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Forum for Indian Science Diplomacy 

RIS Science Diplomacy News Alert is your fortnightly update on Indian and global developments in science research, technological advancements, science diplomacy, policy and governance. The archives of this news alert are available at http://fisd.in. Please email your valuable feedback and comments to science.diplomacy@ris.org.in

Global Innovation Index (GII) 2019
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Cornell University and Institut Européen d'Administration des Affaires (INSEAD) co-published the Global Innovation Index (GII) report and named Switzerland as the world’s most innovative country. Following Switzerland in the rankings are Sweden, the United States, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. India has risen most in the rankings since 2018, jumping five places to fifty-second most innovative country. Regional leaders include India, South Africa, Chile, Israel and Singapore, with China, Viet Nam and Rwanda topping their income groups. Overall, this year’s Index finds that, despite the global economic slowdown, innovation is “blossoming”, particularly in Asia, but trade disruptions and protectionism are putting this at risk. It also notes that planning for innovation is critical for success. Key findings of the Index include concerns that public expenditure on research and development – a major element in basic and ‘blue-sky” research, which are crucial for future innovations – is stagnating, particularly in high-income countries. The report also notes that, unless it is contained, increased economic protectionism will lead to a slowdown of growth in innovation productivity. This year, the authors of the report have focused on the future of medical innovation, with a separate healthcare section, which looks at the ways in which Artificial Intelligence (AI), genomics, and mobile-phone based health applications, will transform the delivery of healthcare. 

NOAA reports June 2019 the hottest on record across the globe
June 2019 was the hottest June in 140 years, setting a global record, according to the latest monthly global climate report released by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The report said the average global temperature in June was 1.71 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average of 59.9 degrees F (15.5 degrees Celsius) and marks the 414th consecutive month in which temperatures were above the 20th-century average. Nine of the 10 hottest Junes over the last 140 years have occurred since 2010, NOAA said. Europe, Asia and Africa, as well as the Hawaii and U.S. Gulf of Mexico regions, experienced their hottest Junes on record, with temperatures in France hitting as high as 114 F (46 C). Meanwhile, the global average sea surface temperature was 1.46 degrees F above the 20th-century monthly average of 61.5 F (16 C), tying with 2016 as the highest global ocean temperature for the month on record while Antarctic sea ice fell to its smallest level on record, 8.5% below the 1981 to 2010 average, NOAA data showed.

2019 Meeting of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development
The 2019 High-level Political Forum (HLPF) completed the first review of the 17 SDGs and assessed progress towards achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda). It concluded that the global response to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has not been ambitious enough, and a renewed commitment and accelerated action is needed to deliver the SDGs in time. The Forum also identified new threats to SDG implementation such as climate change, a reduced pace of economic growth, the threat of a further decline in the economy, and the “double-edged” sword of new technologies. The review of six SDGs during the Forum brought further sobering news: SDG 4 (quality education) is battling a “global learning crisis”; progress on SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth) is “slow and uneven”; income inequality (SDG 10, reduced inequalities) is on the rise; climate change (SDG 13, climate action) is disrupting national economies and affecting lives; and no substantial progress has been made on the SDG 16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions) targets. On SDG 17 (partnerships for the goals), official development assistance (ODA) is down by 2.7% in 2018 compared to 2017, humanitarian aid fell by 8% in the same period, and aid to the least developed countries and African countries, who need it most, is falling. Voluntary National Reviews(VNR)s were presented by 47 countries, with seven countries presenting for the second time.

IAP report emphasise on science supporting Africa’s sustainable development
The InterAcademy Partnership (IAP) - the global network of over 140 national academies of science, engineering and medicine has released a new report making the case for strengthening the science-policy interface in Africa to accelerate the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the African Union’s (AU) STI Strategy for Africa (STISA -2024). The report complements a global report released in May 2019, Improving scientific input to global policymaking. It urges academies and policymakers to engage openly and inclusively to ensure that evidence informs policy formulation, implementation and review. This includes the need for African governments to invest in scientific research and honour their commitment to set this level at 1% of GDP. The report sets out concrete, actionable recommendations for the UN, AU and its agencies, merit-based academies and the wider science community - for example, providing more opportunities to bring scientists and policymakers together, including fellowships and secondments; scaling up programmes that engage the African science diaspora and develop science policy leadership; and strengthening cooperation between senior and young academies.

