19th June 2016
The world has become less peaceful in 2016
The world has become less peaceful this year – reinforcing an underlying, decade-long deterioration in world peacefulness, driven primarily by increased terrorism and higher levels of political instability.
The tenth edition of the Global Peace Index, published this month, highlights a stark and growing inequality in global levels of peacefulness as the gap between the most and least peaceful countries continues to widen. The study, by international think-tank the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), finds that, while 81 countries improved, the deterioration in another 79 outweighed these gains, meaning that overall peace declined at a faster rate than in the previous year. Despite this, some of the most peaceful countries are now recording historically high levels of peace.
The score for the Middle East and Africa (MENA) – the least peaceful region in the world last year – dropped further, as regional conflicts intensified, dragging down global peacefulness. So intense is the current concentration of violence and conflict in MENA that, when considered separately, the rest of the world's average peace levels improved. Three of the five biggest declines in peace occurred in the region including Yemen, Libya and Bahrain.
Steve Killelea, Founder and Executive Chairman of the IEP, commented: "As internal conflicts in MENA become more entrenched, external parties are increasingly becoming more involved and the potential for indirect or 'war by proxy' between nation states is rising. This was already evident in Syria with the conflict between the Assad regime and multiple non-state actors, and is now spilling into countries such as Yemen. There is a broader proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and more recently both US and Russia have increased their level of involvement."
The global deterioration of peace in 2015 was driven by increased terrorism and higher levels of political instability. While the majority of terrorist activity is highly concentrated in five countries – Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan – the breadth of terrorism is spreading, with just 23% of countries in the Index not experiencing a terrorist incident. Europe, although still the most peaceful region, saw its average score deteriorate in this year's report, following terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels. Deaths from terrorism in Europe have more than doubled over the last five years.
The number of refugees and displaced persons has risen dramatically over the last decade, doubling to approximately 60 million people between 2007 and 2016, nearly 1% of the world's population. There are now nine countries with over 10% of their population displaced in some form; 20% of Somalia and South Sudan's population respectively, and over 60% of Syria's.
While the global economic impact of violence dropped by 2% compared to last year's report, it was still a staggering $13.6 trillion in 2015 – equivalent to 11 times the size of global foreign direct investment (FDI), or about 700 times the annual budget of NASA. This represents 13.3% of world GDP, or $1,876 per person. Over the last ten years, the cumulative total impact of violence was $137 trillion; greater than global GDP in 2015.
Steve Killelea remarked, "The increasing internationalisation of internal conflicts has coincided with UN peacekeeping funds reaching record highs in 2016 – it was the largest improved indicator in this year's report, with more deployed peacekeepers and more countries being up-to-date with their UN peacekeeping dues. However, peacebuilding and peacekeeping spending remains proportionately small compared to the economic impact of violence, representing just 2% of global losses from armed conflict. Addressing the global disparity in peace and achieving an overall 10% decrease in the economic impact of violence would produce a peace dividend of $1.36 trillion. This is approximately equivalent to the size of world food exports."
Of particular concern is Yemen. Its long-standing political crisis exploded into outright civil war in early 2015. This country has witnessed a major decline in the level of peace, as shown in the diagram below – driven by the rising casualty rate, a large increase in the number of refugees and internally displaced people, and higher levels of terrorist attacks by both al-Qaeda and ISIL. Adding to Yemen's troubles is an emerging water crisis that is likely to worsen from 2017-2025.
The report also provides an audit of available data to measure Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 (successor to the Millennium Development Goals of 2015). This new goal – formally agreed last year by UN member states – recognises the critical importance of peace, justice and strong institutions for advancing global development. It finds that, while there is some existing data to track progress and hold member states accountable to meeting their targets, serious investment will be needed to measure the goals.
The report concludes with new research into resilience and what the IEP identifies as "Positive Peace" – the attitudes, institutions and structures which can best achieve and sustain global peace. Among those listed are: a well-functioning government with low levels of corruption, good relations with neighbouring countries, the free flow of information, an equitable distribution of resources, investment in education, gender equality and worker's rights.
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1st June 2016
World's longest and deepest rail tunnel officially opens in Switzerland
After nearly 20 years of construction work, the Gotthard Base Tunnel was officially opened today.
With a route length of 57 km (35 miles) and a total of 152 km (94 miles) of tunnels, shafts and passages, the Gotthard Base Tunnel (GBT) becomes the world's longest rail tunnel. It is also the deepest, reaching as far down as 2500m (8,200 ft) below the Alps mountain range.
This remarkable feat of engineering is designed to provide a high-speed rail link from Rotterdam in the Netherlands to Genoa in Italy. The tunnel will slash the 3.5-hour travel time from Zürich to Milan by an hour, while the journey from Zürich to Lugano is reduced by 45 minutes. Trains will operate as fast as 250 km/h (155 mph) along the new route.
The GBT is part of the AlpTransit project, which also includes the shorter Ceneri Base Tunnel, scheduled to open in December 2020. After 64 percent of Swiss voters accepted the proposals in a 1992 referendum, construction began in 1996. The total projected cost was around 9.8 billion Swiss francs (€8.85 billion or US$10.3 billion), but the final cost exceeded $12 billion.
During the construction of the Gotthard Base Tunnel, workers had to bore through a wide variety of different rock strata, from hard granite to crumbly sedimentary rock. Tunnel boring machines carried out 80 per cent of the work in the main tunnels, while conventional blasting methods were used for the other 20 per cent. A total of 28.2 million tonnes of excavated material was removed – equivalent to six Egyptian pyramids. To save time and money, teams worked in different sections of tunnel at the same time, via access galleries and shafts. Temperatures inside reached as high as 50°C (122°F).
The tunnel will be hugely important to Europe's economy. More than 20 million people are located in the catchment area between southern Germany and northern Italy. As many as 260 freight trains and 65 passenger trains will pass through every day. Thanks to a flat and relatively straight route, connections will be faster and more punctual. The speed, capacity and reliability of freight traffic will increase, making it more competitive. In addition to boosting the trade route between northern and southern Europe, it will also shift alpine traffic from road to rail, cutting CO2 emissions and helping to protect the surrounding ecosystem.
The leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland attended a grand opening ceremony today. In a speech at the northern entrance to the tunnel, the Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann said it was a "giant step for Switzerland, but equally for our neighbours and the rest of the continent."
The GBT is unlikely to hold the record for very long, however. China is planning to build an even longer tunnel underneath the Bohai Strait, forming a vital high-speed route between the north and south of the country. This will measure 76 miles (122 km), over twice as long as the Gotthard Base Tunnel.
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30th May 2016
MasterCard unveils the first commerce application for humanoid robot Pepper
Customers at Pizza Hut restaurants in Asia will soon get the chance to have their order taken by a robot.
MasterCard has unveiled the first commerce application for SoftBank Robotics' humanoid robot Pepper. The application will be powered by MasterPass, the global digital payment service from MasterCard that connects consumers with merchants, enabling them to make fast, simple, and secure digital payments across channels and devices. Pizza Hut Restaurants Asia P/L will be the inaugural launch partner working together with MasterCard to create innovative customer engagement with Pepper.
A major first step in bringing conversational commerce experiences to merchants and consumers, this new app will extend the robot's ability to integrate customer service, access to information and sales into a seamless and consistent user experience. Pizza Hut Asia will be piloting the Pepper robot for order-taking and personalised engagement in its stores by the end of 2016.
"Consumers have come to expect personalised service, customised offers, and simple and seamless processes both in-store and online," said Tobias Puehse, Vice President for Innovation Management, Digital Payments & Labs at MasterCard. "The app's goal is to provide consumers with a more memorable and personalised shopping experience beyond today's self-serve machines and kiosks, by combining Pepper's intelligence with a secure digital payment experience via MasterPass."
The robot will be installed in "between six and ten stores in Asia this year," said John Sheldon, Global SVP, Innovation Management, MasterCard Labs. Pepper can speak 19 languages and will "add more intelligence to kiosk ordering. Pepper guides you through the process of placing the order and can answer nutritional questions and communicate any specials."
A customer will be able to initiate an engagement by simply greeting Pepper and pairing their MasterPass account by either tapping the Pepper icon within the wallet or by scanning a QR code on the tablet that the robot holds. After pairing with MasterPass, Pepper can assist cardholders by providing personalised recommendations and offers, additional information on products, or assistance in checking out and paying for items. Pepper will initiate, approve and complete a transaction by connecting to MasterPass via a Wi-Fi connection and the entire transaction happens within the wallet.
Pepper has a number of human-like features. The robots "are intentionally designed to convey emotion," using sensors and cameras "to interpret the emotional state of the person they are interacting with and the cameras that it's using are evaluating the behaviour." For example, if the customer is excited and animated, so, too, would be Pepper. If the customer's movements are more muted, "then it would instead respond with a lot calmer and smaller gestures, so as to put that person at ease." If the customer gives his or her permission, the robot can remember their order history and ask if they want the same food or drink this time.
