … Africa has had less than 2 percent.”

Denton emphasized policy-level issues and a need for regulatory bodies that would help developing countries to sustain technologies over time. “There are no institutions firmly rooted to accompany these countries. The problems in Africa in the area of technology are so big, and there is no one country that could really go it alone—an extended family is how you bring this countries together to take advantage of the technologies in place. We need to make sure that the pool of tech is open to a set of countries that have identified their needs.”

Denton concluded that R&D is a particularly big challenge in Africa since countries therein don’t tend to invest a lot in this area. She stressed a need to create more incentives around R&D investment, continent wide.

Joe Bradley, Counselor at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). Touched on the need for intellectual property (IP) systems solutions, saying that the access to technical information is key for the CTCN to function.

This involves making patent information available and he said WIPO offers a number of services to make the information available. He described a database called “Patent Scope” that involves 11 billion patents on technoloiges.

“You can go in and look into these databases and identify all the technology that’s already out there,” he explained.

The next step, he explained, would be analyzing the technology, a service which WIPO addresses with services like patent landscape reports that analyze particular technology areas.

“One recent report was on alternative energy use for desalination,” he said. “Where  it’s being done, who is using it and how it’s working—it’s extremely useful to know what the state-of-the-art is.

“We look forward to contributing to CTCN,” he continued, describing WIPO’s partnerships with the scientific publishing sector and how the organization is making scientific findings available to developing countries. He said WIPO is a “one stop shop” that offers training on how to access patent data and non-patent scientific literature. Of high relevance was his description of WIPO Green, a project specifically designed to assist developing countries through training and access to information on the latest technology available related to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Dr. Jean-Yves Caneill, Head of Climate Policy at the Environmental Defense Fund focused on the demand for electricity worldwide and how that demand is growing rapidly as countries develop. Looking out over the next 50 years, he said the challenge is huge and investments must be made everywhere to offset the dependency on coal

“Coal is not climate friendly, other technologies must come on board and this is the challenge,” he said. “We have different stages of tech and different levels of maturity and we have to address this so as not to make mistakes around policies, so that the technologies can be employed on the ground.”

Interestingly, he said that the technology prospectus report features technologies that, if implemented effectively and globally, would allow for the successful reduction of carbon to 450 ppm levels called for.

“This could be done with the technology available today,” he said. “You face the different barriers that have been explained before—institutional frameworks, market reform, capacity building reform—these are essential if you want to  institutional framework, market reform, capacity building reform address the diffusion and deployment of electricity everywhere. It’s important to develop an enabling environment everywhere.

He stressed that the CTCN will need to look at ways to develop enabling environments so that the private sector invests, worldwide.

“It can be done … we know the conditions where we [the private sector] are making the investments. Working with the CTCN we will be able to bring the real information on the ground and identifiy what will be needed to move from 30 percent [green technology] to 70 percent of the technology onto the ground.”

In the end, Caneill stressed the need to link the CTCN with other bodies in the UNFCCC and with the private entities. The link to the Green Climate Fund (GFC), he said, will be particularly important and linked to nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) that show countries are going in a low-carbon direction. He concluded that NAMAs, the GFC and technology transfer are three parts of a triangle dynamic triangle that could potentially lead to effective green technology implementation.