Grand opening of the CAETS Conference

Global challenges were on the agenda when engineers and scientists from all over the world met at the CAETS Conference (Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences), organised by IVA.

– My elder colleagues may disagree with me, but I think we have never before faced such great challenges in the world. However, we have probably said so for 100, 1,000 or 2,000 years, and we have always managed to solve the problems, said Tuula Teeri, Chair of CAETS and President of IVA. 

Together with Ruth A. David, Secretary General of the International Council of Engineering Science and Technological Sciences, CAETS, Tuula Teeri opened the annual CAETS conference at the City Conference Centre in Stockholm.

The fact that IVA hosted the event this year was no coincidence, as our academy – the world’s first engineering sciences academy – turns 100 years old in 2019.

However, time does not only have to be about chronology. It can also be about geography, something the next speaker, Minister for Enterprise, Ibrahim Baylan, pointed out.

– I am also a time traveler, because where I come from in the Turkish countryside we lived in the same way as we did in Sweden 150 years ago, the Minister said.

Baylan, who came to Sweden as a young refugee, remembers how he had never seen moving staircases before he came to our country, and was struck by the magical image of people almost floating up the floors with heavy bags and everything.

Sweden appeared to the young Baylan almost as a technical paradise: to get food, you only opened the refrigerator, and to become fresh and clean you just turned the shower taps, and perfect temperature water poured out.

Baylan highlighted the development of technology for the future. The Swedish Government has set the goal of becoming the world’s first fossil-free country – by the year 2045 Sweden is legally bound to reach net-zero emissions.

– This ambitious goal is not set just to be kind to the world and the climate, it is also our best economic strategy, said Baylan.

The Minister for Business, Industry and Innovation also stressed the importance of focusing on people. Many are anxious today and become an easy prey for demagogues, religious inciters and others.

– All technology shifts have killed jobs, but they have also always created new jobs. We therefore need a society that helps people to go from old to new jobs, through vocational training, investments in research and development, education, and so forth, he said.

Next on stage was the author, lecturer and documentary filmmaker Johan Norberg, who in a series of graphs showed how the development of the last 100 years resulted in many more positive changes for the world’s population than the previous 1,900 years. Norberg also mentioned that of course negative things also occurred during this century. Among other things, the proportion of extremely poor in the world has dropped from 90 percent to 10 percent, average life expectancy increased from less than 30 years to over 70, and global GDP per capita has increased from less than $ 1,000 to over $ 18,000.

– If I have to say one thing that has affected us the most over the last 100 years, it is the meetings between ”thinkers and tinkers”, said Norberg, using two concepts that were referred to repeatedly at the conference.

This, according to Norberg, was relatively new in a historical context, where greater progress had previously been made mostly thanks to random trials and failures, without anyone actually knowing what they were doing. In this new age, science and practice have become increasingly intertwined, resulting in groundbreaking breakthroughs.

The fact that the industrial revolution took place in Western Europe also had its reasons, Johan Norberg argued.

– There were two reasons to why the Netherlands, Britain and some other countries became home to the industrial revolution. First, it was a culture of openness, and second a tradition of criticism.

The gradually emerging culture of openness was characterized, among other things, by more trade, more personal meetings across borders and more research exchanges.

The next two lecturers also continued on the theme of openness and questioning in order to achieve higher development. Olaf Kolkman, Chief Internet Technology Officer at the Association of the Internet Society, described, among other things, how one of the basic building blocks for the emergence of the Internet has been transparency and interconnection of different systems. That, and simplicity.

– Everything was built on only a couple of architectural principles. For example, the network nodes work on the basis of ”packages to packages”, said Kolkman referring to the first internet protocol that was put into use.

Kolkman explained how so-called package-mediating networks have been key to today’s new applications. Through these, information is divided into parts and delivered as soon as there is free capacity in the networks.

– When you hear me speak, you also hear silences from time to time. Thus we do not use this communication channel so effectively. We could have two conversations, where someone else uses my silence for his speech. That’s how package-mediating networks work, Kolkman said.

From the end of the 60s and the early 70s, when the basic model for today’s Internet had been built up, we have today come extremely far. Yet Olaf Kolkman primarily sees the ”web” as a tool, not a goal in itself.

– For me, the Internet is an enabler for other things, he pointed out.

The next speaker was Dennis C. Coyne, Chief Engineer at the California Institute of Technology’s LIGO Observatory. Researchers at this institution were awarded as late as 2017 with the Nobel Prize in Physics for having finally captured an image of the universe’s gravitational waves by studying two black holes that merged. Coyne led parts of the team towards the goal in this enormous project and constructed the instrument which made this discovery possible.

– This revolutionary event happened within half a second. At the same time, the equivalent of the mass of three suns was released, resulting in the so far brightest event in the universe, said Dennis C. Coyne.

However, the event took place at an extremely long distance from the earth – 1.3 billion light-years, or in other words, 1.3 billion years ago based on our calendar era. Given the short time for the black holes to collide and the great distance from the earth, extremely advanced equipment was needed to be able to study the event at all.

To summarise, the success of the LIGO team was the result of over 40 years of work by thousands of people in the US and in many other countries and regions.

