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Countries urged to act against COVID-19 ‘infodemic’

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The UN and partners have urged countries to take urgent action to address what they have described as the “infodemic” that has surfaced in tandem with the COVID-19 pandemic, both in the real world and online. 

The pandemic is the first in history in which technology and social media are being used to both inform people and keep them connected, but also to undermine global response to the crisis and jeopardize measures to contain the disease, they explained. 

“Misinformation costs lives. Without the appropriate trust and correct information, diagnostic tests go unused, immunization campaigns (or campaigns to promote effective vaccines) will not meet their targets, and the virus will continue to thrive”, the partners said in a statement issued on Wednesday. 

“We call on Member States to develop and implement action plans to manage the infodemic by promoting the timely dissemination of accurate information, based on science and evidence, to all communities, and in particular high-risk groups; and preventing the spread, and combating, mis- and disinformation while respecting freedom of expression.” 

Authorities also were urged to empower communities to develop solutions and resilience against the infodemic. 

Stakeholders such as the media and social media platforms were called on to collaborate with the UN system, and each other, “to further strengthen their actions to disseminate accurate information and prevent the spread of mis- and disinformation.” 

Communications emergency 

The statement signed by the United Nations, eight of its entities, and the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), followed a virtual meeting organized by the World Health Organization (WHO) on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. 

In a video message for the event, UN Secretary-General António Guterres  underlined how the COVID-19 pandemic is also a communications emergency. 

“As soon as the virus spread across the globe, inaccurate and even dangerous messages proliferated wildly over social media, leaving people confused, misled and ill-advised”, he recalled. 

 “The antidote lies in making sure that science-backed facts and health guidance circulate even faster, and reach people wherever they access information.” 

Science, solutions, solidarity 

Throughout the pandemic, the UN chief has highlighted the need to fight the tide of harmful health advice, hate speech and wild conspiracy theories that has surfaced alongside COVID-19. 

In May, the UN launched the Verified initiative, encouraging people everywhere to serve as “digital first responders”, who share trusted, accurate information on their social media platforms. 

“Working with media partners, individuals, influencers and social media platforms, the content we spread promotes science, offers solutions and inspires solidarity,” he said. 

As Mr. Guterres told the meeting, fighting misinformation will be critical as the UN and partners work to build public confidence in the safety and efficacy of any COVID-19 vaccines being developed. 

Catching up on routine vaccinations 

That message was echoed later on Wednesday at another WHO virtual meeting to galvanize governments and humanitarians to safeguard immunization campaigns during the pandemic, and to ensure infrastructure is in place for the future equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.  

Although the UN estimates some 80 million children worldwide have not received routine immunizations due to the pandemic, services are resuming with the goal of “catching up to build better”, according to Kate O’Brien, Director of WHO’s Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals. 

She said partners are also working “closer than ever”, and with greater integration;  principles that will be applicable for the future delivery of any COVID-19 vaccines. 

“Our goal is to ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines against COVID-19 for all countries, harnessing the partnerships to work together to bring safe and effective and affordable vaccines…and do it because nobody is safe until everybody is safe”, said Ms. O’Brien. 

A ‘global insurance policy’ 

WHO along with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) spearhead a global initiative that has pledged to put COVID-19 vaccines in the hands of anyone, anywhere who needs them. 

GAVI chief Dr. Seth Berkley described the COVAX Global Vaccines Facility as a “global insurance policy”, committed to ensuring no one is left behind.  The goal is to produce two billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021. 

Dr. Berkley reported that more than 160 countries either have committed to the Facility, or are eligible to receive vaccines, with others expected to join this week. 

“Gavi right now helps vaccinate half the world’s children. But the global delivery of COVID vaccines will be the single largest and most rapid deployment the world has ever seen”, he said. 

“Also, with the levels of rumours and false information, we will need to work with communities everywhere to provide accurate information.” 

The COVAX Facility is part of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator which aims to speed up the development and production of tests, medicines and vaccines that will be available to all countries.  

The ACT Accelerator was launched in April and has so far received around $2.7 billion.  The UN Secretary-General recently appealed for a “quantum leap in funding” to meet the $35 billion still needed.   

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Solar PV Employs More Women Than Any Renewables

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Solar photovoltaic (PV) has emerged to be the leading employer in the renewable energy sector, both in global number of employees and in gender balance. In 2021, the solar PV industry employs 4.3 million people—one-third of all renewable energy jobs worldwide. Women account for 40% of this number. It is almost double the share of women employed in the wind industry (21%) and the oil and gas sector (22%). It is also higher than the average share of women employed in all renewables sectors, which is 32%.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)’s new report, Solar PV: A Gender Perspective, finds that women fare best in solar PV manufacturing, representing 47% of the workforce. Service providers and developers follow with 39% and 37%, respectively, while solar PV installers perform the least, with barely 12% of the segment’s workforce.

