Category Archives: EARTH WATCH

Updates from ITU

G20: Call to action on international standards
ITU – Organizers of the Riyadh International Standards Summit held on 4 November 2020 issued a call to action for the recognition, support and adoption of international standards. This is the first ever summit on standardization held within G20-related activities.

The Riyadh International Standards Summit was initiated by Saudi Standards, Metrology and Quality Organization (SASO) and was organized with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), International Organization for Standardization (ISO), International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Saudi Communications & Information Technology Commission (CITC), and Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA). The event was hosted by SASO and the G20 Saudi Secretariat as part of the International Conferences Programme honouring the G20 Saudi presidency year, 2020. It forms part of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s efforts, during its presidency, to enhance cooperation between countries of the world in various fields.

Originally intended to take place in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which currently holds the G20 Presidency, in light of the global pandemic, the Summit instead took place virtually and welcomed participants from all over the world.

The Riyadh International Standards Summit concluded with the call to action for “each country to recognize, support, and adopt international standards to accelerate digital transformation in all sectors of the economy to help overcome global crises, such as COVID-19, and contribute towards the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”. more>

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Updates from McKinsey

Optimizing water treatment with online sensing and advanced analytics
Overlaying real-time advanced analytics on data from online sensing can help to stabilize operations and increase capacity in water-treatment facilities.
By Jay Agarwal, Lapo Mori, Fritz Nauck, Johnathan Oswalt, Dickon Pinner, Robert Samek, and Pasley Weeks – Metals and mining companies are adapting to an operating environment in which water is highly regulated, experiences unforeseen supply shocks, and carries substantial social value. By 2024, water-operating expenses for these businesses are estimated to increase by a 1 to 4 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR), with a 4 to 7 percent CAGR expected for water-capital spending. Consequently, these metals and mining companies have made significant investments—an estimated $15 billion in 2019 alone—to reduce water withdrawal and increase water efficiency in operations, as well as mitigate reputational risk.

Digital tools can optimize water-management operations—offering stability, reduced costs, and deferred expenditures for new capacity. This article describes the application of such tools in water treatment (see, “The five domains of water management”).

Central to sustainable operations is water reuse, wherein water is reclaimed after processing and treatment (to remove metals, reagents, or suspended solids). Reuse obviates the need for additional fresh water; it significantly reduces water-operating expenses and is critical to addressing low water availability in stressed areas. Anglo-American, for instance, has pledged to adopt techniques that will allow for more than 80 percent water reuse at their mining facilities, saving an estimated $15 million per year. more>

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Reviving transatlantic relations after Trump

If Joe Biden were to win the White House, transatlantic relations could return to default or be transformed—with much depending on how Europe reacted.
By Max Bergmann – A political cliché is rehearsed every four years in the United States: ‘This is the most important election of our lifetime.’ Yet it is hard to think of a more important election in US history—rarely, if ever, has the country faced two such sharply divergent paths.

All its deep-seated divisions have been exposed in 2020. Covid-19 has foregrounded the jaw-dropping inequality, the frailty of a for-profit healthcare system and the impact of a generation-long, conservative effort to weaken the functioning of government. When Americans needed the state, the state couldn’t cope.

Economically, Wall Street hasn’t missed a beat but queues for food banks grow and ‘for lease’ signs populate vacant shop fronts. Socially, the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May and the subsequent protests—believed to be the largest in US history—brought into the mainstream a conversation on systemic racism and exposed the abusive nature of law enforcement, militarized and immunized from public sensitivity after ‘9/11’.

Globally, as Covid-19 struck, the US withdrew from the world, failing to lead or even participate in a transnational response. Indeed, in the midst of a pandemic, the administration led by Donald Trump pulled out of the World Health Organization, its ineptness an international embarrassment.

This does make the coming election existential. If Trump were to be re-elected president, all these trends would worsen—with dire implications for the transatlantic alliance. If not, it might be thought an incoming Democratic administration, facing such domestic turmoil, would relegate foreign policy to the second tier. But that wouldn’t be the case if Joe Biden were to prevail.

