Zakri Abdul Hamid

Zakri Abdul Hamid

Friday, 18 October 2019 14:52

Exploring all options to net-zero emissions

“NET-Zero Emissions” is a perennial hot topic at the annual Science and Technology for Society Forum (STS Forum), the science world’s answer to the World Economic Forum, held each October in Kyoto.

Because the Earth’s climate reacts strongly to small level changes of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane in the atmosphere, humanity’s emissions of these greenhouse gases must be reduced to a point that can be offset via natural and artificial carbon sinks, thereby achieving “net zero emissions”.

The 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report underlined that net greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to zero in order to stabilise global temperatures. The report also stated that any scenario that failed to reduce emissions to zero will not stop climate change.

This objective has been adopted by several countries under the Paris Agreement.

According to Professor Joy Pereira of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and Vice-Chair, IPCC Working Group 2 on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, Southeast Asia is expected to experience the largest impact on economic growth as global warming increases to 1.5° Celcius.

Among the anticipated impacts include more heavy precipitation associated with tropical cyclones, highest increases in number of hot days as well as net reductions in yields of maize and rice, among others.

It is expected that increased exposure to multiple and compound climate-related risks would result in greater proportions of people that are both exposed and susceptible to poverty.

Today, energy sector emissions continue to rise with energy consumption, with further increases foreseen over the next three to four decades. A net-zero emission future must include continuation of the shift from high carbon to low carbon and, ultimately, to renewable energy.

We have the technology needed to mitigate climate change; the IPCC report had declared.

All too often, however, short-term growth is prioritised over climate change response.

But leading countries are showing the way to a better quality of life and vibrant economy without increasing their carbon footprint.

Sweden, for one, with its strong public welfare system is striving to be a model for sustainability with net-zero emissions.

At this year’s meeting, there was reference also to Germany’s transition to renewables, including the complete elimination of nuclear power. A systematic approach is being taken, with targets for the energy mix and subsidies.

Germany’s renewables are not enough for its energy needs, causing it to turn to power from other countries that are not necessarily reliable and leading therefore to questions of ethics.

And the German public is generally against the idea of their electricity supply being controlled by another country.

Ethical debates also include the phasing out of nuclear power.

Among many other challenging issues raised in Kyoto: how to reduce the impact on climate of the transport sector as global trade grows, and what can be done about the production of structural materials such as cement, which constitutes a major percentage of CO2 emissions.

It is necessary to transform the entire energy system, many believe, including for greater efficiency.

Promising pathways to progress also include power from nuclear fission (soon to be demonstrated at a multi-billion-dollar facility in France) — one of the most ambitious energy projects in the world today, putting a common price on carbon, and demanding that companies make a full accounting and disclosure of emissions.

Hydrogen was also raised as a solution for a net-zero emissions society. It can help decarbonise diverse sectors such as transportation.

By 2030, hydrogen use in industry should be possible through scaling up the value chain with governmental support. Japan is leading in supporting hydrogen technology as well as scaling up industry.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries is developing hydrogen gas turbine combustion technology and other related hydrogen initiatives and pilot projects.

Additional insight about hydrogen included the point that it could be the perfect solution to the issue of “difficult” carbons.

Hydrogen is essential for integration of renewables, mobility electrification and recycling industry CO2.

Hydrogen development is accelerating dramatically but we need higher targets and could achieve much more were it not for a lack of political will.

It was noted that for net-zero emissions, scalability is the key.

Although we understand low carbon solutions, such as using hydrogen technology scientifically, we do not know how to achieve them economically.

Scale is an engineering problem and it will be helpful to learn by experience through new engineering initiatives.

Another conversation centred on accelerating transformation, including the question of top-down versus bottom-up approaches.

A top-down example would be a United Nations road map, but some argue that change should be driven by local decision-makers. There was wide agreement that climate change should be approached with a holistic perspective, such as that adopted in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals initiative.

Although accurate predictions regarding climate change were made decades ago, and we know what we need to do and how, however little has been done since then.

Ultimately, participants have also agreed that we need to adopt a sense of urgency because time is running out.

There are no one-size-fits-all solutions but those that are cost-effective will best encourage countries to act.

The writer is a senior fellow of the Academy of Sciences Malaysia and former official of the United Nations University

Published in: The New Straits Times, Wednesday 16 September 2019

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Monday, 30 September 2019 16:52

Youths vital in implementing SDGs

This September marks the fourth anniversary of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit, where world leaders established the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030.

Malaysia’s delegation to the meeting in New York was led by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

And, as young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg expressed so powerfully to world leaders at the UN climate summit in New York, global challenges to the environment and development are relevant for children and youth.