"We are excited to welcome Pepper to the Pizza Hut family," said Vipul Chawla, Managing Director of Pizza Hut Restaurants Asia. "Core to our digital transformation journey is the ability to make it easier for customers to engage, connect and transact with Pizza Hut. With an order-and-payment-enabled Pepper, customers can now come to expect personalised ordering, reduce wait time for carryout, and have a fun, frictionless user experience."
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27th May 2016
Donald Trump vows to end climate change funding
At the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference on Thursday, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump promised to end climate change funding and to greatly expand U.S. fossil fuel production.
After clinching the GOP nomination for President, Donald Trump outlined his energy and environmental policies yesterday to thousands at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck, North Dakota. During his speech, for which he received many standing ovations, Mr. Trump emphasised the need for an "America First" agenda.
"We're going to rescind all the job-destroying Obama Executive Actions including the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the United States Rule," Trump said to applause from the audience.
"We're gonna save the coal industry," he said. "And other industries threatened by Clinton's extremist agenda. And it is indeed an extremist agenda. Perhaps even worse than Obama. I'm going to ask trans-Canada to renew its permit application for the Keystone Pipeline."
In December 2015, a global climate change pact was agreed at the UN COP21 summit. This represented a consensus of the 196 parties attending and included measures to reduce the global temperature rise from 4.5°C to 3.5°C by 2100. While far from adequate, it was the biggest milestone to date in terms of halting climate change, with nations around the world promising to curtail their greenhouse gas emissions and pursuing efforts to limit the rise to 2.0°C or below.
The United States pledged emission cuts of nearly 30% by 2025 (relative to 2005 levels) and claimed it was on track for an 80% cut by 2050. One of the main ways in which this goal would be achieved was through stricter regulations on power plants – the single largest source of emissions – to be introduced by the Obama administration.
In addition to boosting renewables, lowering their costs, and increasing the energy efficiency of homes and workplaces, the plan would also create tens of thousands of new jobs, improve air and water quality, prevent 3,600 premature deaths, prevent 90,000 asthma attacks in children and prevent 300,000 missed workdays and schooldays. Consumers would save an estimated $155 billion from 2020-2030.
However, in his speech yesterday, Trump made it clear that he would "cancel the Paris climate agreement" and "stop all payments of the United States tax dollars to UN global warming programs." He also criticised the Endangered Species Act for being used to limit oil and gas operations and promised to "revoke policies that impose unwarranted restrictions on new drilling."
Interestingly, Trump recently applied for permission to erect coastal defences at his seaside golf resort in County Clare, Ireland. A permit application for the wall specifically refers to erosion caused by rising sea levels and extreme weather as a result of global warming. This is despite him calling it "pseudoscience," "bullshit" and "a total hoax."
Real Clear Politics' national polling shows that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are now almost level, following a sharp decline in the latter's popularity over the last two months. Their average scores now stand at roughly 43% each. The full speech at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference is available on YouTube.
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19th May 2016
Superbugs could kill 10 million people a year by 2050
A major new report warns that antibiotic resistance will kill someone every three seconds by 2050, unless the world acts now.
In July 2014, an international commission to investigate antimicrobial resistance (AMR) was established by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, in order to avoid the world being "cast back into the dark ages of medicine". Building on eight interim papers, a final report has been published today, headed by Lord Jim O'Neill. This global review on AMR sets out its final recommendations, providing a comprehensive action plan to combat drug-resistant infections and defeat the rising threat of superbugs – something that could kill 10 million people a year by 2050, the equivalent of 1 person every 3 seconds, and more than cancer kills today.
The report explains why AMR is such a massive problem and that it must be tackled. With each passing year it gets worse. Antimicrobial drugs are becoming less effective and the world is not developing enough new ones to keep up. Unless action is taken now, the cumulative economic cost by 2050 could be $100 trillion.
The report highlights 10 areas where the world needs to take action to tackle AMR. Many of these measures focus on how we can reduce the unnecessary use of antimicrobials, slowing the rate at which resistance increases and making our current drugs last longer. Others look at how to increase the supply of new drugs because, even if we reduce unnecessary use, our arsenal to defeat superbugs is running out and needs replenishing. All 10 areas are important, but four are particularly important and are outlined in more detail here:
• A global public awareness campaign to educate all of us about the problem of drug resistance. This must be an urgent priority and the Review urges international campaign developers, industry experts, and non-governmental organisations to consider how they could help to support such a campaign. This should begin this summer to really make progress, and could be launched formally by heads of state at the UN General Assembly in September.
• The supply of new antibiotics needs to be improved so they can replace existing ones as they become ineffective. A truly new class of antibiotic has not been seen for decades, because the lack of incentives for investment has led to reduced R&D, and many of the 'low hanging fruit' in terms of development have already been picked. We need a group of countries such as the G20 to reward new antibiotics after they are approved for use. These market entry rewards, of around one billion USD each, would be given to developers of successful new drugs, subject to certain conditions that ensure they are not 'over-marketed' but are available to patients who need them wherever they live.
• We need to use antibiotics more selectively through the use of rapid diagnostics, to reduce unnecessary use, which speeds the incidence and spread of drug resistance. To do this, we need a step change in the technology available. Doctors in most countries around the world still prescribe important medicines like antibiotics based only on their immediate assessment of a patient's symptoms, just like when antibiotics first entered common use in the 1950s. Governments of the richest countries should mandate that, by 2020, all antibiotic prescriptions will need to be informed by up to date surveillance and a rapid diagnostic test, wherever one exists.
• We must reduce the global unnecessary use of antibiotics in agriculture. In the US, for example, of the antibiotics defined as medically important for humans by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), over 70 percent (by weight) are sold for use in animals. A number of other countries are also likely to use more antibiotics in agriculture than in humans, but many do not even hold or publish the information. Firstly, surveillance needs to be improved in many parts of the world, so we know the extent of antibiotic use in agriculture. Targets must then be set by individual countries for this use, enabling governments to have the flexibility to decide how they will reach lower levels. Alongside this, we need to make far quicker progress on banning or restricting antibiotics that are vital for human health from being used in animals.
The report then discusses how these solutions would be paid for. The costs of action are dwarfed by the costs of inaction: the proposals made by the Review on AMR would cost up to $40 billion USD over 10 years. However, the cost of antimicrobial resistance between now and 2050 could be as much as $100 trillion USD. The economic case for action is clear, as well as the tragic human consequences of inaction. The solutions could be paid for by one or more of the following:
a) Allocating a very small percentage of G20 countries' existing healthcare spending to tackling AMR
b) Reallocating a fraction of global funding from international institutions to AMR
c) Apply an antibiotic investment charge to pharmaceutical companies who do not invest in research for AMR
d) Implementing a tax on antibiotics
e) Introducing transferrable 'vouchers' to reward new antibiotics
International collaboration – via the World Health Assembly, G7, G20 and United Nations – is needed to deliver these policy proposals and turn discussions on AMR into real action. This needs to build on promising steps made by governments, and by industry recently affirming its commitment to tackle AMR with a landmark declaration at Davos. Here, over 85 companies, including vaccine developers, large pharmaceutical companies, diagnostic developers and biotechs, committed to further action to reduce drug resistance, increase research and improve access. With this momentum, and with 700,000 people already dying each year from antimicrobial resistance, 2016 is a crucial year.
Lord Jim O'Neill, Chairman of the Review on AMR: "My Review not only makes it clear how big a threat AMR is to the world, with a potential 10 million people dying each year by 2050, but also now sets out a workable blueprint for bold, global action to tackle this challenge. The actions that I'm setting out today are ambitious in their scope – but this is a problem which it is well within our grasp to solve if we take action now. I call on the governments of the G7, G20 and the UN to take real action in 2016 on the ten proposals made by my Review, to avoid the terrible human and economic costs of resistance that the world would otherwise face."
George Osborne, the UK's Chancellor of the Exchequer, said: "Lord O'Neill's Review provides a stark warning that unless we take global action, antimicrobial resistance will become a greater threat to mankind than cancer currently is. It is not just a threat to health, but also to the world economy. Apart from the moral case for action of the sort Lord O'Neill proposes, the economic cost of failing to act is too great to contemplate. So I am calling on other finance ministries to come together this year and, working with industry leaders and medical experts, agree a common approach. I also want to thank Lord O'Neill for his tireless work on this subject. He has helped to propel it to the top of the global agenda, for which he deserves great credit."
"The invention of antibiotics in the mid-twentieth century was one of the greatest medical breakthroughs of the modern era," said Lelio Marmora, Executive Director of global health charity UNITAID. "Future generations will judge us harshly if we fail to halt and reverse the spread of antimicrobial resistance. I therefore wholeheartedly applaud the Review's proposals to incentivise the introduction of new drugs to replace ones that are failing as a result of mounting resistance."
Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, said: "WHO warmly welcomes this thorough and compelling review so brilliantly overseen by Lord O'Neill. Its 10-point platform for responding to antimicrobial resistance takes forward many issues raised in the WHO Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance. Importantly, the review tackles the burning need to find incentives that can get new products into the pipeline. If not, the scenario it paints for 2050 will surely jolt the last remaining sceptics into action."
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17th May 2016
More than a billion people exposed to coastal flooding by 2060
To mark the start of Christian Aid Week, a new report launched by the charity highlights the cities most at risk from future coastal flooding.
