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A major climate report is being published – here’s what you need to know

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Stephanie Spera from the University of Richmond explains what you need to know about the upcoming IPCC report and why it’s such a big deal.

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A version of this article was originally published by The Conversation (CC BY-ND 4.0)

This week, hundreds of scientists from around the world are finalising a report that assesses the state of the global climate. It’s a big deal. The report is used by governments and industries everywhere to understand the threats ahead.

So who are these scientists and what goes into this important assessment?

Get ready for some acronyms. We’re going to explore the upcoming IPCC report and some of the terms you’ll be hearing when it’s released on Monday (9 August).

What is the IPCC?

IPCC stands for Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It’s the United Nations’ climate-science-focused organisation. It’s been around since 1988 and it has 195 member countries.

Every seven years or so, the IPCC releases a report – essentially a ‘state of the climate’ – summarizing the most up-to-date, peer-reviewed research on the science of climate change, its effects and ways to adapt to and mitigate it.

The purpose of these reports is to provide everyone, particularly governing bodies, with the information they need to make important decisions regarding climate change. The IPCC essentially provides governments with a CliffsNotes version of thousands of papers published regarding the science, risks, and social and economic components of climate change.

There are two important things to understand:

  1. The IPCC reports are nonpartisan – every IPCC country can nominate scientists to participate in the report-writing process, and there is an intense and transparent review process
  2. The IPCC doesn’t tell governments what to do – its goal is to provide the latest knowledge on climate change, its future risks and options for reducing the rate of warming

Why is this report such a big deal?

The last big IPCC assessment was released in 2013. A lot can change in eight years.

Not only has computer speed and climate modelling greatly improved, but each year scientists understand more and more about Earth’s climate system and the ways specific regions and people around the globe are changing and vulnerable to climate change.

Where does the research come from?

The IPCC doesn’t conduct its own climate science research. Instead, it summarises everyone else’s.

The upcoming report was authored by 234 scientists nominated by IPCC member governments around the world. These scientists are leading Earth and climate science experts.

This report – the first of four that make up the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report – looks at the physical science behind climate change and its impacts. It alone will contain over 14,000 citations to existing research. The scientists looked at all of the climate science-related research published through to 31 January 2021.

These scientists, who are not compensated for their time and effort, volunteered to read those 14,000-plus papers so you don’t have to. Instead, you can read their shorter chapters on the scientific consensus on topics like extreme weather or regional changes in sea-level rise.

The IPCC is also transparent about its review process, and that process is extensive. Drafts of the report are shared with other scientists, as well as with governments, for comments. Before publication, the 234 authors will have had to address over 75,000 comments on their work.

Government input to these bigger reports, like the one being released on 9 August, is solely limited to commenting on report drafts. However, governments do have a much stronger say in the shorter summary for policymakers that accompanies these reports, as they have to agree by consensus and typically get into detailed negotiations on the wording.

RCPs, SSPs – what does it all mean?

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One thing just about everyone wants to understand is what the future might look like as the climate changes.

To get a glimpse of that future, scientists run experiments using computer models that simulate Earth’s climate. With these models, scientists can ask: if the globe heats up by a specific amount, what might happen in terms of sea-level rise, droughts and the ice sheets? What if the globe heats up by less than that – or more? What are the outcomes then?

The IPCC uses a set of scenarios to try to understand what the future might look like. This is where some of those acronyms come in.

All climate models work a little differently and create different results. But if 20 different climate models are run using the same assumptions about the amount of warming and produce similar results, people can be fairly confident in the results.

RCPs, or representative concentration pathways, and SSPs, or shared socioeconomic pathways, are the standardized scenarios that climate modellers use.

Four RCPs were the focus of the future-looking climate modelling studies incorporated into the 2013 report. They ranged from RCP 2.6, where there is a drastic reduction in global fossil fuel emissions and the world only heats up a little, to RCP 8.5, a world in which fossil fuel emissions are unfettered and the world heats up a lot.

This time around, climate modellers are using SSPs. Unlike the RCPs, which focus solely on greenhouse gas emissions trajectories, the SSPs consider socioeconomic factors and are concerned with how difficult it will be to adapt to or mitigate climate change, which in turn affects greenhouse gas emissions.

The five SSPs differ in what the world might look like in terms of global demographics, equity, education, access to health, consumption, diet, fossil fuel use and geopolitics.

Why should you care?

Look around. Thus far, 2021 has brought deadly extreme weather events around the globe, from extensive wildfires to extreme heat, excessive rainfall and flash flooding. Events like these become more common in a warming world.

“It’s warming. It’s us. We’re sure. It’s bad. But we can fix it.” That’s how sustainability scientist and Lund University professor Kimberly Nicholas puts it.

Don’t expect an optimistic picture to emerge from the upcoming report. Climate change is a threat-multiplier that compounds other global, national and regional environmental and social issues.

So, read the report and recognise the major sources of greenhouse gases that are driving climate change. Individuals can take steps to reduce their emissions, including driving less, using energy-efficient lightbulbs and rethinking their food choices. But also understand that 20 fossil fuel companies are responsible for about one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions. That requires governments taking action now.