The crises of the last year have been humbling for the US and there is broad recognition that it will need allies and partners as never before. Biden would be a foreign-policy president. During the administration of Barack Obama he was a central and active foreign-policy player. His experience as chair of the prestigious Senate Foreign Relations Committee was, after all, a major factor in Obama selecting him as running mate. For the last two decades, Biden has been consumed with international relations and his inner circle of trusted advisers are experienced professionals.

A new administration would therefore hit the ground running. The question is: where would they run to? more>

A Message From the Future II: The Years of Repair

Can we imagine a better future? If we stop talking about what winning actually looks like, isn’t that the same as giving up?
By Naomi Klein – Another Covid-19 lesson we wanted to highlight had to do with why the abuses that long predated the pandemic suddenly received so much more attention during it. It’s a lesson, perhaps, about the relationship between speed and solidarity. Because for those of us privileged enough to self-isolate, the virus forced a radical and sudden slowdown, a paring and editing down of life to its essentials that was undertaken in a bid to stop the virus’s spread. But that slowness had other, unintended effects as well. It turns out that when the deafening roar of capitalism-as-usual quiets, even a little, our capacity to notice things that were hidden in plain view may grow and expand.

There is no one answer or simple explanation for why we find ourselves in the throes of the deepest and most sustained public reckoning in a half-century with the evil that is white supremacy. But we cannot discount the “solidarity in vulnerability that the pandemic has generated,” as Eddie Glaude Jr. put it, while discussing his brilliant and highly relevant biography of James Baldwin, “Begin Again.” In forcing all of us to confront the porousness of our own bodies in relationship to the vast web of other bodies that sustain us and the people we love — caregivers, farmers, supermarket clerks, street cleaners, and more — the coronavirus instantly exploded the cherished, market-manufactured myth of the individual as self-made island.

For all of these reasons and more, as we searched for a unifying principle that could animate a future worth fighting for, we settled on “The Years of Repair.” The call to repair a deep brokenness has roots in many radical and religious traditions. And it provides a framework expansive enough to connect the interlocking crises in our social, economic, political, informational, and ecological spheres.

Repair work speaks to the need to repair our broken infrastructures of care: the schools, hospitals, and elder care facilities serving the poor and working classes, infrastructures that failed the test of this virus again and again. It also calls on us to repair the vast damage done to the natural world, to clean up toxic sites, rehabilitate wild landscapes, invest in nonpolluting energy sources. It is also a call to begin to repair our stuff rather than endlessly replace it in an ever-accelerating cycle of planned obsolescence — what the film refers to as “the right to repair.” more>

Have our governments become too powerful during COVID-19?

By Yee-Fui Ng – In the fight against the coronavirus, the Australian government has enacted a series of measures that have expanded executive powers. These include the use of smartphone contact-tracing technology, mandatory isolation arrangements and the closure of borders and businesses.

While Australians seem broadly supportive of this type of government control in times of crisis, critics have expressed concerns about the long-term implications of these measures for individual rights.

There are a few salient questions: how does executive power accelerate during a pandemic — and why is this a cause for concern? And what type of oversight of executive power should there be in a democracy?

The government of the day exercises executive power to implement programs and policies. Our democratic system dictates that the use of executive power is checked by the other two branches of government: the judiciary and legislature.

But in exceptional times of disaster and crisis, the executive government tends to take a pre-eminent role. Under our biosecurity and public health laws, governments can declare states of emergency and disaster, which give them significant coercive powers.

As crises such as pandemics, disasters or wars threaten the very existence of the nation, the rationale is the government needs these enhanced powers to protect the people.