Christian Aid's report – Act Now Or Pay Later: Protecting a billion people in climate-threatened coastal cities – shows that more than a billion people will be exposed to coastal flooding by 2060, through a combination of sea level rise, storm surges and extreme weather. Published yesterday, the report reveals that people living in three of the biggest carbon polluting countries will be most at risk: China, India and the USA.
According to projections for the year 2070 – based on the latest IPCC reports – India's Kolkata and Mumbai top the list of cities whose populations are most exposed to coastal flooding, with 14 million and 11.4 million respectively. The first seven cities on the list are from Asia, followed by Miami in 8th.
Miami is also forecast to suffer the brunt of the financial losses from coastal flooding by 2070, topping a separate list with an eye-watering $3.5 trillion of threatened assets. The USA is likely to pay a hefty price for its carbon footprint – among the world's highest when measured on a per capita basis – as New York also comes in third place with $2.1 trillion. China's Guangzhou splits the two American cities with exposed assets of $3.4 trillion.
In total, of the top 20 most financially vulnerable cities, half are from either of these two countries: four from the USA, six from China.
Report author Dr Alison Doig, Christian Aid's Principal Climate Change Advisor, said the figures should be a wakeup call ahead of next week's World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul (23rd-24th May).
"We are facing a head on collision between the growth of coastal urban areas and climate change which makes coastal flooding more likely," she said. "This perfect storm is likely to bring about a heavy human and financial toll, unless we do something about it.
"Cruelly, it will be the poor that will suffer the most. Although the financial cost to cities in rich countries will be crippling, wealthier people will at least have options to relocate and receive insurance protection.
"Evidence shows that from New Orleans to Dhaka, it is the poorest who are most vulnerable, because they have the worst infrastructure and no social or financial safety nets to help them recover."
Dr Doig added: "There is a chance this horrifying vision of the future can be avoided. It is striking that the cities facing the most severe impacts are in countries with high contributions of carbon emissions. The first thing we can do is speed up the global transition away from dirty fossil fuels to the clean, renewably energy of the future. We can also do more to prepare for such occurrences. For every $1 spent on reducing the risk of disasters, we save around $7 later. Such investment is a no brainer."
Guangzhou, the Chinese city most at risk.
Ahead of next week's World Humanitarian Summit, UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon has called for the percentage of global aid spent on disaster risk reduction to be doubled to 1%. This would bring the figure to $1 billion. Christian Aid is calling for a rise to 5%.
Dr Doig added: "This billion dollars would go some way to help protect people in these cities now, alleviating the threat for the billion vulnerable people at risk from coastal flooding by 2060."
In another ranking, the report lists which nations will have the most people living in exposed coastlines by 2060. China tops the list, followed by India and Bangladesh. The UK comes in 22nd.
"In the UK, we've experienced in recent years the winter flooding that has left large parts of the country deluged," Dr Doig continued. "But these figures show that it's not just more rainfall we need to be wary of. The people living along our coastlines will become vulnerable to rising tides unless we do something about climate change."
The report goes on to examine how men and women are affected differently by climate-related disasters, with women on the whole suffering more acutely. It also shows examples of where Christian Aid is offering practical assistance to help the most vulnerable deal with the climate impacts they are already facing.
Bangladesh is among the most vulnerable countries to climate change and is ranked 142nd out of 187 nations on the UN's Human Development Index. However, donations to Christian Aid are helping lift people away from the floodwaters. One example is Feroza Begum and her family, whose home was flooded multiple times and at one point was underwater for 18 days. Thanks to help from Christian Aid partner organisation GUK, their home and surrounding land was raised onto a sturdy plinth.
Feroza was also given livestock and climate-resistant seeds to diversify her income and become more resilient. "Because of this plinth, I feel better," she told Christian Aid. "Now I have been able to make a small plantation and grow some vegetables. I am doing much better and feel much safer."
Christian Aid's report was published on the same day that NASA confirmed April 2016 was the hottest April on record, beating the previous record set in 2010 by 0.24°C, the largest margin ever. It is likely that 2016 will be the hottest year on record globally.
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21st April 2016
Fossil fuels could be phased out worldwide in a decade
The worldwide reliance on burning fossil fuels to create energy could be phased out in a decade, according to an article published by a major energy think tank.
Professor Benjamin Sovacool, from the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, believes that the next great energy revolution could take place in a fraction of the time of major changes in the past. But it would take a collaborative, interdisciplinary, multi-scalar effort to get there, he warns. And that effort must learn from the trials and tribulations from previous energy systems and technology transitions.
In a paper published by the peer-reviewed journal Energy Research & Social Science, he analyses energy transitions throughout history and argues that only looking at the past can often paint an overly bleak and unnecessary picture. Moving from wood to coal in Europe, for example, took between 96 and 160 years, whereas electricity took 47 to 69 years to enter into mainstream use.
But this time, the future could be different, he says – the scarcity of fossil fuel resources, the threat of climate change and vastly improved technological learning and innovation could greatly accelerate a global shift to a cleaner energy future.
The study highlights numerous examples of speedier transitions that are often overlooked by analysts. For example, Ontario completed a shift away from coal between 2003 and 2014; a major household energy programme in Indonesia took just three years to move two-thirds of the population from kerosene stoves to LPG stoves; and France's nuclear power programme saw supply rocket from four per cent of the electricity supply market in 1970 to 40 per cent in 1982. Each of these cases has in common strong government intervention along with shifts in consumer behaviour, often driven by incentives and pressure from stakeholders.
"The mainstream view of energy transitions as long, protracted affairs, often taking decades or centuries to occur, is not always supported by evidence," says Professor Sovacool. "Moving to a new, cleaner energy system would require significant shifts in technology, political regulations, tariffs and pricing regimes, and the behaviour of users and adopters.
"Left to evolve by itself – as it has largely been in the past – this can indeed take many decades. A lot of stars have to align all at once. But we have learnt a sufficient amount from previous transitions that I believe future transformations can happen much more rapidly."
To summarise, while the study suggests that the historical record can be instructive in shaping our understanding of macro and micro energy transitions, it need not be predictive.
While his forecast may seem outlandish and overly optimistic, there are signs that he might be correct. The worldwide installed capacities of solar and wind power, for example, continue to grow exponentially as costs plummet and efficiencies improve. Likewise, the number of electric cars in the world is rising exponentially and passed the one million mark in 2015. In Europe, the Netherlands is proposing a ban on all gas and diesel car sales by 2025, while UK firm Ecotricity is looking at "green gas", a carbon-neutral alternative to fracking. Meanwhile in the United States, Elon Musk last year unveiled a new battery system – the Powerwall – that could revolutionise clean energy storage for homes and businesses.
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13th April 2016
Dubai to build tallest tower by 2020
A futuristic new tower in Dubai will surpass the height of the current world record holder – the Burj Khalifa – and utilise the most advanced technology, engineering and materials available.
Credit: Emaar Properties
Emaar Properties has announced a "glittering new icon" that will redefine Dubai's skyline when completed in time for the 2020 World Expo. The tower is set to rise in the heart of Dubai Creek Harbour, to the east of the city's current tallest skyscraper and world record holder, the Burj Khalifa. The exact height of this proposed megaproject remains a secret and will be revealed at a later date, but its developers claim it will be the tallest in the city. It is, however, likely to be surpassed in height by the Jeddah Tower, currently under construction in Saudi Arabia and planned to reach 1,008 m (3,307 ft).
The unnamed building, currently known as simply "The Tower", will serve as the vibrant core of Dubai Creek Harbour – a 6 sq km world-class masterplannned development twice the size of Downtown Dubai and located 10 minutes from Dubai International Airport. The waterfront development is centred off Dubai Creek, the cradle of history and culture for this region, and in close proximity to Ras Al Khor National Wildlife Sanctuary, protected by UNESCO and home to nearly 70 species of water birds.
Credit: Emaar Properties
Mohamed Alabbar, Chairman of Emaar Properties, said: "The Tower in Dubai Creek Harbour is our tribute to the positivity, energy and optimism that Dubai and the UAE celebrate, led by a leadership committed to all-round progress. A shining beacon of hope for the world, celebrating diversity and human achievements, this new iconic landmark further highlights the country's ambition and futuristic vision and enhances our nation's pride. It will be the destination for the world to visit, enjoy and celebrate life, as Dubai prepares to host the Expo 2020."
He added: "The design by Santiago Calatrava, chosen after a competitive pitch from the world's top architects, was a perfect fit to our requirement for a landmark that defined our urban core for Dubai Creek Harbour. It integrates not just design excellence but also strong environmental and smart-tech considerations. With The Tower, we are delivering a compelling destination that will add long-term economic value to Dubai and the UAE. It will also position Dubai Creek Harbour as one of the most desired residential, leisure and touristic attractions, providing visitors and residents with a modern, luxurious and sustainable environment in which to live, work, learn and entertain."