There are 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24, the largest generation in history. Close to 90 per cent live in developing countries, and their numbers are expected to grow.

Connected via high technology like never before, young people want to and contribute to the resilience of their communities, proposing solutions, driving social progress and inspiring change.

Investing in youth is fundamental to implement the SDGs. This is especially true in the Asia-Pacific region, home to about 700 million youths, 200 million of whom are from Asean.

The National Statistics Department said there are 14.6 million Malaysians aged between 15 and 39, or 45.4 per cent of the population.

The Malaysian Productivity Centre said these young people are our hope for ensuring a stable future for our economy based on a long-lasting workforce and a sizeable market to support our businesses.

All businesses, infrastructure, systems and policies will be supported, used, maintained and executed by our youths for decades to come.

It is these young people who will start businesses, work in factories, build homes, take loans, study, become consumers of our goods and services, and be our leaders.

With the skills and opportunities to reach their potential, they can drive development and contribute to peace and security.

We must encourage and empower young people to help translate the SDGs into policy at every level, to help implement, monitor and review progress, and to hold governments accountable.

The UN identified possible roles for youth in implementing the SDGs:

CRITICAL THINKERS: Youths have the capacity to identify and challenge power structures and barriers to change, and to expose contradictions and biases;

CHANGE-MAKERS: They also have the power to act and mobilise others.

Youth activism is on the rise the world over, bolstered by broader connectivity and access to social media.

As one European commentator put it: “It is clear, for example that tackling climate change needs to involve all people, young and old, privileged and underprivileged, from developed and developing countries.

“Young people want and deserve a role in what should be a participatory process and the school strikes for climate action were born out of their desire to make global leaders aware of and act on their concerns.”

INNOVATORS: Beyond bringing fresh perspectives, young people often have direct knowledge of and insights into issues that elude adults.

They understand best the problems they face and can offer new ideas and alternative solutions.

At a forum on Youth and the SDGs, UN General Assembly president Miroslav Lajčák said: “If we neglect young people, we will not achieve a single SDG.”

He highlighted the role of youth in innovations that help reverse the trends that are harming the planet as well as in preventing conflict and building peace.

“I want to conclude with a blunt truth: our international system simply was not set up for young people. If you look at photographs of the signing of the UN Charter, you will not see any young men or young women. That is why, for years, young people were not seen, and were not heard, in the conference rooms, like this one.

“Young people can no longer be dismissed as the rebel fighters; the terrorists; the disenfranchised.

“They are the innovators, the solution-finders; the social and environmental entre-preneurs,” he added;

COMMUNICATORS: Too few people are aware of the historic, far-reaching agreement by world leaders to improve the lives of people and the planet by 2030.

Young people should partner to communicate the development agenda and their concerns to their peers and communities at every level, locally, nationally and regionally.

Much like Thunberg’s remarks on Sept 23, anyone who saw it will never forget the speech by 12-year-old Canadian environmental activist Severn Cullis-Suzuki at the 1992 Earth Summit, admonishing and appealing to everyone to help stop the destruction of the earth’s resources;

LEADERS: When young people are empowered with knowledge of their rights and equipped with leadership skills, they can drive change in their communities and countries.

Youth-led organisations and networks should be supported and strengthened, especially marginalised youth.

The level of awareness on sustainable development among Malaysian youth is reasonable, as reflected in the activities of university students and national youth organisations, but we have yet to see here the high level of activism personified by Thunberg, Severn Cullis-Suzuki or Malala Yousafzai.

May our youths be more vocal in expressing their concerns and grievances and taking up the call to engage in shaping the destiny ahead.

The writer is a senior fellow of the Academy of Sciences Malaysia and former official of the United Nations University

Published in: The New Straits Times, Monday 30 September 2019

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Monday, 22 January 2018 17:22

We need all brains on deck

Grieving the loss of his grandfather to a heart attack, a 14-year-old in India learned that a unique enzyme is found in victims of heart attack. Indeed, our bodies produce the enzyme in the hours beforehand.

Intrigued, he wondered, what if someone at high risk of a heart attack could watch for that enzyme in real time? What an advantage it would be to be forewarned in such a situation and to immediately take the medical steps known to avoid or reduce the impact of a heart attack.

The boy pursued his idea and learned that the enzyme can be detected on a patient’s skin. Therefore, he reasoned, it’s possible to create a non-invasive monitor for the telltale heart attack marker. The result of his curiosity was the recent award of a valuable patent for just such a device, now being clinically tested, with the potential to save many lives.

The story was told by India’s legendary Kris Gopalakrishnan, co-founder of Infosys and chairman of Axilor Ventures during the inter-sessional meeting of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council on Sept 30, making a point about breakthrough thinking — the Nobel mindset.

