Vol 9 N° 3 [July–September 2011]

IN FOCUS
2 From the Dark Ages to the Green Ages

NEWS
10 An Arab network for converging technologies
10 Launch of pan-African parliamentary science forum
11 Oil prospection suspended in Virunga National Park
12 A tectonic map of Africa
13 China hosting centre on ocean dynamics and climate

INTERVIEW
14 Michael Dittmar on the future of nuclear power

HORIZONS
17 S mall is beautiful
20 Saved by their ancestors

IN BRIEF
24 Agenda
24 New Releases

Direct link A World of Science Vol 9 N°3 (document PDF)

See also ARCHIVES for A World of Science

EDITORIAL

Green societies now

On 6 June, the German cabinet of Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to phase out nuclear power by 2022, based on a broad political consensus. The country’s reactors currently provide about 22% of domestic electricity needs. Germany plans to compensate for this loss by reducing energy consumption by 10% and increasing the share of electricity from renewable sources from 17% to 35%.

This decision has no doubt been precipitated by the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March but, for Michael Dittmar from the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), safety concerns are not the only reason why countries should begin gradually phasing out nuclear power. As he explains in this issue, nuclear power is not a renewable energy source and can thus only offer a stop-gap solution.

Germany’s decision coincided with the publication of an alarming report by the International Energy Agency of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. It states that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions increased by 5% to 30.6 gigatons (Gt) between 2008 and 2010, despite the global economic recession. If the world is to keep global warming to 2°C this century, CO2 emissions by the energy sector must not exceed 32 Gt by 2020.

This will entail ‘rethinking every aspect of development,’ UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova observed in her opening speech to the Future Forum on Challenges of a Green Economy and Green Societies, at UNESCO in Paris on 24 May. ‘The economy must embrace greater sobriety, particularly with regard to carbon, and become cleaner and more inclusive,’ she urged.

‘The future needs a green economy but above all a green society’, she went on to say. ‘Sustainable production patterns will only make an impact if they are accompanied by sustainable consumption patterns.’

As the article overleaf illustrates, green chemistry can contribute to defining this new development model. The momentum is there for more environmentally friendly products and processes. But there will be no point in scientists developing biodegradable bags to replace plastic ones if governments do not provide incentives for companies to market them and consumers do not plebiscite them with their wallets.

For our development model to change, every link in the chain will need to be solid: from North to South, from laboratory to consumer and from land to sea. Irina Bokova has observed that ‘we need to get better at integrating the ‘blue’ with the ‘green.’ After all, environmental problems have no trouble integrating land and sea: the oceans are acidifying because of carbon emissions on land, overfishing is widespread and discarded plastic bags and agricultural pesticides ultimately find their way to the sea. We live in an interconnected world.

There is no question that we need to green our economies. Yet how difficult that seems to be. In the climate talks, for example, national considerations are still taking precedence over the imperative of fixing binding targets for carbon emissions. While the talks stall, carbon emissions are spiralling out of control and with them our capacity to control our planet’s future.

Gretchen Kalonji
Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences

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