Credit: Emaar Properties
"From the beginning, my team and I have tried to put the best of ourselves into this project, since it is very special and is a great honour to participate," said architect Santiago Calatrava Valls. "The collaboration with such a prestigious firm as Emaar Properties makes it even more exciting and demanding. The design has clear reference to the classic art from the past and the culture of the place while serving as a great technological achievement. In my whole career, I have perceived technology as a vehicle to beauty and to art. This project envisages an artistic achievement in itself, inspired by the idea of welcoming people, not only from Dubai and the UAE, but from the entire world. It is a symbol of an abiding belief in progress."
Calatrava's previous works include the World Trade Centre Transportation Hub in New York, Calgary Peace Bridge, Olympic Sports Complex in Athens and the Turning Torso Tower in Malmö that was recently awarded the Ten Year Award from the Council on Tall Buildings & Urban Habitat (CTBUH).
Credit: Emaar Properties
The Tower will feature green technology and sustainability measures that serve as industry benchmarks. An environment-friendly tram service will be integrated for effortless access, while on-foot visitors will have a multitude of access points onto the plaza. A number of green corridors are envisaged for pedestrian access and effortless connectivity with Dubai Creek Harbour.
The crowning glory of the $1 billion tower will be a "Pinnacle Room" with 360 degree views of the city and beyond. Observation garden decks will recreate the splendour of the "Hanging Gardens of Babylon" – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In addition, fully glazed rotating balconies will extend outward and move around the external facade.
Credit: Emaar Properties
The Tower will serve mainly as an architectural structure, as opposed to a fully occupied working building – but will include about 20 upper floors used for a hotel, restaurants and function rooms, as well as the interior garden space and observation decks. The surrounding Dubai Creek Harbour project – being developed in a joint venture with Dubai Properties – will feature a 4.5km boardwalk, retail, nine lifestyle districts, 22 hotels, a yacht club, a marina and harbour.
In addition to hosting the World Expo, the UAE plans to launch the first Arabian mission to Mars the following year, which coincides with the 50th anniversary of the country's formation. To diversify its economy away from reliance on hydrocarbon exports, several billion dollars are being invested in the space sector and the creation of a regional hub for satellite construction. It is clear that the UAE has big ambitions for the future.
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10th April 2016
Self-driving trucks complete journey across Europe
Fleets of self-driving trucks this week completed the European Truck Platooning Challenge.
As part of the world's first cross-border initiative with smart trucks, six "platoons" of semi-automated trucks have completed their journeys from various cities across Europe, reaching their final destination at the Port of Rotterdam on 6th April.
They were participating in the European Truck Platooning Challenge organised by the Dutch government as part of its EU Presidency. The European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA) and commercial vehicle members – including Daimler, Scania and Volvo – are active partners of the initiative with each supplying a platoon. One set of trucks made by Scania travelled over 2,000 km and crossed four borders. Daimler made headlines in 2014 when the company demonstrated the world's first autonomous truck in Magdeburg, Germany, and in 2015 its Freightliner Inspiration Trucks gained a licence for road use in Nevada.
Truck platooning – which has the potential to make transport cleaner, safer and more efficient – is the linking of two or three trucks in a convoy. These vehicles follow each other at a fixed, close distance, by using connectivity technology and automated driving support systems.
Using this technique cuts fuel use by 15%, prevents human error from causing accidents, and reduces congestion, according to research firm TNO. Expenses can be lowered significantly.
Two trucks doing 100,000 miles annually can save €6,000 ($6,840) on fuel by platooning, compared to driving on cruise control. Safety is greatly improved by using technology such as Volvo's emergency braking system and Daimler's Highway Pilot Connect – systems with braking reaction times of under 0.1 seconds, compared to 1.4 seconds for a human driver. A Wi-Fi connection between the trucks ensures synchronised braking and can prevent sudden jolt/shock effects.
When operating in platoon mode, a convoy of three semi-autonomous trucks can travel much closer together – requiring only 80 metres of road space, from end to end. For comparison, if they were driven by humans, they would need to fill 185 metres of road. Congestion on roads will therefore be greatly reduced if more and more self-driving vehicles are deployed in the future, while pollution can also be lowered.
Melanie Schulz, Dutch minister for Infrastructure and the Environment who spearheaded this initiative, commented: "The results of this first ever major try-out in Europe are promising. The hands-on experience gained here will be very useful in the informal European transport council on 14th April in Amsterdam. It will certainly help my colleagues and I discuss the adjustments needed to make self-driving transport a reality."
There are still a number of barriers standing in the way of truck platooning across Europe. These barriers are not of a technical nature as platooning technology exists already; rather they are caused by differences in legislation between the EU member states: "Harmonisation is needed if we want a wide-scale introduction of platooning," stated Harrie Schippers, President of DAF Trucks.
Sufficient demand is also crucial, to ensure the right level of market uptake. Following the Truck Platooning Challenge, there have been encouraging expressions of interest from the business community and the transport sector, including Unilever and major Dutch supermarkets. The testing phase is the most important next step. More and more national governments are offering industry the opportunity to test their latest vehicles and technologies, thereby also supporting efforts to increase public awareness, understanding and acceptance. However, this is also vital on a pan-European scale.
"It is precisely for this reason that we believe that the European Truck Platooning Challenge has been a huge success: it has fostered much-needed cooperation between all relevant stakeholders right across the EU, facilitating cross-border driving and encouraging compatibility on legal and technical issues," said Schippers. "We look forward to harvesting the learnings from this initiative so that, together, we can make truck platoons a common sight on Europe's roads in the future."
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19th March 2016
The world's first autonomous pizza delivery vehicle
Domino's Pizza Enterprises in Australia has unveiled the world's first autonomous pizza delivery vehicle.
Domino's Pizza Enterprises in Australia has revealed plans for an autonomous delivery vehicle, named the DRU (Domino's Robotic Unit). While still at the prototype stage, the company says it demonstrates just how serious they are about informing regulation in this space.
The machine is designed with sleek, refined forms combined with a friendly persona and lighting to help customers identify and interact with it. DRU is a four wheeled vehicle with compartments built to keep the customer's order piping hot and drinks cold, whilst travelling on the footpath at a safe speed from the store to the customer's door. It can select the best path of travel, with on-board sensors enabling it to perceive obstacles along the way and avoid them if necessary. The pizza is kept in a locked storage compartment, accessible through use of a security code sent to the customer's phone.
Domino's Group CEO and Managing Director, Don Meij said that autonomous vehicles would open up new opportunities and create an impetus for innovation both in Australia and around the world: "This highlights what can happen when disruptive thinking is fostered – it turns into a commercially viable and revolutionary product. It allows Domino's to explore new concepts and push the boundaries of what is possible for our customers. The DRU prototype is only the first step in our research and development as we continue to develop a range of innovations set to revolutionise the entire pizza ordering experience."
Meij confirmed the idea for DRU came from within the company's internal innovation sessions and has been developed in Domino's own DLAB, a purpose built lab to help budding entrepreneurs commercialise their ideas: "With a dedicated innovation lab, this project has been accelerated much faster than normal projects, without losing any of the quality control," he said.
DRU is powered by technology from Australian start-up company, Marathon Robotics.
"To launch DRU from concept through to development of a prototype highlights the extraordinary talent and resources available on our doorstep – both with excellent external talent such as Marathon and the knowledge and experience of our internal team at Domino's."
Domino's has been working with the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads, along with other global partners to ensure the delivery droid concept meets relevant legislative requirements as it is trialled and tested.
"We are also working with Government agencies on the project to ensure all legal requirements are met. The agencies have been very supportive in the process to date and we're all excited about what this technology can lead to."
While autonomous drones and cars still need to pass a number of regulatory hurdles and challenges before they're delivering pizza on Australian streets, DRU shows that Domino's is actively engaged in the field and working with regulators on the future commercialisation of such technology. The machine has already been involved in a number of customer deliveries in restricted streets identified by the Department under a special permit and is currently operated in semi-autonomous mode. These early trials are a big step forward in commercialising fully autonomous delivery vehicles.
"With autonomous vehicles opening up possibilities for saving lives, saving time and moving goods more efficiently, we look forward to continuing our work in this field and leading the commercial trials so that our customers can reap the benefits," Mr Meij said. He confirmed that DRU will one day fit into and enhance the existing team of delivery personnel, and when he does will be a welcome addition to the team: "DRU is cheeky and endearing and we are confident that one day, he will become an integral part of the Domino's family. He's a road to the future and one that we are very excited about exploring further."
The global service robotics market is forecast to be worth $18 billion USD by 2020, according to analyst firm Research and Markets. This value will most likely be higher if DRU proves successful, influencing other fast-food suppliers to implement robotic technology in their delivery services.
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9th March 2016
World's second largest rainforest at risk from lifting of logging moratorium
New licences could soon be issued to logging companies in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), threatening to accelerate the rate of deforestation in the region.
A tropical rainforest more than twice the size of France is at risk of being cut down, following news from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that the government is planning to re-open its forest to new logging companies. This comes at a time when the governments of Norway, France, Germany, the UK, and the European Union are assessing whether to support a billion-dollar plan proposed by the DRC government to protect the country's 1.55 million square kilometres of forests.
A coalition of environmental and anti-corruption organisations is calling on the DRC to maintain its moratorium on the allocation of new logging licenses, which has been in place since 2002.