It illustrates well the sometimes simple makings and process of scientific innovation. Certainly, a genius mind helps, but isn’t required. Education, observation and curiosity combine to create an idea for improving some aspects of our lives, leading to a test which, more often than not, will fail at first. But, with perseverance, good ideas succeed. And, even those that don’t work out often lead to others that do.

Malaysia is blessed with many brilliant young minds and we owe it to them, and to ourselves, to create an environment in which they get their chance to change the world.

It was my proud honour, therefore, to join the British high commissioner, Vicki Treadell, to recognise some of our brightest researchers with the prestigious Newton-Ungku Omar Prize, one of five awards used to advance and scale up promising scientific ideas in Malaysia, India, Thailand and Vietnam.

There were five projects shortlisted for the prize in Malaysia this year, and the recipient of the RM635,000 award was Professor Dr Phang Siew Moi and her team from Universiti Malaya (UM). In partnership with researchers from Cambridge University, the UM team successfully demonstrated how tropical algae from agro-industrial wastewater could be used to create bioelectricity. It represents a true win-win-win: produce electricity, lower carbon dioxide emissions by using green energy and treat wastewater. The team’s next challenge: power an entire rural house with this energy source in five years.

Others in prize contention:

A TEAM from City University of London and UM’s Photonics Research Centre developed novel rain and humidity sensors to
detect landslide movement, a way for Malaysians to mitigate future monsoon damage and casualties.

A TEAM from the United Kingdom’s Cardiff University and the United Nations University’s International Institute for Global Health, based in Kuala Lumpur, researched links between health in urban centres and such variables as a city’s walkability, river restoration and food systems, identifying lessons urban planners might also draw from indigenous knowledge.

A TEAM from UK’s University of Southampton and Universiti Sains Malaysia created a network focused on infectious disease vaccines that target a limited number of bacterial strains, which allows new, more pathogenic, antibiotic resistant strains to emerge, increasing the risk of epidemics. The problem is expected to grow with climate change, industrial air pollution and changes in seasonal monsoon patterns.

All four projects, supported by the London-based British Council and the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (Might), through their joint Newton-Ungku Omar Fund, were dedicated to addressing climate change and sustainable urbanisation.

The UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering and Malaysia’s Academy of Sciences, meanwhile, partnered to support the fifth finalist project, led by researchers from Liverpool John Moores University and UM. They developed a way to make electronics systems, including wireless medical devices, more reliable and secure from, for example, the threat posed by hackers.

Seeing what our researchers can do, we are encouraged as we struggle to achieve the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals, and to adjust to the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). It may be trite to believe that there has never been a more pressing need for curious, innovative and creative thinkers. Perhaps every generation has considered their time more perilous and challenging than any before. But, it certainly feels justified saying so these days as we confront daunting issues stemming largely from our species’ overwhelming success, to the point where humanity constitutes such a dominant force that we define a new geological epoch.

Pessimists have been a constant throughout human history. I’m not one of them. Ours is a smart species; we will find
the way forward. My hope, though, for the sake of future generations, is that we, in our time, are smart and mature enough to anticipate and prevent the problems we’re creating before they, in theirs, must react and cure.

In either case, we need all brains on deck. The maximised creative talents and innovative potential of every young person in Malaysia will be essential to success. And, we are grateful, therefore, to the many international colleagues and collaborators who share their resources and expertise with us in such effective ways.

Twitter: @zakriZAH

The writer is science adviser to the prime minister and joint chairman of the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (Might).

Published in: New Straits Times, Monday 11 December 2017

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Monday, 19 February 2018 15:38

Sustainability: 2050 food challenge

Globally, 800 million out of 7.6 billion people suffer from hunger. Although the number has decreased in recent decades, roughly one in 10 people goes to bed hungry every day, many of them from developing countries.

In a tragic irony, an estimated 30 to 40 per cent of food in developed countries is lost to waste. Malaysia, a prosperous developing country itself, is not spared of this notoriety. We are touted as the most obese country in Southeast Asia. The food left-over during Ramadan every year is evidence enough of our indulgence.

Food security is a concern in Malaysia as it is everywhere. Indeed, it ranks among the world’s greatest challenges. It is ranked second among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals in the United Nations 2030 Development Agenda which proclaims, “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture”.

By 2050, the world population is expected to reach 9.2 billion — meaning an additional 1.6 billion people to feed, 200 million people more than today’s population of China. To ensure food availability for everyone in 2050, the world needs to increase food production by 70 per cent. Faced with dwindling agricultural land, less water for irrigation, rising energy and labour costs, and major grain crops already reaching yield plateau, it will be a daunting task.