By contrast, the parliament and courts tend to stand on the sidelines and reduce their scrutiny of these powers.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen an expansion of executive power at both the federal and state levels. more>

Social democracy in one corner of the world

Branko Milanovic argues that ‘stop the world, we want to get off’ is no basis for a revival of progressive politics.
By Branko Milanovic – Caught between relentless Trumpian protectionism and xenophobia, on the one hand, and the neoliberal coalition of sexual liberators and money bagmen on the other, the left in rich countries seems bereft of new ideas. And worse than lacking new ideas is trying to restore a world gone by, which goes against the grain of modern life and the modern economy.

et this is an exercise in which some parts of the left are engaged. I have in mind several essays in The Great Regression, a book I reviewed here, a recent piece by Chantal Mouffe and, perhaps most overtly, Paul Collier’s The Future of Capitalism (reviewed here and here). Dani Rodrik provided early ideological ammunition for this point of view with his celebrated ‘trilemma’. It is also the context within which my Capitalism, Alone was recently reviewed by Robert Kuttner in the New York Review of Books.

This project aims to recreate the conditions of around 1950 to 1980, which was indeed the period of social-democratic flourishing. Although many people tend to present the period in excessively bright hues, there is no doubt it was in many respects an extraordinarily successful period for the west: economic growth was high, western nations’ incomes were converging, inequality was relatively low, inter-class mobility was higher than today, social mores were becoming more relaxed and egalitarian and the western working class was richer than three-quarters of humankind (and could feel, as Collier writes, proud and superior to the rest of the world). There is much to be nostalgic about.

But that success occurred under very special conditions, none of which can be recreated. What were they?

First, a very large portion of the global workforce was not competing with workers of the first world. Socialist economies, China and India all followed autarkic policies, by design or historical accident. Secondly, capital did not move much. There were not only capital restrictions but foreign investments were often the target of nationalization and even the technical means to move large amounts of money seamlessly did not exist. more>

We have to accelerate clean energy innovation to curb the climate crisis. Here’s how.

A detailed road map for building a US energy innovation ecosystem.
By David Roberts – “Innovation” is a fraught concept in climate politics. For years, it was used as a kind of fig leaf to cover for delaying tactics, as though climate progress must wait on some kind of technological breakthrough or miracle. That left climate advocates with an enduring suspicion toward the notion, and hostility toward those championing it.

Lately, though, that has changed. Arguably, some Republicans in Congress are still using innovation as a way to create the illusion of climate concern (without any conflict with fossil fuel companies). But among people serious about the climate crisis, it is now widely acknowledged that hitting the world’s ambitious emissions targets will require both aggressive deployment of existing technologies and an equally aggressive push to improve those technologies and develop nascent ones.

There is legitimate disagreement about the ratio — about how far and how fast existing, mature technologies can go — but there is virtually no analyst who thinks the current energy innovation system in the US is adequate to decarbonize the country by midcentury. It needs reform.

What kind of reform? Here, as in other areas of climate policy, there is increasing alignment across the left-of-center spectrum. Two recent reports illustrate this.

The first — a report so long they’re calling it a book — is from a group of scholars at the Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), led by energy scholar Varun Sivaram; it is the first in what will be three volumes on what CGEP is calling a “National Energy Innovation Mission.” The second is from the progressive think tank Data for Progress, on “A Progressive Climate Innovation Agenda,” accompanied by a policy brief and some polling.

Both reports accept the International Energy Agency (IEA) conclusion that “roughly half of the reductions that the world needs to swiftly achieve net-zero emissions in the coming decades must come from technologies that have not yet reached the market today.” There are reasons to think this might be an overly gloomy assessment, but whether it’s 20 percent or 50 percent, aggressive innovation will be required to pull it off.

Both reports set out to put some meat on the bones of a clean energy innovation agenda. And they both end up in roughly the same place, with roughly the same set of policy recommendations. more>

Updates from McKinsey

Holding warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels could limit the most dangerous and irreversible effects of climate change.
The 1.5-degree challenge
McKinsey – All of the 1.5°C scenarios would require major business, economic, and societal shifts—each enormous in its own right, and with intricate interdependencies. We identified five critical shifts and determined what it would take for them to occur.