"The large-scale logging of DRC's rainforest was and is a disaster," said Irène Betoko of Greenpeace Africa. "It not only harms the country's environment, but also fuels corruption and creates social and economic havoc. We call upon the DRC government to keep the present logging moratorium in place."
Lars Løvold of the Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN): "At a time when the global community is working together to protect the world's last rainforests, a vital defence against climate change, the DRC government seems to be undermining the commitment to reducing emissions that it presented in Paris."
DRC Environment Minister, Robert Bogeza, outlining his priorities for 2016, stated that measures are being taken to lift the moratorium on the allocation of new logging licenses, citing the financial benefits this could bring: "The moratorium on granting new forestry concessions, decreed in 2002 by Ministerial Decree and reaffirmed in 2005 by Presidential Decree, has caused a huge shortfall in revenues for our country. Measures are underway for the Government to lift it."
However, Joesph Bobia of Réseau Ressources Naturelles (RRN) said: "The argument that logging can significantly contribute to government revenues is completely unfounded. Around a tenth of the DRC's rainforest is already being logged. And yet, in 2014 the country obtained a pitiful USD$8 million in fiscal revenues from the sector – the equivalent of about 12 cents for every Congolese person."
Simon Counsell of the Rainforest Foundation UK said: "The expansion of industrial logging in the Congo's rainforests is likely to have serious long-term negative impacts on the millions of people living in and depending on those forests. We urge the government of DRC to instead promote community-based forest protection and alternatives to logging that will help the country's population prosper."
Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) is an international effort under the UN climate treaties to combat carbon emissions by protecting the world's forests. The DRC's national strategy for REDD has been under negotiation for six years and will be submitted to international donor governments for approval this year.
The moratorium on the allocation of new logging titles was issued by Ministerial decree in 2002, in an attempt to regain control of the country's timber industry, which was riddled with illegal logging and corruption. The DRC accounts for a tenth of the world's remaining tropical rainforests. Many species, such as the bonobo and okapi, are only found in these ecosystems. Some 40 million people in the country rely on these forests for their livelihoods.
A civil society briefing is available to download here.
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4th February 2016
Asteroid mining initiative announced by Luxembourg
The Luxembourg government yesterday announced a series of measures to position the country as a European hub in the exploration and use of space resources. Amongst the key steps undertaken will be the development of a legal and regulatory framework that provides certainty about the future ownership of minerals extracted from Near Earth Objects (NEO's), such as asteroids.
Luxembourg has become the first European country to announce its intention to establish a formal legal framework ensuring that private operators working in outer space can be confident about their rights to the resources they extract, i.e. rare minerals from asteroids. This legal framework will be designed in full consideration of international law. Luxembourg is eager to engage with other countries on this matter within a multilateral framework. Luxembourg will also invest in relevant R&D projects and consider direct capital investment in companies active in this field.
This initiative will nurture an exciting and entirely new space industry – offering unprecedented access to vast metal and mineral resources, for use in Earth orbit and beyond, stimulating economic growth and encouraging new horizons in space exploration.
Luxembourg already has a strong track record in related sectors, with satellite operator SES, established in Luxembourg 30 years ago and now a major global player in its field. The budget allocated to the space resources initiative will be part of the national space budget and will be defined in terms of Luxembourg's contribution to the next European Space Agency (ESA) multiannual budget, to be decided in December 2016.
Luxembourg's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy, Étienne Schneider, commented: "Our aim is to open access to a wealth of previously unexplored mineral resources on lifeless rocks hurling through space, without damaging natural habitats. We will support the long-term economic development of new, innovative activities in the space and satellite industries as a key high-tech sector for Luxembourg. At first, our aim is to carry out research in this area, which at a later stage can lead to more concrete activities in space."
Former ESA boss, Jean-Jacques Dordain, will be an adviser. In a press conference, he said that asteroid mining was no longer science fiction; the basic technologies of landing and returning materials from space had essentially been proven: "Things are moving in the United States and it was high time there was an initiative in Europe, and I am glad the first initiative is coming from Luxembourg," he said. "It will give no excuse for European investors to go to California."
Press conference by Étienne Schneider and Jean-Jacques Dordain.
Yves Elsen, Chairperson of the Luxembourg Space Cluster stated: "Over the past three decades, Luxembourg has built up extensive know-how in world-class space related activities. Luxembourg can write history once again by further sustaining the attractiveness of the country for a host of next generation space activities."
Simon P. Worden, Chairman of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation said: "Humanity is on the verge of expansion into the solar system – and then beyond. Using the resources we find there is essential – not only for our expansion into space, but also to ensure continued prosperity here on Earth."
Chris Lewicki, President and CEO of Planetary Resources, commented: "We commend the Government of Luxembourg in leading the world by establishing this new resource industry, thereby enabling the economic development of near-Earth asteroid resources. Planetary Resources looks forward to working with Luxembourg."
Rick Tumlinson, Co-founder and Chair of the Board of Deep Space Industries, stated: "By opening up the resources of space, Luxembourg will help take the pressure off the Earth."
28th January 2016
Doomsday Clock stays at three minutes to midnight
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board has announced that their closely monitored "Doomsday Clock" will remain at three minutes to midnight.
The Doomsday Clock is a symbolic clock face, representing a countdown to possible global catastrophe (e.g. nuclear war or climate change). It has been maintained since 1947 by the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which includes 18 Nobel Laureates. The closer they set the Clock to midnight, the closer the scientists believe the world is to global disaster.
The position of the Clock hands in the past has ranged from two minutes to midnight in 1953 (after the U.S. began testing hydrogen bombs, which was followed by Soviet tests shortly after), to 17 minutes to midnight in 1991 (when the Cold War ended and deep cuts were made to nuclear arsenals).
Last year, the Clock hands were moved from five to three minutes to midnight, with the Bulletin stating: "Unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernisations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity, and world leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe. These failures of political leadership endanger every person on Earth."
This week, it was announced that the Doomsday Clock will remain at three minutes to midnight, since recent progress in the Iran nuclear agreement and the Paris climate accord "constitute only small bright spots in a darker world situation full of potential for catastrophe."
The statement accompanying the Doomsday Clock decision opens with the following words: "Three minutes (to midnight) is too close. Far too close. We, the members of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, want to be clear about our decision not to move the hands of the Doomsday Clock in 2016: That decision is not good news, but an expression of dismay that world leaders continue to fail to focus their efforts and the world's attention on reducing the extreme danger posed by nuclear weapons and climate change. When we call these dangers existential, that is exactly what we mean: They threaten the very existence of civilization and therefore should be the first order of business for leaders who care about their constituents and their countries."
While recognising the important progress of the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord, the Bulletin cautions that these positive steps have been offset in large part by foreboding developments: "Even as the Iran agreement was hammered out, tensions between the United States and Russia rose to levels reminiscent of the worst periods of the Cold War. Conflict in Ukraine and Syria continued, accompanied by dangerous bluster and brinkmanship, with Turkey, a NATO member, shooting down a Russian warplane involved in Syria, the director of a state-run Russian news agency making statements about turning the United States to radioactive ash, and NATO and Russia repositioning military assets and conducting significant exercises with them. Washington and Moscow continue to adhere to most existing nuclear arms control agreements, but the United States, Russia, and other nuclear weapons countries are engaged in programs to modernise their nuclear arsenals, suggesting that they plan to keep and maintain the readiness of their nuclear weapons for decades, at least — despite their pledges, codified in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to pursue nuclear disarmament."
On the climate front, the Bulletin statement points out: "Promising though it may be, the Paris climate agreement came toward the end of Earth's warmest year on record, with the increase in global temperature over pre-industrial levels surpassing one degree Celsius."
Other more positive climate developments cited in the statement include the Papal encyclical related to climate change, the movement among investors toward divestment of fossil fuels, new advances in sustainable energy systems, more climate-friendly governments in Canada and Australia. However, the statement cautions that even these developments must be seen "against the steady backtracking of the United Kingdom's present government on climate policies and the continued intransigence of the Republican Party in the U.S., which stands alone in the world in failing to acknowledge even that human-caused climate change is a problem."
The Bulletin also reflects concerns about "the nuclear power vacuum" around the globe: "The international community has not developed coordinated plans to meet cost, safety, radioactive waste management, and proliferation challenges that large-scale nuclear expansion poses ... Because of such problems, in the United States and in other countries, nuclear power's attractiveness as an alternative to fossil fuels has decreased, despite the clear need for carbon-emissions-free energy in the age of climate change."
Rachel Bronson, executive director of the Bulletin, comments: "Last year, the Bulletin's Science and Security Board moved the Doomsday Clock forward to three minutes to midnight, noting: 'The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.' That probability has not been reduced. The Clock ticks. Global danger looms. Wise leaders should act — immediately."
Lawrence Krauss, chair of the Bulletin's Board of Sponsors: "Developments have been mixed since we moved the clock forward a year ago. In spite of some positive news, the major challenges the Bulletin laid out for governments then have not been addressed, even as the overall global challenges we need to face become more urgent. The clock reflects our estimate that the world is as close to the brink as it was in 1983 when US-Russian tensions were at their iciest in decades."
