Geology for Global Development

Geology for Global Development

Event Report: UN Science, Technology and Innovation Forum 2018

Last month GfGD Director, Dr Joel Gill, attended the UN Annual Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With few other, if any, geoscience organisations in attendance we believed it to be important for Geology for Global Development to engage and ensure a voice for geoscience at this significant event. 

**Event Overview**

UN General Assembly resolution 70/1 on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for an annual science, technology and innovation (STI) Forum to discuss cooperation around thematic areas for the implementation of the SDGs. This is expressed in an annual gathering at the UN headquarters in New York, with focused discussion around a subset of the SDGs.

The event this year discussed the science required for “transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies”, including SDGs 6 (water and sanitation), 7 (energy), 11 (sustainable cities), 12 (responsible consumption and production) and 15 (life on land).

The STI Forum aimed to facilitate interactions, networks and partnerships to identify and examine needs and gaps in technologies, scientific cooperation, innovation and capacity-building to support the SDGs. The forum is attended by member states (official national representatives, civil society, the private sector, the scientific community, and United Nations entities (e.g., UNESCO, UN Water).

This was the first time Geology for Global Development has attended this meeting, having previously engaged in a UN scientific meeting around the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction in Geneva in 2016. Given the topics being discussed, and our commitment to ensuring the geoscience community is engaged and actively contributing to the SDGs (and processes around them), we believed it to be of paramount importance that the geoscience community attended and contributed. Given our leadership on geoscience and the SDGs, we made it a priority to attend and ensure a clear voice for geoscience at the heart of global development decision-making.

**How and what did we contribute to this meeting?**

The first thing we had to get to grips with, is understanding HOW to contribute to a meeting like this, different from the typical science conference. The forum included (i) formal panel discussions, followed by interventions from the floor, and (ii) side events. The latter generally allowed for more free-flowing dialogue and unscripted questions from the floor after a panel discussion. The former were a complex mix of science and diplomacy. Each SDG being discussed had a formal panel discussion, with interventions (largely scripted) afterwards to represent the perspectives of a stakeholder group. These interventions were generally made by member states (national representatives), with only a handful throughout the forum from non-member state groups.

Through collaborating with the UN Major Group on Children and Youth (UN MGCY), I was able to shape some intervention statements, and communicate geoscience messages at the meeting. UN MGCY are the UN General Assembly-mandated, official, formal and self-organised space for children and youth (under 30 [Editor: -ish!]), supporting their contribution to and engagement in certain intergovernmental and allied policy processes at the UN (such as this STI Forum). They act as a bridge between young people and the UN system in order to ensure their right to meaningful participation is realised.

By working in coalition with such stakeholder groups it is possible to construct strong, interdisciplinary interventions, that have greater resonance (and chance of being heard) than the voice of an individual or single-interest community. These interventions are captured in the meeting record and can eventually inform other gatherings, such as this week’s High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, attended by ministers from around the world.

UN MGCY at the Science, Technology and Innovation Forum, UN HQ (2018), with GfGD Director at the back (left).

So while the interventions made by UN MGCY were not wholly focused on the geoscience (not a bad thing, interdisciplinarity is essential) – this mechanism ensures perspectives from geoscientists, engineers, economists etc are integrated and heard. Here are some of our contributions to the official interventions:

SDG 7 – Energy. Editing was made to ensure clarity around the provision of energy to the poorest and most vulnerable.

SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities. Text was added which emphasised the role of (i) improved collection, management and integration of environmental, build environment and societal data, and (ii) that the spatial extent of cities does not cease at the surface, and that we encourage cities to develop underground master-plans, based on 3D subsurface models, to strengthen urban resilience as outlined in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

SDG 12 – Sustainable Consumption and Production. Text was added which brought attention to the
expected increase in demand for mineral resources as green technologies are more widely deployed.

In addition we made the following contributions to the less formal side events:

  • Smart Cities. In the context of a session primarily focused on the surface of cities, I emphasised the importance of the sub-surface to urban development was raised, highlighting its relevance to resource management, integrated spatial planning, and disaster risk reduction.
  • Capacity Building. In the context of a discussion about how to build science capacity in policy makers, I noted the importance of training and engaging with scientists to improve the communication flow between these two stakeholder groups. I emphasised the need to build the capacity of the scientific community through UN institutions, and to strengthen understanding of science for policy.
  • Disaster Risk Reduction. In the context of a session which primarily addressed DRR and
    hydrometeorological hazards, I noted the importance of geological hazards, holistic (or ‘multi-hazard’)
    disaster risk reduction that considers all relevant hazards, and dialogue between geologists,
    hydrologists, meteorologists and others.
  • Planetary Boundaries. In the context of a session emphasising green energy and transport technologies, smart technology, and ICT for development, I emphasised the need to consider current and future natural resource requirements. While others noted the need to protect water and air, the need for mineral resources was largely missing from all discussions at the meeting. I gave the example of coltan and batteries for car electrification, referencing this report by the BGS.