1. Reform food and forestry

2. Electrify our lives

3. Reshape industrial operations

4. Decarbonize power and fuel

5. Ramp up carbon management and markets
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How Leaders Can Regain Trust in Untrusting Times

By Gregory P. Shea – Google employees protest an attempt to silence their activism. Facebook employees stage a virtual walkout. Amazon employees protest over workplace safety, and a company vice president resigns over their firings. Employees at Target and Walmart protest as well. Print and broadcast media struggle with various policies, and prominent journalists resign at the The Philadelphia Inquirer and The New York Times. The Washington Post reports on research findings that the COVID-19 pandemic will undermine trust in government for decades.

Isolated data points? Maybe. A sign of the times? Perhaps. Regardless, leaders should take note.

First, leadership is a relationship. No relationship, no leadership. One or more people allow another person to influence their behavior in a manner or direction that the other wishes. That influence can and does come from a wide variety of sources. But regardless of source, no such relationship means no followers, and no followers means no leaders and no leadership. As one Wharton Executive Education participant put it: “We refer to a person who sets the direction for our travel as a ‘leader.’ We refer to a person traveling without followers as ‘a bloke out for a walk.’”

Second, societal and organizational elites have, for decades, chiseled away at their relationship with followers. Systematic shredding of long-standing “do your job, keep your job” cultures in the last 20 to 30 years of the 20th century eviscerated the psychological contract between employer and employee, even as employers complained about the remarkable demise of employee loyalty. Since 1978, CEO pay has increased 1,000%, compared with 11.9% for average workers. CEOs now make 278 times as much as the average worker, up from 20 times in 1965. Trust in government has fallen from about 70% to under 50% over the same period.

Few visible elites paid any appreciable price in the wake of the financial crisis (unlike after the S&L crisis of the 1980s and 1990s), and those who did were frequently seen loading up their wagons with gold before heading out of town and into “retirement.” more>

Updates from McKinsey

india’s turning point: An economic agenda to spur growth and jobs
A clarion call is sounding for India to put growth on a sustainably faster track and meet the aspirations of its growing workforce.
By Shirish Sankhe, Anu Madgavkar, Gautam Kumra, Jonathan Woetzel, Sven Smit, and Kanmani Chockalingam – India is at a decisive point in its journey toward prosperity. The economic crisis sparked by COVID-19 could spur reforms that return the economy to a high-growth track and create gainful jobs for 90 million workers to 2030; letting go of this opportunity could risk a decade of economic stagnation. A new report from the McKinsey Global Institute identifies a reform agenda that could be implemented in the next 12 to 18 months. It aims to raise productivity and incomes for workers, small and midsize firms, and large businesses, keeping India in the ranks of the world’s outperforming emerging economies.

A clarion call is sounding for India to put growth on a sustainably faster track and meet the aspirations of its growing workforce. Over the decade to 2030, India needs to create at least 90 million new nonfarm jobs to absorb the 60 million new workers who will enter the workforce based on current demographics, and an additional 30 million workers who could move from farm work to more productive nonfarm sectors. If an additional 55 million women enter the labor force, at least partially correcting historical underrepresentation, India’s job creation imperative would be even greater.

For gainful and productive employment growth of this magnitude , India’s GDP will need to grow by 8.0 to 8.5 percent annually over the next decade, or about double the 4.2 percent rate of growth in fiscal year 2020. Given the uncertainties about economic outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic, our analysis looks at scenarios beginning in fiscal year 2023, although many of our proposed actions would start well before then, and in fact be implemented in the next 12 to 18 months.

Net employment would need to grow by 1.5 percent per year from 2023 to 2030, similar to the average rate that India achieved from 2000 to 2012, but much higher than the flat net employment experienced from 2013 to 2018. At the same time, India will need to maintain productivity growth at 6.5 to 7.0 percent per year, the same as it achieved from 2013 to 2018. The two objectives are not contradictory; indeed, employment cannot grow sustainably without high productivity growth, and vice versa.

If India fails to introduce measures to address prepandemic trends of flat employment and slowing economic growth, and does not manage the shock of the crisis adequately, its economy could expand by just 5.5 to 6.0 percent from 2023 to 2030, with a decadal growth of just 5 percent and absorb only about six million new workers, marking a decade of lost opportunity. more>

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