Sharon Squassoni, Bulletin Science and Security Board member, and a director of the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Centre for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC, said: "North Korea's recent nuclear test illustrates the very real danger of life in a proliferated world. Nuclear proliferation isn't a potential threat — we still have few controls over the kinds of capabilities that Iran succeeded in acquiring. In addition, regional tensions and conflict increase the risk of theft or use of these weapons."
Sivan Kartha, Bulletin Science and Security Board member, senior scientist and climate change expert, states: "The voluntary pledges made in Paris to limit greenhouse gas emissions are insufficient to the task of averting drastic climate change. These incremental steps must somehow evolve into the fundamental change in world energy systems needed if climate change is to ultimately be arrested."
So, what steps need to be taken?
The Bulletin statement accompanying the Doomsday Clock announcement identifies the following as the most urgently needed:
• Dramatically reduce proposed spending on nuclear weapons modernisation programs.
• Re-energise the disarmament process, with a focus on results.
• Engage North Korea to reduce nuclear risks.
• Follow up on the Paris accord with actions to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fulfil the global agreement to keep warming below 2°C.
• Deal now with the commercial nuclear waste problem.
• Create institutions specifically assigned to explore and address potentially catastrophic misuses of new technologies.
18th January 2016
62 people own same as half the world
Runaway inequality has created a world where 62 people own as much as the poorest half of the global population, according to an Oxfam report published today ahead of the annual gathering of the world's financial and political elites in Davos. This number has fallen dramatically from 388 as recently as 2010 and 80 last year.
Oxfam's new report, An Economy for the 1%, shows that the wealth of the poorest half of the global population – 3.6 billion people – has fallen by a trillion dollars since 2010. This 41 per cent drop has occurred despite the world's population increasing by around 400 million people during that period. Meanwhile, the wealth of the richest 62 has increased by more than half a trillion dollars to $1.76tr. Just nine of the "62" are women.
Although world leaders have increasingly talked about the need to tackle inequality, the gap between the richest and the rest has widened dramatically in the past 12 months. Oxfam's prediction – made ahead of last year's Davos – that the 1% would soon own more than the rest of us by 2016, actually came true in 2015, earlier than expected.
Oxfam is calling for urgent action to tackle the inequality crisis and reverse the dramatic fall in wealth of the poorest half of the world. It is urging world leaders to adopt a three-pronged approach – cracking down on tax dodging; increased investment in public services; and action to boost the income of the lowest paid. As a main priority, it is calling for an end to the era of tax havens, which has seen increasing use of offshore centres by rich individuals and companies to avoid paying their fair share to society. This has denied governments valuable resources needed to tackle poverty and inequality.
It is three years since British PM David Cameron told Davos he would lead a global effort against aggressive avoidance in the UK and in poor countries. However, promised measures to increase transparency in British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies, such as the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands, have not yet been implemented.
Mark Goldring, Oxfam Chief Executive, said: "It is simply unacceptable that the poorest half of the world population owns no more than a small group of the global super-rich – so few, you could fit them all on a single coach. World leaders' concern about the escalating inequality crisis has so far not translated into concrete action to ensure that those at the bottom get their fair share of economic growth. In a world where one in nine people go to bed hungry every night, we cannot afford to carry on giving the richest an ever bigger slice of the cake.
"We need to end the era of tax havens which has allowed rich individuals and multinational companies to avoid their responsibilities to society by hiding ever increasing amounts of money offshore. Tackling the veil of secrecy surrounding the network of tax havens would be a big step towards ending extreme inequality."
Globally, it is estimated that super-rich individuals have stashed a total of $7.6tr in offshore accounts. If tax were paid on the income that this wealth generates, an extra $190bn would be available to governments every year.
As much as 30 per cent of all African financial wealth is estimated to be held offshore, costing an estimated $14bn in lost tax revenue every year. This is enough to pay healthcare for mothers and children that could save four million children's lives a year and employ enough teachers to get every African child into school.
Allowing governments to collect the taxes they are owed from companies and rich individuals will be vital if world leaders are to meet the new UN Sustainable Development Goals (successor to the Millennium Development Goals), agreed last year, which aim to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030.
Although the number of people living in extreme poverty halved between 1990 and 2010, the average annual income of the poorest 10 per cent has risen by less than $3 a year in the past quarter of a century. That equates to an increase in daily income of less than a single cent a year. Had inequality within countries not grown between 1990 and 2010, an extra 200 million people would have escaped poverty.
One of the other key trends behind rising inequality, seen in Oxfam's report, is the falling share of national income going to workers in almost all developed and most developing countries and a widening gap between pay at the top and bottom of the income scale. This particularly affects women, who make up the majority of low paid workers around the world.
By contrast, the already wealthy have benefited from a rate of return on capital via interest payments, dividends, etc. that has been consistently higher than the rate of economic growth. This advantage has been compounded by the use of tax havens, which are perhaps the most glaring example set out in the report of how the rules of the economic game have been rigged in a manner that has supercharged the ability of the rich and powerful to entrench their wealth.
Action to recover the missing billions lost to tax havens needs to be accompanied by a commitment on the part of governments to invest in healthcare, schools and other vital public services that make such a big difference to the lives of the poorest people. Governments should also ensure that work delivers an acceptable standard of living for those at the bottom, by moving minimum wage rates towards a living wage and tackling the pay gap between men and women.
"Ending extreme poverty requires world leaders to tackle the growing gap between the richest and the rest, which has trapped hundreds of millions of people in a life of poverty, hunger and sickness," Goldring added. "It is no longer good enough for the richest to pretend that their wealth benefits the rest of us when the facts show that the recent explosion in the wealth of the super-rich has come at the expense of the poorest."
16th January 2016
U.S. government pledges $4bn for self-driving vehicles
The U.S. government this week revealed plans for a 10-year, nearly $4 billion investment to accelerate the development and adoption of safe vehicle automation, through real-world pilot projects.
In his final State of the Union address, President Obama signalled his intent to invest in a 21st century transportation system. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx this week revealed part of the president's proposal: a 10-year, nearly $4 billion investment to accelerate the development and adoption of safe vehicle automation, through real-world pilot projects.
Secretary Foxx also announced the removal of potential roadblocks to the integration of innovative, transformational automotive technology that can significantly improve safety, mobility, and sustainability. Foxx made the announcement at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, where he was joined by leaders in technology, executives of traditional auto manufacturers, and newcomers to the industry.
"We are on the cusp of a new era in automotive technology with enormous potential to save lives, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and transform mobility for the American people," said Foxx. "Today's actions and those we will pursue in the coming months will provide the foundation and the path forward for manufacturers, state officials, and consumers to use new technologies and achieve their full safety potential."
The President's 2017 budget proposal would provide nearly $4 billion over 10 years for pilot programs to test connected vehicle systems in designated corridors throughout the country, and work with industry leaders to ensure a common, multistate framework, for connected and autonomous vehicles.
Secretary Foxx has also confirmed an update for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) 2013 preliminary policy statement on autonomous vehicle technology. This new guidance reflects the reality that the widespread deployment of fully autonomous vehicles is now feasible.
Administrator Mark Rosekind said: "The NHTSA is using all of its available tools to accelerate the deployment of technologies that can eliminate 94% of fatal crashes involving human error. We will work with state partners toward creating a consistent national policy on these innovations, provide options now and into the future for manufacturers seeking to deploy autonomous vehicles, and keep our safety mission paramount at every stage."
Under Foxx's leadership, the Department of Transportation has been working to transform government for the 21st century, by harnessing technology and innovation that will improve people's lives. In 2015, he refocused the national dialogue about the future of America's transport system by releasing Beyond Traffic – a report examining the challenges facing the country's infrastructure between now and 2045. The draft framework has already influenced decisions by elected officials, planners, and stakeholders nationwide. He also launched the Smart City Challenge, a national competition to implement bold, data-driven ideas that make transportation safer, easier, and more reliable in cities. He also worked to accelerate the Department's efforts to incorporate vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication technology into new vehicles.
Numerous forecasts by technology analysts point to a future dominated by intelligent, self-driving vehicles and smarter road systems. These new measures announced by the U.S. government will help to bring that futuristic vision closer to reality.
27th December 2015
Lions added to endangered species list
In response to the alarming decline of lion populations in the wild, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed two lion subspecies as endangered and threatened. Without action to protect them, African lions could see their populations halved by 2035.
This week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced it will list two lion subspecies under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Panthera leo leo – located in India and western and central Africa – will be listed as endangered, while Panthera leo melanochaita – found in eastern and southern Africa – will be listed as threatened.
In the last 20 years, lion populations have declined by 43% due to a combination of habitat loss, loss of prey base, trophy hunting, poaching for skins and uses in Chinese traditional medicine, and retaliatory killing of lions by a growing human population. The killing of Cecil the lion in July of this year served to further highlight this issue. Coupled with inadequate financial and other resources for countries to effectively manage protected areas, the impact on lions in the wild has been substantial. Having once been present in south-eastern Europe and throughout much of the Middle East and India, the animals have now lost 85% of their historic range, as shown on the map below.
