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Disruptive technology applications and the Future of Food

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While food security is a global issue, its impacts are all too often hidden. Aiming to address global demand for food, we have created highly complex supply chains that are not transparent and difficult to trace end-to-end. From food fraud to food-borne illness and food loss caused by inefficiencies in the supply chain, lack of production and supply chain visibility affects us all, and it is often the vulnerable and invisible in our society who are the first to suffer. The World Economic Forum’s new report, Innovation with a Purpose: Improving Traceability in Food Value Chains through Technology

investigates the role of disruptive technology applications capable of effectively tracing such inefficiencies in food value chains.

The World Economic Forum’s Innovation with a Purpose Platform is a large-scale partnership and project accelerator that aims to harness the transformative power of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to better address food-system challenges.

Essential to the well-being of people and the planet, food holds a critical role in human societies. But fundamental transformation is needed to attain the aspiration for an inclusive, efficient, sustainable, nutritious and healthy food system. Nearly one-third of global food production is currently wasted, and yet nearly 800 million people are chronically undernourished. In addition, food systems are responsible for 25% of global greenhouse-gas emissions. The World Health Organization estimates that 600 million people fall ill and 420,000 die each year due to contaminated food.

Traceability will address consumer demand for food production transparency and further enhance the ability to identify, respond to and even prevent food safety issues. Furthermore, it could reduce the exposure to outbreak of food risks by making it faster, more efficient and more feasible to identify a source of food contamination precisely, thereby mitigating the impact.

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution is transforming food systems before our eyes. But we cannot take its benefits for granted, especially in developing countries where the value chain is dominated by smallholder farmers and small and medium food enterprises. Now is the time to look at emerging technologies and ask ourselves what it is we can do, on the policy and advocacy side, to ensure they are moving the world in the direction of inclusive and sustainable development,” said Juergen Voegele, Senior Director, Food and Agriculture Global Practice, World Bank.

The innovative solutions will build on a range of transformative technologies such as blockchain, internet of things and food-sensing technologies, and offers a powerful opportunity to improve information about the provenance, safety, efficiency and sustainability of food and food supplies.

“A transformation in food systems is needed to nourish the growing global population in a sustainable manner. There is enormous potential to leverage the power of disruptive technologies to transform food systems so that it enhances the lives of millions of people. The Government of the Netherlands is committed to support linking of such technologies in the agri-food sector to local innovation systems in an inclusive and sustainable way to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals” said Sigrid Kaag, Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands.

The report also identifies several areas for collaboration with a focus on “pathways to scale” – policies, standards and economic models – that help support the inclusive scaling of new food-related technology solutions that are critical to support global poverty alleviation goals.

“Disruptive technologies like digital agriculture can accelerate implementation and adoption of solutions across the global food chain and allow mitigation of critical food safety concerns. What this timely report highlights is that for benefits from these technologies to be truly inclusive and maximized, there need to be new forms of multistakeholder collaboration focused on empowering small-scale producers in developing and emerging economies who will face barriers to adoption. The report is part of the Innovation with a Purpose Platform from the World Economic Forum’s Centre for Global Public Goods, which promotes rapid and scaled innovation in public-private cooperation platforms”, said Dominic Waughray, Managing Director and Head of the Centre for Global Public Goods of the World Economic Forum.

The Innovation with a Purpose platform launched today, aiming to harness the power of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies to better address food system challenges. It will support global, regional and national leaders in directing policies, investment and new collaboration towards deploying technology innovations at scale to meet the needs of the food and agriculture sector.

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WEF Announces Global Technology Governance Summit and Flagship Report

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The World Economic Forum today published its flagship Global Technology Governance

Report in advance of its upcoming Global Technology Governance Summit. The summit will be held virtually and in Tokyo, Japan, from 6 to 7 April 2021. The central focus will be the transformation experienced as a result of COVID-19 and its technological impact on society, businesses, and governments. The theme of the meeting is Harnessing New Technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

“Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies can play a significant role in helping societies emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever” shared Murat Sönmez, Managing Director, World Economic Forum. However, if not directed with purpose, the Fourth Industrial Revolution could exacerbate inequality; therefore, proactive steps must be taken to ensure technology adoption does not heighten abuse of power, bias, wealth disparities, exclusion and loss of livelihoods.”