“A just and inclusive energy transition is not only about energy access. It is about making sure everyone is included and benefits from the process,” says Francesco La Camera, Director-General of IRENA. “The findings of our new report are promising and confirm renewable energy’s great potential as an equal employer, but they also signal the need to step up our efforts to pave the way for more women to lead the energy transition and shape our shared future.”

Presented at the 8th World Conference on PV Energy Conversion in Milan today, the report highlights the need for equal opportunities for women in technical positions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and in other professional fields, where they hold 38% and 32% of positions, respectively. Additionally, there is a wide space for women to take over more decision-making positions, as they currently hold 30% of managerial jobs and barely 13% of senior management posts in the solar PV industry.

Decentralised solar PV, on the other hand, seems to offer significant opportunities, as the off-grid solar PV value chain engages women both in delivering solutions and as beneficiaries. Driven in part by off-grid solar PV deployments, women account for 35% of other non-technical positions such as marketing, sales, distribution, and product assembly and installation.

Based on IRENA’s global survey of some 1,300 individuals and organisations conducted in 2021, the report evaluates the role of women in the solar PV industry, highlighting barriers and opportunities. The most prominent barriers are perceptions of gender roles, lack of fair and transparent policies, as well as cultural and social norms that shape behaviour.

Raising awareness on gender equality, improving national as well as workplace policies, offering more training, networking opportunities and access to mentorships are all critical steps to level the playfield for women in the sector. These efforts are needed not only to increase the participation of women, but also to diversify the workforce by including the visions, talents and skills of all minority groups.

This is the third report in the Gender Perspective series, which is an integral part of IRENA’s extensive research work on the effects of renewable energy deployment during energy transitions. The initial focus on employment creation and skills was expanded over time to cover other socio-economic elements such as gross domestic product, broader measures of welfare, local economic value creation, improved livelihoods and gender-differentiated impacts.

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Battery-free smart devices to harvest ambient energy for IoT

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By  MICHAEL ALLEN

Tiny internet-connected electronic devices are becoming ubiquitous. The so-called Internet of Things (IoT) allows our smart gadgets in the home and wearable technologies like our smart watches to communicate and operate together. IoT devices are increasingly used across all sorts of industries to drive interconnectivity and smart automation as part of the ‘fourth industrial revolution’.

The fourth industrial revolution builds on already widespread digital technology such as connected devices, artificial intelligence, robotics and 3D printing. It is expected to be a significant factor in revolutionising society, the economy and culture.

These small, autonomous, interconnected and often wireless devices are already playing a key role in our everyday lives by helping to make us more resource and energy-efficient, organised, safe, secure and healthy.

There is a key challenge, however – how to power these tiny devices. The obvious answer is “batteries”. But it is not quite that simple.

Small devices

Many of these devices are too small to use a long-life battery and they are located in remote or hard-to-access locations – for instance in the middle of the ocean tracking a shipping container or at the top of a grain silo, monitoring levels of cereal. These types of locations make servicing some IoT devices extremely challenging and commercially and logistically infeasible.

Mike Hayes, head of ICT for energy efficiency at the Tyndall National Institute in Ireland, summarises the marketplace. ‘It’s projected that we are going to have one trillion sensors in the world by 2025,’ he said, ‘That is one thousand billion sensors.’

That number is not as crazy as it first seems, according to Hayes, who is the coordinator of the Horizon-funded EnABLES project (European Infrastructure Powering the Internet of Things).

If you think about the sensors in the technology someone might carry on their person or have in their car, home, office plus the sensors embedded in the infrastructure around them such as roads and railways, you can see where that number comes from, he explained.

‘In the trillion IoT sensor world predicted for 2025, we are going to be throwing over 100 million batteries everyday into landfills unless we significantly extend battery life,’ Hayes said.

Battery life

Landfill is not the only environmental concern. We also need to consider where all the material to make the batteries is going to come from. The EnABLES project is calling on the EU and industry leaders to think about battery life from the outset when designing IoT devices to ensure that batteries are not limiting the lifespan of devices.

‘We don’t need the device to last forever,’ said Hayes. ‘The trick is that you need to outlive the application that you’re serving. For example, if you want to monitor a piece of industrial equipment, you probably want it to last for five to 10 years. And in some cases, if you do a regular service every three years anyway, once the battery lasts more than three or four years that’s probably good enough.’

Although many devices have an operational life of more than 10 years, the battery life of wireless sensors is typically only one to two years.

The first step to longer battery life is increasing the energy supplied by batteries. Also, reducing the power consumption of devices will prolong the battery. But EnABLES is going even further.