Alongside these interventions, the event also provided important opportunities for networking and sharing information about Geology for Global Development, and learning about the United Nations and how to engage effectively.

**What’s Next**

Given the topics being discussed (water, energy, cities, disaster risk reduction, planetary boundaries), the lack of geoscience engagement and attendance was notable, and disappointing. I have sympathy for those expressing frustration that general discussions on expanding green technologies ignore the question of accessing natural resources, or discussions on cities ignore the subsurface. It is not possible to have resilient and sustainable urban environments without comprehensively understanding the subsurface, given (for example) it’s interaction with surface infrastructure or the movement of water and contaminants between the surface and subsurface.

Cities: Opportunities and Challenges for Sustainable Development (GfGD Annual Conference, 2017)

However, if as disciplinary specialists in these aspects of global challenges we don’t prioritise attendance and engagement as part of our knowledge exchange and policy support responsibilities it is understandable to some extent that these factors are ignored. We need policy makers who understand (geo)science, but we also need scientists and scientific organisations passionate about policy.

Greater geoscience leadership on this theme is needed, with international geoscience organisations recognising their social and professional responsibility to give a voice to geoscience at these meetings. Geology for Global Development will be working to facilitate this over the coming months, building relationships with other national and international organisations to provide a stronger and clearer voice to the international geoscience community on sustainable development. We’ll be sharing more at our next annual conference (details coming soon). We’ll also be exploring how we can encourage greater engagement of our network with the United Nations, including through the UN Major Group on Children and Youth (for those in that category).

Discussion at this forum is now feeding into the annual High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, which started earlier this week. Ministers from around the world are gathering to examine progress towards the SDGs.

What is happening after the Fuego eruption in Guatemala? Is climate migration a bad thing? This and more in Jesse Zondervan’s June 2018 #GfGDpicks #SciComm

What is happening after the Fuego eruption in Guatemala? Is climate migration a bad thing? This and more in Jesse Zondervan’s June 2018 #GfGDpicks #SciComm

Each month, Jesse Zondervan picks his favourite posts from geoscience and development blogs/news which cover the geology for global development interest. Here’s a round-up of Jesse’s selections for the last month:

Everything about the Fuego eruption

At the start of this month, Guatemala’s Fuego volcano erupted explosively, costing many lives and destroying properties and infrastructure.

Professor Handley from Macquarie University explains why the eruption was so disastrous, while Professor Little notes the recovery efforts Guatemalans make on their own, without much government input. Sophie Brockmann delves into history and recovers the cultural significance and political intricacies of Guatemalan dealings with volcanoes.

Climate migration: is it a bad thing?

While the world wakes up to the magnitude of climate migration, a key question we will need to ask is: does climate migration pose a problem or an opportunity to climate adaptation? As always, knowledge is power: a team of New York scientists has modelled future migration due to sea level rise in Bangladesh.

Drought: South Africa out, India in

Drought seems to be a trendy topic this month. South Africa has moved out of the national state of drought disaster and is moving on to resilience. At the same time, India is approaching a long term water crisis and a map of desertification by the EU Joint Research Centre shows building pressures on the world’s resources.

Somewhat reassuring is the opportunity for mitigation that MIT researchers give us. They conclude that climate action can limit Asia’s growing water shortages.

This month a lot was written on climate change adaptation, but as well as disaster risk reduction and sustainability. I would like to highlight this one question: What’s the right goal – resilience, well-being or transformation?