Their numbers could be halved again by 2035, according to a recent study in the journal PNAS: "Many lion populations are either now gone or expected to disappear within the next few decades, to the extent that the intensively managed populations in southern Africa may soon supersede the iconic savannah landscapes in East Africa as the most successful sites for lion conservation," the study said.
In 2011, the USFWS received a petition to list Panthera leo leo as endangered under the ESA. In 2014, the agency published a 12-month finding and agreed to list the subspecies as threatened with a special rule under section 4(d) of the ESA. Based on newly available scientific information on the genetics and taxonomy of lions, the agency assessed the status of the entire lion species and subsequently changed its earlier finding.
The new science resolved that the western and central populations of African lion are more genetically related to the Asiatic lion. These lions are now considered the same subspecies, P. l. leo. There are only about 1,400 of these lions remaining; 900 in Africa and just 523 in India. Considering the size and distribution of the populations, the current trends and the severity of the threats, the agency has found that this subspecies now meets the definition of "endangered" under the ESA.
The other subspecies – Panthera leo melanochaita – likely numbers between 17,000-19,000 and is found across southern and eastern Africa. The agency determined that this subspecies is less vulnerable and is not currently in danger of extinction. However, although lion numbers in southern Africa are increasing overall, they are declining significantly in some regions, due to various ongoing threats. As a result, the agency finds this subspecies meets the definition of a "threatened" species under the ESA.
With an endangered listing, imports of P. l. leo will now be prohibited – except in certain rare cases, such as when it can be found that the import will enhance the survival of the species. To strengthen conservation measures for the threatened subspecies P. l. melanochaita, a new permitting mechanism will regulate the import of all P. l. melanochaita parts and products into the USA. This process will ensure that any imported specimens are legally obtained in range countries as part of a scientifically sound management program that benefits the subspecies in the wild. A third and final rule will enable the agency to support changes that strengthen the governance and accountability of conservation programs in other nations.
Protected areas are vital to the future survival of lions; and the building of corridors or funnelling mechanisms between protected areas is equally critical so that lions can be directed to other suitable habitat, away from potential conflict areas. It takes around $2,000 per square kilometre per year to properly protect these animals in Africa. Scientists from both the USA and the UK have, in recent years, begun collaborating to better understand how lions move across the African landscape and to model ways to conserve genetic diversity and populations across the continent.
“The lion is one of the planet’s most beloved species and an irreplaceable part of our shared global heritage,” said USFWS Director Dan Ashe. “If we want to ensure that healthy lion populations continue to roam the African savannas and forests of India, then it’s up to all of us – not just the people of Africa and India – to take action.”
21st December 2015
Global coal demand stalls after more than a decade of relentless growth
The latest annual report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows the coal market under intense pressure, reflecting Chinese economic restructuring and global environmental policies.
Following more than a decade of aggressive growth, global coal demand has stalled, the IEA has concluded in its annual coal market report. The report sharply lowers its five-year global coal demand growth forecast in reflection of economic restructuring in China, which represents around half of global coal consumption. Greater policy support for renewable energy and energy efficiency – the foundation of the COP21 agreement in Paris – is also expected to dent coal demand.
The IEA's Medium-Term Coal Market Report 2015 has slashed its five-year estimate of global coal demand growth by more than 500 million tonnes of coal equivalent (Mtce) in recognition of the tremendous pressures facing coal markets. This revision comes as official preliminary data indicate that a decline in Chinese coal demand occurred in 2014 and is set to accelerate in 2015. A decline in coal consumption in China for two consecutive years would be the first since 1982.
"The coal industry is facing huge pressures, and the main reason is China – but it is not the only reason," IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said as he launched the report in Singapore at an event organised by the Energy Market Authority. "The economic transformation in China and environmental policies worldwide – including the recent climate agreement in Paris – will likely continue to constrain global coal demand."
Strong growth in coal use in India & Southeast Asia offset declines in the EU & the US, but does not match the rise seen over last decade in China.
Coal demand in China is sputtering as the Chinese economy gradually shifts to one based more on services, and less on energy-intensive industries. New Chinese hydro, nuclear, wind and solar are also significantly curtailing coal power generation, driven not only by energy security and climate concerns but also by efforts to reduce local pollution.
Given the strong rebalancing of China's economy, the report also presents an alternate scenario in which Chinese coal demand has already peaked. In this so-called "peak coal scenario", infrastructure and energy-intensive industries represent a lower share of Chinese GDP than in the report's base case, while services and high-tech manufacturing gain momentum. In the peak case, Chinese coal demand in 2020 is 9.8% percent below the level in 2013 and more than 300 Mtce below the base-case forecast of nearly 2950 Mtce in 2020. Meanwhile, global coal demand in the peak case drops to around 5500 Mtce in 2020 – falling 0.1% per year on average, compared with growth of 0.8% per year in the report's main forecast.
The report sees coal demand outside China modestly increasing through 2020 as the structural decline in Europe and the United States is more than offset by growth in India and Southeast Asia. The Indian government's push for universal energy access and an expansion of manufacturing will drive electricity growth. In addition to India's ambitious renewable targets (175 GW of renewables by 2022, of which 100 GW are solar PV), coal will provide a significant share of additional power requirements – as much as 60% through 2020. Indeed, preliminary data show India overtaking China as the world's largest coal importer this year.
The region with the highest growth rate in coal use in the outlook period is in Southeast Asia, where Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines among others plan to underpin their power generation with new coal power plants. Unfortunately, around half of the new coal-fired generation capacity under development in the region still uses inefficient subcritical technologies.
Slowing economic growth and energy consumption in China as well as the restriction of coal use in its coastal regions will impact seaborne trade, especially Indonesian exports. In the IEA report's forecast, Australia takes a growing share of seaborne coal trade.
The four largest exporters represent more than 80% of seaborne coal trade; India overtakes China to become the world's largest importer.
Prices continue to remain at low levels. In December 2015, prices of imported coal in Europe fell below USD 50/tonne – levels not seen in a decade. Persistent oversupply and shrinking imports in China and elsewhere suggest prices will remain under pressure through 2020.
With the recent COP21 agreement in Paris calling for the global increase in temperatures to be limited to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius, the IEA reiterated that carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology will be essential for enabling future use of coal without large CO2 emissions.
"Governments and industry must increase their focus on this technology if they are serious about long-term climate goals," said Fatih Birol. "CCS is not just a coal technology. It is not a technology just for power generation. It is an emissions reduction technology that will need to be widely deployed to achieve our low-carbon future."
12th December 2015
Ford will invest $4.5 billion in electric vehicles by 2020
US car giant Ford has announced it will invest an additional $4.5 billion in electric vehicle technology by 2020, as well as changing how the company develops vehicle experiences for customers.
Ford Focus Electric, 2016 model.
Ford is adding 13 new electrified vehicles to its portfolio by 2020 – by which time, more than 40 per cent of the company’s global nameplates will come in electrified versions. This represents Ford’s largest-ever electrified vehicle investment in a five-year period.
On the way next year is a new Focus Electric, which features all-new DC fast-charge capability, delivering an 80 per cent charge in just 30 minutes and a projected 160-kilometre (100‑mile) range – an estimated two hours faster than today’s model.
The zero emissions Focus Electric is manufactured in an eco-conscious facility. Its production home, the Michigan Assembly Plant, has one of the largest solar energy generator systems in the state. The new version of the Focus Electric, which starts production in late 2016, will provide features including:
- SmartGauge with EcoGuide LCD Instrument Cluster, which offers a multitude of customisable displays that can help the driver see real-time electric vehicle power usage to help maximise efficiency. At the end of each trip, a screen provides the distance driven, miles gained through regenerative braking, energy consumed and comparative gasoline information achieved by driving electric.
- Brake Coach (pictured below), another smart feature that coaches the driver on how to use smooth braking, to maximise the energy captured through the Regenerative Braking System. The more energy a driver captures through braking, the more energy is returned to the battery.
- “MyFord” mobile app, allowing owners to control and maintain contact with the car remotely, get instant vehicle status information, monitor the car's state of charge and current range, get alerts when the vehicle has finished charging, precondition the car (to be heated or cooled to a desired temperature, by a selected time), locate the vehicle with GPS, remotely start the vehicle, and remotely lock and unlock the car doors.
- SYNC 3, an enhanced voice recognition communications and entertainment system.
- Fun-to-drive character, with agile steering and handling engineered into the vehicle to give drivers a more connected feel to the road.
- Eco-conscious materials, such as soy, bio-foam seat cushions and recycled fabrics.
Ford’s shift towards electrified vehicle technology is in response to the increasing global demand for cleaner, more efficient vehicles. Electric car ownership is expected to surpass one million this year, with continued rapid growth predicted in the years ahead. Ford is also expanding its research and development programme in Europe and Asia, creating a “hub and spoke” system allowing its global team to further accelerate battery technology and take advantage of market specific opportunities. Ford is also reimagining how to set itself apart in the marketplace by focusing on the customer experience and not just the vehicle itself. The company is changing its product development process to support that shift.