Efforts to recover from COVID-19 have triggered an influx of innovations in work, collaboration, distribution and service delivery – and shifted many customer behaviours. While these technologies can help drive enormous social breakthroughs and economic value, they can also be misused.

New governance models are required to fill gaps, enhance technology’s benefits and avoid harm. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the urgent need to address these gaps.

The World Economic Forum and Deloitte produced a practical handbook to examine some of the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s most critical applications. The report aims to address these technologies’ governance challenges in a post-pandemic world so they can reach their full potential.

“Every industrial revolution has reshaped economies and social structures in ways that have defined local, regional and global history. The technologies driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution are already presenting opportunities and challenges we can only address through a forward-looking and innovative approach to governance,” said William D. Eggers, Executive Director of the Deloitte Center for Government Insights. “The question is, how can we harness and shape this disruption in a way that promotes global economic recovery, expands human opportunity and increases cooperation and security?”

Global Technology Governance Report 2021

The analysis revealed common challenges across the five Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies, focused on:

· Artificial intelligence (AI)

· Blockchain

· Drones and unmanned air systems

· Internet of things (IoT)

· Mobility (including autonomous vehicles)

These challenges include a lack of regulation, misuse of technology, and addressing cross-border differences. For instance, one estimate suggests that bitcoin accounts for more than 90% of ransomware payments. The lack of regulation of facial recognition technologies and incidents of misuse by law enforcement agencies has caused a backlash against this technology throughout the world.

There are common themes in what makes technology governance effective. For example, many governing bodies are unprepared for the legal consequences of facial recognition and other transformative technologies – much less the ethical implications. The report profiles a series of innovative governance and regulatory frameworks to address these and many other challenges.

Governing these new technologies will require new principles, rules and protocols that promote innovation while mitigating social costs. This report aims to help governments, innovators and other stakeholders understand the current challenges.

The study will enable conversations across a broad cross-section of stakeholders to partner on technology governance globally.

Global Technology Governance Summit 2021

Solving this dilemma requires a more agile approach to governing advanced technologies, creating public-private partnerships and managing business models. To that end, the World Economic Forum, as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation, is convening the first Global Technology Governance Summit virtually and in Tokyo, Japan, on 6-7 April 2021 in close collaboration with the Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network launched in 2017.

This global network comprises more than 50 governments and international organizations as well as 150 companies. The summit will have 250 on-site participants with 300 more joining virtually.

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COVID-19 could see over 200 million more pushed into extreme poverty

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Children play outside a metal polishing workshop in a slum in Uttar Pradesh, India. © UNICEF/Niklas Halle'n

An additional 207 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty by 2030, due to the severe longterm impact of the coronavirus pandemic, bringing the total number to more than a billion, a new study from the UN Development Programme (UNDP) has found. 

According to the study, released on Thursday, such a “high damage” scenario would mean a protracted recovery from COVID-19, anticipating that 80 per cent of the pandemic-induced economic crisis would continue over a decade. 

Not a foregone conclusion 

The gloomy scenario, is however, “not a foregone conclusion”. 

A tight focus on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), could slow the rise of extreme poverty – lifting 146 million from its grip – and even exceed the development trajectory the world was on before the pandemic, UNDP said

Such an ambitious but feasible “SDG push” scenario would also narrow the gender poverty gap, and reduce the female poverty headcount, even taking into account the current impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency added. 

A “Baseline COVID” scenario, based on current mortality rates and the most recent growth projections by the International Monetary Fund, would result in 44 million more people living in extreme poverty by 2030 compared to the development trajectory the world was on before the pandemic. 

COVID-19 ‘a tipping point’ 

Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator, highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic is a “tipping point” and the future would depend on decisions made today. 

