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Top Ten Technologies That Will Change International Trade

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The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital technologies and services, which have kept international trade flowing even as the movement of people has been restricted. From IoT to digital payments, technologies are rapidly changing the trade ecosystem, yet few have studied the opportunities and challenges that come with these changes. Today, the World Economic Forum announces a first-of-its-kind report on how digital technologies and innovations can enable global trade to be more efficient, inclusive and equitable.

Mapping TradeTech: Trade in the Fourth Industrial Revolution was developed in cooperation with more than 50 global industry experts, policy-makers, academics and civil society leaders. It provides a comprehensive overview of the impact of emerging technologies on the global trade system, including the top ten most transformative technologies, according to a survey of hundreds of respondents from throughout the supply chain worldwide, as well as the top seven trends, from geographical considerations and the reinvention of logistics markets to supply chain resilience.

Most transformative technologies for trade based on the World Economic Forum’s global survey:

“On the one hand, TradeTech creates benefits such as efficiency gains, new digital products and services, and positive environmental impacts. On the other, TradeTech may pose challenges such as fragmented regulations, lack of data harmonization and a widening digital divide,” said Ziyang David Fan, Head of Digital Trade, World Economic Forum. He added: “Businesses and policy-makers have to work together in order to fully unlock the potential of new technologies for trade.”

TradeTech’s importance is shown by the disruptions that technologies are causing to business models, the reconfiguration of value chains, efficiency gains, the achievement of sustainable outcomes and the inclusion of micro, small and medium-size enterprises. Yet, less positive consequences may also exist and need to be mitigated to ensure TradeTech works for all.

“Today’s trade is not just driven by low-wage labour arbitrage or access to resources. International value chains become more and more knowledge intense, partially thanks to embedded technology,” said Jimena Sotelo, Project Lead, Digital Trade, World Economic Forum. “Thus, ensuring further TradeTech adoption is not just about making trade more efficient, but sometimes about ensuring trade opportunities altogether for all companies regardless of their size, and for all countries regardless of their level of development.”

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, automated clearance systems for issuing declarations and effective risk management as well as non-intrusive inspection equipment have made a significant difference to Customs on the ground,” said Kunio Mikuriya, Secretary-General, World Customs Organization (WCO). “In cooperation with the World Economic Forum, the WCO is pleased to contribute to the global debate on the convergence of technology and trade,” he added.

This report is a continuation of Forum’s previous work on blockchain for trade, trade and supply chain finance and 3D printing for policy-makers. More than 50 experts from the public and private sectors from all regions contributed to the report. The World Economic Forum will continue to lead this multistakeholder community in advancing TradeTech to enable a more efficient, inclusive and equitable global trading system for all.

Quotes from the Industry:

“The Internet of Things offers us instant data about the physical condition of a shipment or even a single item in transit. It gives us true visibility across the supply chain. With that comes the ability to spot losses, damage and delay in real-time – and address them. Bottlenecks are identified, status updates are accurate. Over time, the data shows patterns that will help with predictive analysis, contingency planning and optimization of transit speed, cost and security,” said Mohammed Esa, global lead for digital customer solutions at Agility GIL.

“TradeTech holds significant promise in facilitating trade transactions and lowering associated costs for Qatar and its financial institutions that are not located globally,” said Alanoud Hamad Al-Thani, Managing Director, Qatar Financial Centre Authority.

“Disruptive technologies can be a game changer for trade and SME inclusion, but don’t come without challenges. Understanding these challenges is essential to ensure that TradeTech benefits all,” said Emmanuelle Ganne, Senior Analyst, Economic Research Department, World Trade Organization.

“Traditional trade moves physical goods across borders, technology augments the physical limitations with endless opportunities. Trade Tech is at the forefront of Oman’s economic agenda,” said Ali Al Shidhani, Undersecretary for Communications and Information Technology at Ministry of Transportation, Oman Government, Oman.

“The pandemic has triggered numerous changes that have been maturing over a considerable period of time and now occur rapidly. These new developments relate to the very nature of work, to international trade, to all industries, to sustainability, to the effects of climate change – and require strategic approach to day-to-day decision-making process. We are quite well prepared and have plenty of technology tools readily available for deployment. I believe that the benefits of these new technologies can only be achieved by outstripping implementation of new business models and engaging stakeholders. We shall concentrate our efforts on these areas when innovating trade and logistics,” said Dmitry Kalinin, Director, Strategic Development, Integral Petroleum.

“Following the Paris Agreement and similar global climate change policies, it is safe to assume that the economies of the future will be conscious of their greenhouse gas contributions. Optimization of the trade supply chain, trading routes using AI, and using AI and robotics for a ‘smart vessel packing’ are some of the interesting concepts to explore in TradeTech to help minimize greenhouse gas contributions from international trade while maintaining trade flow,” said Hazem Mulhim, Chief Executive Officer, Eastern Networks (EastNets).

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How shipping can contribute to a more sustainable future

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This year’s theme – ‘New technologies for greener shipping’ – promotes innovation and solutions that support a transition in the sector. Maritime transport represents more than 80 per cent of global trade, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message for the Day.

Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine –and the Black Sea Grain Initiative – have highlighted the vital role shipping plays in feeding the world.