– I started there 24 years ago, and many had been there longer than me by then, said Dennis C. Coyne.

To succeed with large and difficult research projects, Coyne pointed out how important it is with a long-term perspective, early involvement and investment from dedicated project owners, as well as a conscious leadership.

But what leadership is actually required today and tomorrow to successfully lead huge astrophysical projects resulting in groundbreaking discoveries and the Nobel Prize? Or to cope with today’s and tomorrow’s challenges regarding, among other things, the greenhouse effect, inequality and political turbulence?

– A reason to why LIGO has worked so well is the management’s ability to abandon control, open up for criticism and to involve more ”tinkers”, said Dennis C. Coyne referring to Johan Norberg’s speech earlier in the conference.

Marie-Noëlle Semeria, Chief Technology Officer at the multinational oil and gas company Total, was the next speaker. The company was introduced by the moderators as ”both a part of the problem and part of the solution” to the climate problem.

– As an oil and gas company, we are partly responsible for 10 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, said Semeria, and pointed out the fact that 10 percent of the greenhouse gases are generated through the production and refining of oil and gas. 90 percent is linked to the useage – the combustion of the products.

Now, however, Total has put climate change in focus for its research and development, as well as an additional area – electricity for all. Only in Africa there are over 500 million without access to electricity.

– It is our duty as a company and as human beings to provide all people with access to safe and clean energy. Electricity for everyone means that we have to meet the electrification challenge, especially in the transport sector, where more regulations are expected, Marie-Noëlle Semeria said.

The African perspective was further highlighted by the next speaker. Edgar Pieterse, Director African Centre for Cities at the South African University of Cape Town, has developed many important concepts in sustainable community building such as ”turnaround cities” and ”adaptive infrastructure”.

He began his speech criticising, among all, Johan Norberg’s presentation of the success factors behind the industrial revolution in Europe.

– I find it hard to understand how you can talk about modern history and not even mention the world wars, genocide and colonial exploitation that have had an enormous impact on the global system. The result is the mess that we are discussing here today, he said.

For the future, Africa and parts of Asia will be absolutely central. According to estimates, 95 percent of all urban growth in the world in the coming years, will take place there. This clearly contrasts with the often romantic image of Africa as a continent of small farms and savannahs.

In his research, Edgar Pieterse studies how inequalities affect social development, not just in terms of, for example, social policy.

– Inequality is also an absolute barrier in achieving climate justice. So the relationship between the environmental aspects and the social aspects is absolutely fundamental.

Inequities will also socially and economically hamper the next two generations of new workers in Africa, said Pieterse. As 39 percent of the world’s population in 2100 is predicted to be Africans, Africa’s challenges are to a great extent challenges for the whole world. 

At the same time, there is among Africans a great appetite for modern technology and future possibilities:

– If you look at mobile banking solutions, Africa already has better mobile coverage than any other region in the world – and this in a continent with very low income levels, very limited internet penetration and limited access to different applications.

After Pieterse’s speech about Africa, a challenge from the medical arena was lifted: the increase in antibiotic resistance. Otto Cars, Senior Professor Infectious Diseases and Senior Advisor at ReAct, Uppsala University, said that we humans have, apart from the dangers we have been exposed to for far too long – been very negligent with antibiotics.

– Did you know that in Thailand you inject antibiotics into the roots of orange trees? And that you in the United States spray streptomycins on the crops? Otto Cars asked the audience.

One big problem is that we no longer produce any new antibiotics. The last type of antibiotics, lipopeptides, was discovered as early as 1987. In addition, there is a global problem with inadequate access to antibiotics.

– It’s also a huge challenge for the economy, said Cars, putting the antibiotic crisis at roughly the same level as the cost of the latest global financial crisis.

Otto Cars criticised the slow global reactions to the serious challenge of antibiotic resistance. The lack of international engagement was the reason for starting the global network for work against antibiotic resistance, ReAct, in Sweden in 2005.

– 33,000 people in Europe die every year as a result of medicines not working. That corresponds to two aircraft crashes a week.

An important divide was the Swedish expert conference on innovative initiatives for effective antibiotics during our EU Presidency in 2009. However, the work needs to speed up, and efforts to be made in a number of areas.

– First and foremost we need to get away from sales as an incentive for the development of new antibiotics, said Otto Cars.

The first day of the conference ended with a speech from the environmental researcher Kaveh Madani, environmental scientist from the MacMillan Centre at the Yale University in the United States. His focus has particularly been on the water issue, which he believes plays a major part in international conflicts.

– We use more water than we have access to. And the longer we deny this problem, the more we need to devote resources to just managing the risks, said Madani.

Madani also introduced the African perspective, and pointed out how Africa’s water use is very low compared to other countries.

– Another problematic aspect is if we compare industrial water use with water use in agriculture. Then it appears that countries that suffer from water shortages continue to produce food for the rest of the world.

Referring to previous speakers, Kaveh Madani concluded his speech talking about how our solutions to a problem often result in new challenges. For example, taking water from one area just to get rid of drought in another one can lead to the first area being drained instead.

Contact information

Elin Elliot
International Secretary to the Academy
Phone +46 8-791 29 28