Go ahead and explore:

The Fuego Volcano Eruption and Adaptation

Fuego volcano: the deadly pyroclastic flows that have killed dozens in Guatemala at The Conversation

How Guatemala has dealt with volcanoes over the centuries by Sophie Brockmann at The Conversation

From Kilauea to Fuego: three things you should know about volcano risk by Heather Handley at The Conversation

After volcano eruption, Guatemalans lead their own disaster recovery by Walter E. Little at The Conversation

Migration due to Climate Change and Natural Hazards

Problem to opportunity: migration in times of climate change by Arthur Wyns at The Ecologist

World wakes up to climate migration by Harjeet Singh at India Climate Dialogue

Universal migration predicts human movements under climate change by Simon Davies at Physics World

How Will People Move as Climate Changes? At State of the Planet

Droughts

India faces worst long term water crisis in its history -government think tank at Thomson Reuters Foundation

National state of the drought disaster expires at South Africa news

Is Australia’s current drought caused by climate change? It’s complicated at The Conversation

New World Atlas of Desertification shows unprecedented pressure on planet’s resources at the European Commission Joint Research Centre

Climate action can limit Asia’s growing water shortages at ScienceDaily

Sustainability

Science migrations hold the stage at èStoria, Gorizia at The World Academy of Sciences

What’s the right goal – resilience, well-being or transformation? By Laurie Goering at Thomson Reuters Foundation

Climate Change Adaptation

Alien apocalypse: Can any civilization make it through climate change? At ScienceDaily

Economic models significantly underestimate climate change risks at the London School of Economics and Political Science

Better be safe than sorry: Economic optimization risks tipping of Earth system elements at ScienceDaily

 

Follow Jesse Zondervan @JesseZondervan. Follow us @Geo_Dev& Facebook.

New mining frontiers: Digging into the unknown

New mining frontiers: Digging into the unknown

While climate change occupies the headlines as our biggest long-term concern for sustainability,  there may well be further anthropogenic challenges that arise in the next century as we disrupt the delicate interplay of natural ecological and geological cycles to satisfy the need for resources of our ever-growing population. The mining industry makes for a pertinent example: it sits on the verge of new key locations for digging – from the deep ocean to deep space – the consequences of which may not be fully explored.

The shift to a low-carbon economy is likely to entail an increase in demand for a wide variety of minerals. A 2017 report from the World Bank highlights the growth in demand for Lithium, Platinum and Lead, for new battery technology and rare earth element demand for solar and wind technology is also likely to increase.

As demand for these metals and resources rises, the cost and difficulty of extracting them rises too. Millennia of mining have exhausted the easy-to-access deposits for most metals, and the ratio of exploration sites that turn into actual mines is in the order of 1 in 1000. Combined with a decline in the overall quality of ore that is mined, it’s not hard to see why mining industry strategists are looking to previously unusable locations for their new mining ventures.

Geologists have known for a long time that the sea floor contains extensive mineral deposits of a wide variety of types; from ferro-manganese nodules to ores linked to submarine volcanism, economic minerals are spread across the global ocean floor. Until recently, the economics of dredging these sea beds for minerals have not been favourable, and technology has been too rudimentary to make an effective industry out of this approach. Now, however, prices and demand for these minerals are high enough that seafloor mining is beginning to take place in a few locations around the world.

Extraction like this could, of course, have major consequences. Biodiversity in the deep ocean is, even today, poorly understood, so strip mining these systems before we explore them fully could cause untold damage. At a small scale, this kind of mining might only have more limited, local impacts, but for the first time in the history of human society we have the capability to affect biological systems and geological cycles at a global scale, to a degree that might have significant and deleterious effects.

For example, mining waste on land can lead to contamination of local water supplies with acidic runoff. Deep sea mining could similarly lead to acidification of sea water, which could have far reaching consequences. Marine creatures living in the ocean are often very finely tuned to the chemistry of the water they’re bathed in; even small changes in acidity have been linked to increased coral bleaching and death. The risk of heavy metal pollution has also been pointed out from sand and mud kicked up by mining activity as it disturbs the sea bed; these toxic metals could cause problems both the sea life and to humans, as the fishery stocks would become increasingly exposed to heavy metals. The global extent of ocean currents mean that these effects wouldn’t be limited to the vicinity of the mining, as chemicals would be mixed into the whole ocean over time.

Unlike mining on the surface, the spread of this kind of pollution could be truly global; ocean currents could eventually spread the pollutants, and the mining itself would hardly be limited to a specific locality. Humans are poorly positioned to deal with this kind of crisis; a negative impact on the ocean – a global resource, not owned by any individual nation state – is a classic ‘tragedy of the commons’, much like carbon dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere. Given the lack of ownership of the oceans, individual states or mining companies lack strong incentives to regulate the exploitation of such sea-floor resources. Moreover, the globalised nature of the extractive industry means this could be a truly significant impact; the combined revenue of the top 40 surface mining companies is approximately half a trillion dollars, dwarfing all but the largest national economies, affording such corporations major financial clout to explore and develop mining on the sea floor.