Curb shipping emissions

“As shipping continues to connect humanity, it must play an essential part in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and building a fair and prosperous future for people and planet,” he said.

The UN chief stressed that the maritime sector “must accelerate its voyage to decarbonization.” Emissions from shipping are projected to grow considerably unless there is concerted global action, he warned.

“Governments and private companies need to work together to harness innovative technologies such as digitalization and automation and foster a just transition that includes developing countries and promotes renewable energy and alternative fuels,” he said.

“The vessels to be deployed in this decade will determine whether the shipping sector achieves net zero emissions by 2050. Smarter and greener zero emission ships must become the default choice and commercially available for all by 2030.”

Concern for seafarers

The celebrations on World Maritime Day provide a platform to showcase inclusive maritime innovation, research and development, and the demonstration and deployment of new technologies.

This year’s theme opens up a larger conversation about where shipping is headed, and how digitalization and automation can support the sector, said Kitack Lim, Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

“But technological solutions for cleaner, safer and more sustainable shipping must also benefit people,” he stressed. “In this regard, the impact on seafarers and other marine personnel, including the need for training, must be considered.”

The theme also entails support for developing nations, particularly small island developing states (SIDS) and least developed countries (LDCs).

Saving lives at sea

In related developments, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is using the Day to underscore the importance of marine meteorology to ensure safety at sea.

WMO has released a new publication and video showcasing how it works with partners, including national meteorological services and IMO, in providing forecasts and early warnings to save lives.

The growing impacts of climate change and more extreme weather are making marine meteorological services more critical than ever before, according to the UN agency.

“This has been underlined yet again by a recent succession of tropical cyclones in the Atlantic and Northwest Pacific, which have led to hazardous shipping conditions. Forecasts and warnings are essential to protect vessels, their cargo and sailors,” it said.

WMO is committed to the International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea, known as the SOLAS convention, through the broadcast of meteorological maritime safety information as part of the IMO Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS).

The SOLAS convention is generally regarded as the most important of all international treaties concerning the safety of merchant ships.

It was first adopted in 1914, in response to the Titanic disaster.

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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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Crypto Sustainability Coalition to Investigate Potential of Web3 Technologies in Fighting Climate Change

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The World Economic Forum launched the Crypto Sustainability Coalition, which will investigate how web3 and blockchain tools can be leveraged to achieve positive climate action.

Web3, which includes technologies like blockchains, cryptocurrencies, and NFTs, has become a catch-all term for the vision of a new, better internet. Members of the coalition will explore the potential positive impacts these technologies can bring to environmental and social agendas.

The coalition launch is timely as there is an urgent need to support the decarbonization of cryptocurrency and ensuring the industry is part of the climate solution. Furthermore, there needs to be regulatory clarity that promotes web3 innovation, protects consumers, and improves financial inclusion.

“I am excited about the work we are expecting from the Crypto Sustainability Coalition. An important and unique aspect of web3 is that it uses technology to support and reward direct community engagement and action. This means we can coordinate the work of many individuals directly with one another, enabling collective action without centralized control – a powerful accelerator for grass roots action,” said Brynly Llyr, Head of Blockchain and Digital Assets, World Economic Forum.

The Crypto Sustainability Coalition is a public-private initiative hosted by the World Economic Forum and comprises 30 partners. It is convening working groups to tackle three specific issues:

  • Energy usage – this working group will analyse the crypto industry’s consumption of energy and materials to build a clearer picture of its impacts on climate and nature.
  • Web3’s potential for climate action – this working group will investigate ways in which web3 innovations could tackle challenges facing the low-carbon transition at the pace required to hit the Paris Agreement’s targets. For example, the decentralized nature of crypto-mining and its ability to operate at off-peak times may provide a new business model for utilities and investors looking to develop renewable energy microgrids.
  • “On-chain” carbon credits – members of the coalition believe blockchain-based carbon credits could address current flaws in global carbon markets, including: the lack of transparency around carbon offsets for either providers or buyers; the failure of markets to remove carbon emissions at the scale and pace required; and the inability of millions of the world’s smallholder farmers, forest stewards and Indigenous communities to participate in or benefit from carbon credit markets.

The Crypto Sustainability Coalition will investigate, collate and highlight industry standards, best practices and examples of tangible action that attest to how web3 technologies can support communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The coalition’s wider aim is to foster a broad education campaign on what web3’s potential and capacity look like, to better inform governments on how they regulate these technologies and incentivize investment and research into their development.

The coalition’s partners include Accenture, Avalanche, Avatree, CC Token, Circle, Climate Collective, Crypto Council for Innovation, Emerge, Energy Web Foundation, eToro, EY, Flowcarbon, Heifer International, KlimaDAO, Lukka, NEAR Foundation, Nori, PlanetWatch, Plastiks, Rainforest Partnership, Recykal, ReSeed, Ripple, Solana, Stellar Development Foundation, STEWARD, Sustainable Bitcoin Standard, The Global Brain, Toucan Protocol, University of Lisbon, and Zero Labs.

The new coalition is part of the Crypto Impact and Sustainability Accelerator (CISA), a grant-funded initiative launched by the Forum in January 2022 with a mission to encourage a greater understanding of the environmental, social and governance (ESG) impacts of crypto technologies.

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