Ebola outbreak declared an international public-health emergency
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the worsening Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) a public-health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). The move came amid renewed fears that the virus could spread beyond the DRC’s borders. The declaration is the WHO’s highest level of alarm which is a step it reserves for events that pose a risk to multiple countries and that require a coordinated international response. More than 2,500 people have become ill and nearly 1,700 have died during the DRC outbreak, making it the second-worst on record. The WHO’s investigations have suggested that the virus began spreading in the eastern DRC a few months before the outbreak was declared in August 2018. Cases have now been reported from Goma, a city of 1 million people, on the border with Uganda. A vaccine developed by Merck has been used during this outbreak, but limited availability is causing concern. A second experimental vaccine developed by J & J is still in trial phase.

Eradication of world’s most invasive mosquito from two islands in China
Researchers have all but obliterated populations of the world’s most invasive mosquito species — the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) — on two islands in the Chinese city of Guangzhou. They reduced A. albopictus populations by up to 94% using a combination of two promising control techniques in a field trial for the first time. The two-pronged approach combines the sterilization of female Asian tiger mosquitoes with the infection of males using Wolbachia pipientis, a bacterium that hinders the insects’ ability to reproduce and transmit disease-causing viruses such as dengue and Zika. Used in tandem with other control methods such as pesticides, the dual approach could be a very powerful tool. Current strategies for controlling A. albopictus — including spraying pesticides and removing water-filled containers where the insects lay their eggs — are not effective.

New York governor signs climate bill and awards offshore wind contracts
New York state has awarded two major offshore wind contracts to Norway’s Equinor and a joint venture between Denmark’s Orsted and U.S. utility Eversource, procuring more of the renewable power than it had planned as part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s ambitious plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions. Cuomo signed into law a landmark climate bill to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. The law mandates reducing emissions by 85% from 1990 levels by 2050, and offsetting the remaining 15%, making the state carbon-neutral. Offshore wind is expected to play a key role in reducing the state’s emissions, and the state has a goal of procuring 9,000 megawatts (MW) by 2035. The two contracts unveiled add up to 1,700 MW of capacity, or enough to power 1 million homes. The projects will be completed by 2024, Cuomo said, also pledging $287 million in state funds to build facilities to support the industry. The cost of generating electricity from offshore wind farms has dropped dramatically in recent years but is far more costly than power from wind facilities onshore.


India launches ambitious second Moon mission
India launched its second mission to the Moon on 22 July, with the 3.9-tonne Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft lifting off on an Indian Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle rocket from a site on the edge of the Bay of Bengal. The US$141-million mission marks India’s first attempt to make a ‘soft’ landing on the Moon — a feat so far achieved only by the United States, Russia and China. The spacecraft is heading for the south pole, an uncharted part of the lunar surface, where it will study rocks, soil and minerals. Chandrayaan-2 comprises a lunar orbiter, lander and rover, and is loaded with 14 scientific instruments — 13 from India and one from NASA. The lander, called Vikram, is scheduled to touch down on 7 September and will function for one lunar day — 14 Earth days — during which time it will release a six-wheeled rover called Pragyan that will explore for a distance of up to 500 metres at a speed of 1 centimetre per second. The orbiter will circle the Moon for one year in a path that will take it over the poles. Of the 13 Indian instruments, 8 are on the orbiter, 3 on the lander and 2 on the rover. They include stereoscopic and high-resolution cameras; X-ray, infrared and mass spectrometers; and radar. Together, the instruments will probe lunar rocks, soils and the atmosphere — as well as searching for water and identifying minerals containing elements such as magnesium, iron and calcium. The NASA contribution, which is on the lander, is an array of mirrors that will reflect laser beams from Earth and help to calculate the distance to the Moon.