“The challenge going forward isn’t who provides the most technology in a vehicle, but who best organises that technology in a way that most excites and delights people,” said Raj Nair, executive vice president, Product Development and chief technical officer. “By observing consumers, we can better understand which features and strengths users truly use and value and create even better experiences for them going forward.”
In addition to traditional market research, Ford is investing in social science-based research globally, observing how consumers interact with vehicles and gaining new insights into the cognitive, social, cultural, technological and economic nuances that affect product design.
“This new way of working brings together marketing, research, engineering and design in a new way to create meaningful user experiences, rather than individually developing technologies and features that need to be integrated into a final product,” Nair said. “We are using new insights from anthropologists, sociologists, economists, journalists and designers, along with traditional business techniques, to reimagine our product development process, create new experiences and make life better for millions of people.”
The global expansion of Ford’s electric vehicle research and development programme allows the company’s Electrified Powertrain Engineering teams to share common technologies and test batteries virtually, in real time, to develop new technology faster while reducing the need for costly prototypes.
Ford is expanding in Europe and China to accelerate battery technology development for new markets. By using an innovative hardware and software systems called HIL, or “Hardware in a Loop”, the global team can test battery technology and control system hardware in a virtual environment to simulate how batteries and control modules would behave in different – often punishing – environments in any part of the world.
“Batteries are the life force of any electric vehicle – and we have been committed to growing our leadership in battery research and development for more than 15 years,” said Kevin Layden, director of Ford Electrification Programs.
30th November 2015
Bitcoin debit card introduced in USA
Coinbase has unveiled the first US-issued Bitcoin debit card, accepted at over 38 million merchants worldwide. It is predicted that Bitcoin will become the world's sixth largest reserve currency by 2030.
Bitcoin has been around for a while now. Launched worldwide in 2009, this form of digital money isn't controlled or issued by any bank or government and isn't pegged to the value of any other currency. Instead, it works as a decentralised virtual currency with an open network managed by its users. Fast, secure and reliable, Bitcoin is designed for the Internet age – allowing the transfer of any amount of money to anyone in the world, without needing a bank.
An increasing number of large online businesses now accept Bitcoin payments, including Dell, Expedia, Google, OkCupid, Paypal, Reddit and many others. It has drawn the support of some politicians, notably U.S. Presidential candidate Rand Paul, who accepts donations in Bitcoin.
Although growing in popularity, it's still difficult to make regular day-to-day purchases with Bitcoin in the USA, such as buying petrol from a station or groceries at a neighbourhood store, or a meal at a restaurant. That could be about to change, however, thanks to a new Bitcoin debit card. Known as the Shift Card, it can function like a normal VISA debit card – allowing users in 24 states across the USA to spend their virtual money both online and offline at over 38 million merchants around the world. It can also be used to withdraw cash from an ATM, with funds taken out of the person's online Bitcoin balance, not a bank account, although this requires a fee. An accompanying Shift mobile app enables you to check account balances and transaction details, or easily add and edit account information for quick selection at time of payment.
Shift Card has been developed by Coinbase, a Bitcoin wallet and exchange company founded in 2012 and headquartered in San Francisco. It operates exchanges between Bitcoin and fiat currencies in 32 countries, and Bitcoin transactions and storage in 190 countries worldwide. Coinbase and Shift are working through legal and regulatory issues to make the card available throughout all 50 states of the USA.
"At the end of the day, what we're trying to do is make Bitcoin easy to use," says Adam White, vice president at Coinbase. "We want to make it easy to buy and sell Bitcoin, and we want to make it easy to spend. A mainstream debit card based on Bitcoin is a key element."
"It's now possible to live on Bitcoin alone, through a combination of an employer paying the user in Bitcoin and the user spending Bitcoin for everyday items via their debit card," says White.
In a related story, UK-based Magister Advisors has predicted that Bitcoin will become the world's sixth largest reserve currency by 2030. According to their survey, banks and financial institutions are willing to spend around $1 billion on developing blockchain technology over the next two years.
"Blockchain technology will underpin a growing number of routine transactions globally as trust grows," said Jeremy Millar, a partner at Magister Advisors, in a statement released by the organisation. "Our interviews with 30 of the leading Bitcoin companies worldwide cement our view that the currency is gaining traction. Growing vendor acceptance and the adoption of Bitcoin in developing markets are creating a pincer movement that will lead to widespread business and consumer acceptance and adoption over time."
23rd November 2015
Global drug spending to increase 30% by 2020
Global spending on medicines is predicted to rise by 30% over the next five years – driven by expensive new drugs, price hikes, aging populations and increased generic drug use in developing countries, according to a new forecast by IMS Health.
More than half of the world’s population will live in countries where medicine use will exceed one dose per person per day by 2020 – up from 31 percent in 2005, as the medicine use gap between the developed and “pharmerging” markets narrows. According to new research by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, total spending on medicines will reach $1.4 trillion by 2020, due to greater patient access to chronic disease treatments and breakthrough innovations in drug therapies. Global spending is forecast to grow at a 4-7 percent compound annual rate over the next five years.
The report, Global Medicines Use in 2020: Outlook and Implications, found that total global spend for pharmaceuticals will increase by $349 billion on a constant-dollar basis, compared with $182 billion during the past five years. Spending is measured at the ex-manufacturer level before adjusting for rebates, discounts, taxes and other adjustments that affect net sales received by manufacturers. The impact of these factors is estimated to reduce growth by $90 billion or approximately 25 percent of the growth forecast through 2020.
“During the next five years, we expect to see a surge of innovative medicines emerging from R&D pipelines, as well as technology-enabled advances that will deliver measurable improvements to health outcomes,” said Murray Aitken, IMS Health senior vice president and executive director of the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. “With unprecedented treatment options, greater availability of low-cost drugs and better use of evidence to inform decision making, stakeholders around the world can expect to get more ‘bang for their medicine buck’ in 2020 than ever before.”
In its latest study, the IMS Institute highlights the following findings:
• Global medicine use in 2020 will reach 4.5 trillion doses, up 24 percent from 2015. Most of the global increase in use of medicines will take place in pharmerging markets, with India, China, Brazil and Indonesia representing nearly half of that growth. Volumes in developed markets will remain relatively stable and trend toward original branded products, as use of specialty medicines becomes more widespread. Generics, non-original branded and over the counter (OTC) products will account for 88 percent of total medicine use in pharmerging markets by 2020, and provide the greatest contribution to increased access to medicines in those countries. Newer specialty medicines, which typically have low adoption rates in pharmerging countries lacking the necessary healthcare infrastructure, will represent less than one percent of the total volume in those markets.
• Global spending will grow by 29-32 percent through 2020, compared with an increase of 35 percent in the prior five years. Spending levels will be driven by branded drugs primarily in developed markets, along with the greater use of generics in pharmerging markets – offset by the impact of patent expiries. Brand spending in developed markets will rise by $298 billion as new products are launched and as price increases are applied in the U.S., most of which will be offset by off-invoice discounts and rebates. Patent expiries are expected to result in $178 billion in reduced spending on branded products, including $41 billion in savings on biologics as biosimilars become more widely adopted. Many of the newest treatments are specialty medicines used to address chronic, rare or genetic diseases and yielding significant clinical value. By 2020, global spending on these medicines is expected to reach 28 percent of the total.
• More than 90 percent of U.S. medicines will be dispensed as generics by 2020. Generic medicines will continue to provide the vast majority of the prescription drug usage in the U.S., rising from 88 percent to 91-92 percent of all prescriptions dispensed by 2020. Spending on medicines in the U.S. will reach $560-590 billion, a 34 percent increase in spending over 2015 on an invoice price basis. While invoice price growth – which does not reflect discounts and rebates received by payers – is expected to continue at historic levels during the next five years, net price trends for protected brands will remain constrained by payers and competition, resulting in 5-7 percent annual price increases. The impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will continue to have an effect on medicine spending during the next five years largely due to expanded insurance coverage. By 2020, there will be broad adoption of ACA provisions that encourage greater care coordination and movement of at least one-third of spending to an outcomes or performance basis.
• More than 225 medicines will be introduced by 2020, with one-third focused on treating cancer. Disease treatments in 2020 will be transformed by the increased number and quality of new drugs in clusters of innovation around cancer, hepatitis C, autoimmune disorders, heart disease and an array of rare diseases. During the next five years, an additional 75 new orphan drugs are expected to be available for dozens of therapeutic areas that currently have limited or no treatment options. By 2020, technology will be enabling more rapid changes to treatment protocols, increasing patient engagement and accountability, shifting patient-provider interaction, and accelerating the adoption of behaviour changes that will improve patient adherence to treatments. Every patient with multiple chronic conditions will have the potential to use wearables, mobile apps and other technologies to manage their health, interact with providers, fellow patients and family members. The ubiquity of smartphones, tablets, apps and related wearable devices, as well as electronic medical records and exponentially increasing real-world data volumes, will open new avenues to connect healthcare while offering providers and payers new mechanisms to control costs.
The full report, including a detailed description of the methodology, is available at theimsinstitute.org. It can also be downloaded as an app via iTunes at https://itunes.apple.com. The study was produced independently as a public service, without industry or government funding.