Under the Transformasi Nasional 2050 agenda championed by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, economic planners and policymakers have deliberated in great depth a wide range of issues and concerns about our food security status.

Further discussions should be welcome and continue unabated to address all issues and concerns comprehensively.

Last November, Malaysia’s National Professors Council and Indonesia’s Association of Professors convened more than 250 participants in “Forum Pertanian IPIMA 2017” (IPIMA Agriculture Forum 2017) to discuss imminent challenges and collaboration in agriculture, which also highlighted the bilateral food security issues.

Equally commendable, Universiti Putra Malaysia Alumni Association, under the able leadership of Perlis royal Datuk Seri DiRaja Syed Razlan Syed Putra Jamalulaill, organised a seminar on Agriculture and Food Security 2050 last month, engaging distinguished agricultural practitioners, both active and retired, to reflect on our future food security.

Will Malaysia prevail to meet these challenges by 2050? By then, it is expected that Malaysia will have added 9.7 million to its present population of 31 million. In 2015, food import bills hit RM45.4 billion, while exports were RM27 billion, giving a deficit of over RM18 billion. If such a trend persists, Malaysia is likely to face a food crisis in the future.

We may be able to grow or produce food locally at high self-sufficiency levels, but that does not mean the country has attained the desired food security status.

Food security is defined by the Food and Agriculture Organisation as “when all people at all times have physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food preferences for an active and healthy life”.

In 2013, the International Conference on Food Security deemed food security as a multifaceted issue with four dimensions: availability, access, utilisation and stability. This led to the establishment of the Global Food Security Index (GFSI).

The GFSI informs food systems around the world with a common framework for understanding the root causes and risks of food insecurity, at the core of which are affordability, availability, quality and safety.

Thus, GFSI provides a measure of food security at country level, as influenced by culture, environment and geographic location.

Last year, Malaysia ranked 41st with a GFSI score of 66.2, while Singapore was 4th with 84. Thailand, the Philippines and Myanmar ranked 55th, 79th, and 80th, with scores of 58.5, 47.3 and 44.8, respectively.

About 60 per cent of 113 countries experienced declines in food security scores last year compared with 2016. Malaysia declined by 3.2 points, followed by Philippines, Myanmar, Thailand, and Singapore by 1.0, 0.7, 0.7 and 0.6, respectively.

When natural resources and resilience are factored into the GFSI, Singapore drops 15 ranks, from 4th to 19th (49.2) because of the dependence on food imports and its susceptibility to environment-related events.

However, Malaysia drops only two spots in rank (52.1), largely due to lower dependency on food imports.

Universiti Putra Malaysia Adjunct Professor Dr Heong Kong Luen carried out an analysis of countries with high and low GFSI scores, and pointed out major issues that drag down Malaysia’s and other Asean countries’ scores seem to be related to quality and safety.

The quality and safety index for Malaysia is 71.1, compared with scores of France, Australia, and Singapore of 88.7, 86.4, and 78.3, respectively. Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and Laos record much lower scores of 56.8, 54.0, 44.1 and 31.0, respectively.

One concern Malaysia and some Asean countries may immediately address is the overuse and misuse of pesticides.

Studies in Indonesia and Vietnam find that heavy use of pesticides in rice production did not translate into yield increases.

It is timely to review our approach to sustainable agriculture using science and modern technologies in addition to taking into account the role of traditional knowledge.

Also, we need to learn and apply valuable lessons from many case studies worldwide of successful efforts to stem and reverse land degradation and biodiversity loss, the subject of major reports to be launched next month by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

A more environment-friendly agriculture landscape would enhance Malaysia’s score on the global food security index.

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Twitter: @ZakriZAH

The writer is science adviser to the prime minister and chairman, National Professors Council

Published in: New Straits Times, Monday 19 February 2018

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Monday, 12 October 2015 10:00

Malaysia a great success story

HIGH-INCOME status for Malaysia by 2017? That’s the optimistic forecast of the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Andrew Wyckoff, OECD’s director for Science, Technology and Innovation (STI), presented his organisation’s review of Malaysia’s Innovation Policy at the recent 5th annual meeting of Malaysia’s unique “kitchen cabinet” of national and international sustainable development advisers: the Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council (GSIAC). Chaired by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, renowned national and international figures from business, science and academia ...................Download the full article in pdf attachment (below)
Wednesday, 02 January 2013 15:31

Bring Back Golden Age of Science and Innovation

Amid the current turmoil in the Middle East and the ongoing negative image of Muslims in the West, it is reassuring, on a recent visit to New York City, I was able to visit the facinating exhibition "1,001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in our World"............. Download the full article in pdf attachment (below)