Deirdre Black, Royal Society of Chemistry
From food security and access to clean water to environmental pollution and human health – our global society faces many challenges to which the chemical sciences can help provide solutions. Just over five years ago, we published our roadmap Chemistry for Tomorrow’s World, a document that presented hundreds of examples of ways in which advances in chemistry will underpin technological solutions to global challenges. Since then, we have worked to support people across career stages, to foster new interdisciplinary research networks, worked with the chemistry community to identify emerging areas and acted as advocates for making progress within them.
As 2015 begins, we can already look forward to another year of ambitious and exciting activities addressing global challenges across the chemistry community. But why is tackling global challenges a priority for us? What are the opportunities for us and our community? And what are some of the areas we are focusing on? Here, we share with you an overview of our plans.
“New technologies are unlocking possibilities for sustainable development. The solutions that they can generate, and the levels of access that they can enable, will be crucial to our vision for the world beyond 2015.”
Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General (December 2014)
At the beginning of the 21st century, the UN set its Millennium Development Goals with an original target of 2015. Although many of these goals have not yet been reached, they have provided an unprecedented impetus for dialogue and subsequent action and progress around the world.
Following on from the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development in 2012, an Open Working Group has been developing a proposal for post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will form the basis of the post-2015 intergovernmental process at the UN. Ending poverty in all forms tops this list. The remaining goals include many inter-connected global challenges, from eradicating hunger, providing education and empowering women, to supplying water and energy for all and promoting sustainable production and consumption.
Addressing these global challenges will require galvanising efforts across economic, political and social spheres. Science will also make an important contribution to tackling many of the challenges, for example through the development of low carbon technologies, membranes and sensors to purify and monitor water and air, new medicines and diagnostics for healthcare. Many of our activities planned for 2015 are aimed at advancing the science and technologies in these areas.
“Not only is tackling climate change compatible with economic growth, it is only by tackling climate change in a systemic way that we can deliver growth for the global economy in the 21st century.”
Paul Polman, CEO Unilever (April 2014)
There are many reasons to search for solutions to global challenges, including fundamental concerns about human rights and quality of life, today and in the future. So solutions must focus on both environmental and economic sustainability.
At the same time, the development of new solutions brings new economic opportunities, and around the world we see an increasing connection between research, innovation and global challenges. For example, over one-third of the almost €80 Bn budget for the EU Horizon 2020 framework is ear-marked for ‘societal challenges’. In the UK, the ‘Eight Great Technologies’ that form a central plank of the current Industrial Strategy include agri-science and energy storage in addition to underpinning science that will enable progress in areas such as energy and health.
Tackling antibiotic resistance
“If we fail to act, we are looking at an almost unthinkable scenario where antibiotics no longer work and we are cast back into the dark ages of medicine where treatable infections and injuries will kill once again.”
David Cameron, UK Prime Minister (July 2014)
Antibiotic resistance or, more broadly, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) poses a global threat. It will take people from many different scientific disciplines – and from across academia, industry and clinical practice – working together to develop solutions to this challenge. Chemistry is central not only to improving diagnostics, but also to understanding AMR and its causes, developing new therapies and mitigation strategies. This is why we have made this a priority for our advocacy and community support activities in 2015.
Since November, we have come together with six other learned societies, including the Society of Biology and the British Society of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, in a partnership to lead the fight against AMR by supporting researchers and by engaging with government and other research funders to achieve funding and policy support for the AMR research community.
Find out more about our work on AMR and the area of health in general.
Mitigating climate change
“… if we continue on our current path, by 2050 between $66-106 Bn worth of coastal property in the US will likely be below sea level, with $238-507 Bn worth of property below sea level by 2100.”
Risky Business report (July 2014)
Another priority area is climate change mitigation. For example, chemists are already working on new energy and carbon mitigation solutions and helping crops tolerate changing conditions. We want to support the chemical science community in developing technologies to adapt to and mitigate climate change.
Last year our President, Dominic Tildesley, and his predecessors Lesley Yellowlees and David Phillips released an official statement saying that “the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence indicates that human activity is the predominant cause of recent climate change.” The statement was co-signed by Geoffrey Maitland, President of the Institution of Chemical Engineers, and his predecessors.
Find out more
When the World Health Organisation presents its draft global action plan to combat antimicrobial resistance in May and the UN climate change conference starts in Paris in December, we know that chemists around the world will be part of delivering solutions to these – and many other – global challenges. You can follow our progress and activities on our website.