“As this new poverty research highlights, the COVID-19 pandemic is a tipping point, and the choices leaders take now could take the world in very different directions. We have an opportunity to invest in a decade of action that not only helps people recover from COVID-19, but that re-sets the development path of people and planet towards a fairer, resilient and green future.” 

The concerted SDG interventions suggested by the study combine behavioural changes through nudges for both governments and citizens, such as improved effectiveness and efficiency in governance and changes in consumption patterns of food, energy and water.  

The proposed interventions also focus on global collaboration for climate action, additional investments in COVID-19 recovery, and the need for improved broadband access and technology innovation. 

The study was jointly prepared by UNDP and the Pardee Center for International Futures at the University of Denver. It assesses the impact of different COVID-19 recovery scenarios on sustainable development, and evaluates multidimensional effects of the pandemic over the next ten years. 

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Cut fossil fuels production to ward off ‘catastrophic’ warming

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Countries must decrease production of fossil fuels by 6 per cent per year, between 2020 and 2030, if the world is to avert “catastrophic” global temperature rise, a new UN-backed report has found. 

Released, on Wednesday, in the shadows of the coronavirus pandemic, the Production Gap Report also revealed that while the pandemic and resulting lockdowns led to “short-term drops” in coal, oil and gas production, pre-COVID plans and post-COVID stimulus measures point to a continuation of increasing fossil fuel production. 

“As we seek to reboot economies following the COVID-19 pandemic, investing in low-carbon energy and infrastructure will be good for jobs, for economies, for health, and for clean air,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UN Environment Programme (UNEP).  

“Governments must seize the opportunity to direct their economies and energy systems away from fossil fuels, and build back better towards a more just, sustainable, and resilient future.” 

The Production Gap Report, produced jointly by research institutions – Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), Overseas Development Institute, and E3G – and UNEP, measures the “gap” between the aspirations of the Paris Agreement on climate change and countries’ planned production of coal, oil, and gas. 

The report also comes at a potential turning point, according to the author organizations, as the global pandemic prompts unprecedented government action – and as major economies, including China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea, have pledged to reach net-zero emissions. 

‘Recover better together’ 

The 2020 edition found that the “production gap” remains large: countries plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with a 1.5-degree Celsius temperature limit. 

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that the report showed “without a doubt” that the production and use of fossil needs to decrease quickly if the world is to achieve Paris Agreement goals. 

“This is vital to ensure both a climate-safe future and strong, sustainable economies for all countries – including those most affected by the shift from grey to green,” he said. 

“Governments must work on diversifying their economies and supporting workers, including through COVID-19 recovery plans that do not lock in unsustainable fossil fuel pathways but instead share the benefits of green and sustainable recoveries. We can and must recover better together.” 

Use COVID-19 recovery plans 

The report outlined key areas of action, providing policymakers with options to start winding down fossil fuels as they enact COVID-19 recovery plans. 

“Governments should direct recovery funds towards economic diversification and a transition to clean energy that offers better long-term economic and employment potential,” said Ivetta Gerasimchuk, report co-author and lead for sustainable energy supplies at IISD. 

She also highlighted that the pandemic-driven demand shock and the plunge of oil prices this year once again demonstrated the vulnerability of many fossil-fuel-dependent regions and communities. 

“The only way out of this trap is diversification of these economies beyond fossil fuels,” Ms. Gerasimchuk added. 

A ‘clear’ solution 

The report also urged reduction of existing government support for fossil fuels, introduction of restrictions on production, and stimulus funds for green investments. 

Michael Lazarus, report co-author and the head of SEI’s US Center, underscored “research is abundantly clear, we face severe climate disruption if countries continue to produce fossil fuels at current levels, let alone at their planned increases.” 

“The research is similarly clear on the solution: government policies that decrease both the demand and supply for fossil fuels and support communities currently dependent on them. This report offers steps that governments can take today for a just and equitable transition away from fossil fuels.”  

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