The project brings together 11 leading European research institutes. With other stakeholders, EnABLES is working to develop innovative ways to harvest tiny ambient energies such as light, heat and vibration.

Harvesting such energies will further extend battery life. The goal is to create self-charging batteries that last longer or ultimately run autonomously.

Energy harvesters

Ambient energy harvesters, such as a small vibrational harvester or indoor solar panel, that produce low amounts of power (in the milliwatt range) could significantly extend the battery life of many devices, according to Hayes. These include everyday items like watches, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, hearing aids, carbon dioxide detectors, and temperature, light and humidity sensors.

EnABLES is also designing the other key technologies needed for tiny IoT devices. Not content with improving energy efficiency, the project is also trying to develop a framework and standardised and interoperable technologies for these devices.

One of the key challenges with autonomously powered IoT tools is power management. The energy source may be intermittent and at very low levels (microwatts), and different methods of harvesting supply different forms of power that require different techniques to convert to electricity.

Steady trickle

Huw Davies, is chief executive officer of Trameto, a company which is developing power management for piezo electric applications. He points out that energy from photovoltaic devices tends to come in a steady trickle, while that from piezoelectric devices, which convert ambient energy from movements (vibrations) into electrical energy, generally comes in bursts.

‘You need a way of storing that energy locally in a store before it is delivered into a load, so you need to have ways of managing that,’ Davies said.

He is the project coordinator of the Horizon-funded HarvestAll project, which has developed an energy management system for ambient energy dubbed OptiJoule.

OptiJoule works with piezoelectric materials, photovoltaics and thermal electric generators. It can function with any of these sources on their own, or with multiple energy harvesting sources at the same time.

The goal is to enable autonomous sensors to be self-sustaining. In principle, it’s quite simple. ‘What we are talking about is ultra-low powered sensors taking some digital measurement,’ said Davies. ‘Temperature, humidity, pressure, whatever it is, with the data from that being delivered into the internet.’

Integrated circuits

The HarvestAll energy management integrated circuit device adjusts to match the different energy harvesters. It takes the different and intermittent energy created by these harvesters and stores it, for instance in a battery or capacitor, and then manages the delivery of a steady output of energy to the sensor.

Similarly to the EnABLES project, the idea is to create standardised technology that will enable the rapid development of long battery life/autonomous IoT devices in Europe and the world.

Davies said that the energy management circuit works completely autonomously and automatically. It is designed so that it can just be plugged into an energy harvester, or combination of harvesters, and a sensor. As a replacement for the battery it has a significant advantage, according to Davies, because ‘It will just work.’

The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine. 

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European ministers adopt “Dublin Declaration” on preventing violence through equality

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Thirty-eight Council of Europe member states have committed to a “Dublin Declaration” outlining a series of steps to promote gender equality in order to help prevent domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.

The declaration was adopted by Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Republic of Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine and the United Kingdom following a two-day conference of justice ministers organised by Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of Europe.

Inspired by the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on violence against women, and expert findings on the implementation of the convention so far, states backing the declaration committed to:

  1. actively promoting, at the highest level, an institutional and political culture which rejects gender-based discrimination and violence, sexism, gender stereotypes and gendered power dynamics in the public and private sector
  2. ensuring that strategies aimed at preventing and combating violence against women also address the specific role of men and boys in preventing violence against women
  3. systematically including awareness-raising campaigns as an integral and fully funded part of long-term action plans on violence against women
  4. taking measures to include in the official curriculum, of all levels of education, teaching material on issues such as the principle of equality between women and men, non-stereotyped gender roles, mutual respect, non-violent conflict resolution in interpersonal relationships, gender-based violence against women and the right to personal integrity
  5. providing guidelines for educational material in this area and the training of educational professionals, as well as the creation of knowledge platforms to share best practices
  6. encouraging initial and in-service training of all relevant professionals, including within the criminal justice system
  7. taking all possible measures to ensure that episodes of violence are taken into consideration by courts when deciding upon custody and visitation rights
  8. increasing the provision of perpetrator programmes for domestic violence and for sexual violence operating on the standards and principles set out in the Istanbul Convention
  9. asking the Council of Europe to carry out a comparative study in member states on the existing models and approaches taken to perpetrator programmes and their results
  10. inviting states that have not yet done so to sign and ratify the Istanbul Convention and reinforce efforts to implement existing international legal standards in the area of gender equality and violence against women

To date, 37 Council of Europe member states have ratified the Istanbul Convention, enabling its entry into force in those countries. Armenia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania the Slovak Republic – and the European Union as a whole – have signed, but not yet ratified, the convention. Azerbaijan has not yet signed the convention and Türkiye denounced it in March 2021.

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