 India and the Global Innovation Index (GII)
Over the years, innovation has become central to the Indian Government’s economic policy. The country’s rising performance in the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2019 is a result of policy efforts to boost innovation capacity and outputs. India's ranking jumped from 81st to 57th place in 4 years. India has been ranked the most innovative country in the Central and Southern Asia region every year since 2011. India has consistently outperformed on innovation relative to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita for eight years in a row, a record only matched by three other countries. On the quality of its innovation – namely, the quality of scientific publications, of universities and of patent families – India ranks as the 2nd middle-income economy worldwide. India is consistently among the top in the world on innovation parameters such as information and communication technology (ICT) services exports, graduates in science and engineering, the quality of universities and scientific publications, economy-wide investments, and creative goods exports. India also stands out in the GII ranking of the world’s top science and technology clusters, with Bangalore, Mumbai and New Delhi featuring among global top 100 clusters. At the policy level, India’s “Make in India,” “Start-up India,” “Innovate India” and “Digital India” initiatives were rolled out under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to further leverage India’s innovation performance.

India Encourages Farmers to Generate Solar Power
The Indian Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has  issued guidelines for rollout of the Rs 344 billion PM-KUSUM scheme, which would encourage farmers to generate solar power in their farms and use the clean energy to replace their diesel water pumps. The scheme entails setting up of 25,750-MW solar capacity by 2022.The scheme has three components: (a) setting up of 10,000 megawatt of decentralised ground/ stilt-mounted grid-connected solar or other renewable energy-based power plants; (b) installation of 17.50 lakh stand-alone solar agriculture pumps; and (c) solarisation of 10 lakh grid-connected agriculture pumps.

Napino ties with Farasis Energy for Li-ion Battery Packs
Gurgaon-headquartered Napino Auto & Electronics has signed a MoU with US-based Farasis Energy to cater to the demand for lithium-ion battery packs for two and three-wheelers in the domestic market. Farasis is one of the leading providers of high energy density lithium-ion battery cells and packs to automotive OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) globally and has end-to-end capability and expertise from cells to applications. The government of India is promoting faster adoption of EVs which require battery packs and India offers a huge potential market.

Growth of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Indian Healthcare during 2018
AI-enabled healthcare are expected to revolutionize medical treatment processes in the country. It is predicted that the applications of artificial intelligence in healthcare will be worth Rs 431.97 billion by 2021, expanding at a rate of 40%. The capability of AI applications to improve doctors’ efficiency will help in tackling challenges like uneven doctor-patient ratio, by providing rural populations high-quality healthcare, and training doctors and nurses to handle complex medical procedures. The patient-doctor ratio in India is as low as 1,700:1. Also, 70% of the healthcare infrastructure is in cities, which cater to 30% of the country’s population. With the use of artificial intelligence applications, doctors can offer their services to more patients and reduce the existing gap in demand and supply of medical services in the country.  AI-enabled healthcare services can be delivered at lower costs with increased efficiency and an emphasis on diagnostics. Moreover, artificial intelligence enables hospitals to implement patient-centric plans and eliminate unnecessary hospital procedures, making delivery of healthcare services faster in India. However, India lacks standardized guidelines for designing AI applications that can be used in healthcare systems. Lack of clarity deters the use of artificial intelligence in the Indian healthcare industry.

IIT Hyderabad Researchers use innovative method for production of biofuel precursors
Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad researchers have developed a simple and innovative method to synthesize a catalyst that can convert chemicals derived from biomass into biofuel precursors. This can convert a large amount of corncob waste in India to valuable fuels leading to additional earning opportunity for the corn-farmer, provision of a sustainable energy source and reduction of carbon footprint. The IIT Hyderabad team has developed a novel process that can produce carbon catalysts at room temperatures using simple materials - sugar, sulfuric acid and salt. Salt helps in controlled dehydration of sugar, which leads to the formation of carbon nanoplates -plate like structures that are a hundred thousand times smaller than the human hair. Their catalyst showed better efficiency and selectivity than commercial catalysts to produce the desired C15 oxygenated hydrocarbon, a precursor to diesel and jet fuel.

India-Taiwan jointly set up AI research center in India
An Indo-Taiwan Joint Research Center on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning was set up at Rupnagar by IIT Ropar, India’s Chitkara University and Taiwan’s National Chung Cheng University (NCCU). The AI research center’s setup could convince more excellent Indian students to study in Taiwan. Taiwan and India in 2007 signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in 2007 to promote technological cooperation, under which the two sides have co-funded 86 research programs and published more than 180 research papers. Collaboration covers areas related to AI, renewable energy, the Internet of Things, big data, information security, microelectronics, nanoelectronics, biotechnology, healthcare, drug development, agriculture and food.


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