At the dawn of the fossil fuel era in the Industrial revolution, the risks of burning coal, and later oil and gas, were poorly understood in comparison to today. Some authors suggest that since we are now much more aware of environmental issues, we are better placed to assess the future risks and rewards of deep sea mining than the earlier resources for which we mined and drilled.

It is perhaps worth pointing out, though, that with the range out impacts still poorly constrained even as dredging begins, it is incumbent upon geologists to explore and quantify the potential risks; academic research must keep pace with the growth of industry.

Even if deep sea mining does not have major, long-lasting impacts, there is one other mining frontier for which the risks are nearly totally unconstrained: asteroids.

It may sound like science fiction, but serious consideration is being given to mineral resources on near Earth asteroids. Given their potential value (some estimates – of the asteroid Psyche suggest mineral resources worth a quintillion dollars – an amount of money that’s basically inconceivable), it’s not surprising that enterprising drillers are looking up, as well as to the sea floor. Again, though, research into the potential geological hazards needs to be undertaken well before such ventures are carried out.

Our ever increasing environmental footprint has the potential to spread to new and poorly studied horizons, and we should endeavour not to make the same mistakes as we did with fossil fuels.

Robert Emberson is a science writer, currently based in Vancouver, Canada. He can be contacted via Twitter (@RobertEmberson) or via his website (www.robertemberson.com).

**This article expresses the personal opinion of the author. These opinions may not reflect official policy positions of Geology for Global Development.**

Demonstrating the Importance of Geoscience in the Transformation Towards Sustainable and Resilient Societies

Next week the UN Annual Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will discuss the science required for “transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies”. Discussions will focus on SDGs 6 (water and sanitation), 7 (energy), 11 (sustainable cities), 12 (responsible consumption and production) and 15 (life on land).  

This forum will bring together member states, civil society, the private sector, the scientific community, and United Nations entities. It aims to facilitate interactions, networks and partnerships to identify and examine needs and gaps in technologies, scientific cooperation, innovation and capacity-building to support the SDGs. We believe it is critical that the global geoscience community is represented, and will therefore attend and ensure a clear voice for geoscience at the heart of global development decision-making.

The natural environment is a key pillar of sustainable development. Research, innovation and improved communication and use of geological science (or ‘geoscience’) is therefore essential to delivering sustainable and resilient societies. For example,

  • Mapping and Understanding the Sub-Surface. In a sustainable and resilient society, interactions between the surface and sub-surface are understood and integrated into urban planning to ensure that development is safe, hazards are mitigated against, and environmental impact is minimised. Geological maps, geophysical surveys, and the integration of geoscience data to develop ground models can generate an understanding of the sub-surface and support effective urban planning.
  • Resource Management. In a sustainable and resilient society, everyone has sufficient and reliable access to energy, clean water, and the materials required for sustainable, resilient cities. This requires the identification and careful management of natural resources, including water, minerals, and building aggregates. The transition to renewable energies, such as solar panels and wind turbines, and electric transport will require a wide range of minerals, such as cadmium, lithium, molybdenum, selenium, and tellurium, as well as rare earth elements.
  • Waste Management. In a sustainable and resilient society, less pollutants are generated, and those that are generated are better managed to reduce the environmental impact of society. Pollutants can take many forms, and these can impact both the surface and sub-surface. For example, while mining may be necessary to supply the materials needed for green technologies, this can generate large amounts of waste which needs to be managed carefully to avoid chemicals leaching into groundwater.
  • Reducing Disaster Risk. In a sustainable and resilient society, the focus is on reducing risk (and preventing disasters), rather than accepting or increasing risk (and responding to disasters). Resilient communities, water supplies, energy infrastructure, and terrestrial ecosystems require effective disaster risk reduction. Research on the processes and potential impacts of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, landslides, subsidence, and other geological hazards can help stakeholders to understand and reduce risk.

Sustainable and resilient societies, therefore, depend on access to geoscience information and the expertise to interpret this, as well as meaningful engagement by the geoscience community. The networks and partnerships being developed at the UN next week, to identify how scientific cooperation and innovation can support the SDGs, need to include geoscientists working across a broad array of specialisms.

Since the SDGs were agreed in 2015, we have been at the forefront of mobilising and equipping the geological science community to engage and help deliver this vision. We are proud to continue our international leadership on this topic, and will be a champion of the geosciences next week at the UN Headquarters.

Follow updates on Twitter – #GfGDatUNHQ

Read more about this event: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/18157Forum_Concept_Note_April_26_draft.pdf

Read more about Geology and the Sustainable Development Goals: http://www.episodes.org/view/1835