The Conversation

By Stephanie Spera

Stephanie Spera is assistant professor of geography and the environment at the University of Richmond in the US state of Virginia. Her research seeks to understand landscape-level human-environment feedbacks with regard to social, economic and environmental drivers and consequences.



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‘A lemon’: Coalition fights to keep Covidsafe app data under wraps | Australia news

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The Morrison government insists it is negotiating with the states about “future uses” for its troubled Covidsafe app despite it not being used during the outbreaks that prompted lockdowns in Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.

The government is also refusing to release how many Australians continue to use the app, with one tech expert accusing the government of trying to avoid disclosing embarrassing data rather than admit it had failed to achieve its purpose.

Since vaccination rates reached more than 90% of the eligible population in most states, contact tracing is slowly being scaled back, with health authorities limiting the number of people contacted and asked to test and isolate.

Even when contact tracing played a critical role in reducing the number of cases, the app was of little assistance.

Almost none of the contacts were identified through the federal government’s CovidSafe contact tracing app despite well over 7 million people in Australia downloading it last year and the prime minister, Scott Morrison, declaring it the ticket out of lockdown.

Since launching in April last year, just 17 “close contacts” in NSW were found directly through the app that were not otherwise identified through manual contact tracing methods.

Guardian Australia has been engaged in a year-long freedom of information battle with the Digital Transformation Agency to reveal how many people continued to use the app after installing it.

This month the agency said releasing the information would hurt negotiations with the states over the app’s future uses.

“The Commonwealth is engaged in ongoing consultations and discussions with the states and territories on a framework around the use of Covidsafe data and data derived from Covidsafe data as a key tool for contact tracing,” DTA’s chief technology officer, Anthony Warnock, told the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner in a letter provided to Guardian Australia.

When asked about these discussions, both NSW and Victoria said the app had not been used at all in 2021.

“To date, it has not been necessary to use the Covidsafe app with any case clusters in 2021,” a NSW Health spokesperson said. “NSW Health’s contact tracing team has access to a variety of information to contain the spread of Covid-19 and keep the community safe.”

The ACT also said the app had never been used in the capital and, as of September, Queensland said it had used the app twice, with one contact identified but no positive cases identified.

It’s also unclear what future uses the federal government is considering.

Electronic Frontiers Australia’s chair, Justin Warren, who has been involved in complex FOI battles with the government, suggested the only reason the the release of the information would be damaging was if it showed far fewer people continued to use the app.

“The DTA appears to be trying to argue that we can’t learn the truth about just how big a lemon the Covidsafe app is because then people might know it’s a lemon and act accordingly,” he said. “It’s clear to me that they wouldn’t try to make this argument if the app was useful.”

The app costs around $75,000 a month to run, and a spokesperson for the federal health department said there were “no plans” to shut it down until the health minister determined it was no longer required.

Experts in the tech community last year called for the app to be modified using the Apple-Google exposure notification framework, which would work similarly to the UK’s NHS app and alert people when they had been in contact with a confirmed Covid-19 case.

A study published in Nature in May about how effective the NHS app in England and Wales had been between September and December last year found that for every positive case who agreed to alert their contacts, one case was averted.

The government has long argued against switching to an NHS-style version of the app, arguing that it left it up to users to contact the health department and get tested and isolate, rather than giving contact tracers a list of those exposed to follow up.

But a ministerial brief prepared by the DTA in May 2020, released this week on the transparency website Right to Know, reveals that the government believed it would require massive changes to the app and privacy laws to accommodate the change.

“The app would need to be significantly redesigned and rebuilt,” the agency said. “The ENF cannot simply be embedded into the current app. The health portal would also need to be redesigned and rebuilt.”

The DTA warned that a new privacy assessment would need to be undertaken, legislation might need to be amended, all current users would need to download and re-register through the app, and contact data could not be transferred.

The briefing also noted that the alerts people received through the app “may cause alarm” if contact tracers were not involved in the process.

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But the agency said a change to the Apple/Google version would improve connectivity between devices and might encourage people who had hesitated to download the original app.

“Certain users who have avoided the app may perceive that the ENF provides stronger privacy protections through this largely decentralised non-government-controlled model.”

Victoria now automatically alerts people who were at high-risk venues through the Service Victoria app, and advises them to test and isolate, but does not do any further contact tracing except when someone tests positive.

NSW is planning to ditch QR code check-ins from all but high-risk venues from 15 December, or when the state reaches 95% of the eligible population having two doses of the vaccine.

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Meta won’t migrate future acquisitions out of AWS • The Register

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Mark Zuckerberg’s recently rebadged Meta and Amazon Web Services have announced they’re going to be cloud BFFs, with the emphasis on the second F.

A joint announcement styles AWS as Meta’s “Key, Long-Term Strategic Cloud Provider”. Details of just what that means have not been offered, but a few specific initiatives were revealed.

One is the plan for Meta to “use the cloud to support acquisitions of companies that are already powered by AWS”. That’s notable, because when the firm (under its former nomenclature) acquired messaging service WhatsApp in 2014, it migrated the service from AWS to its own infrastructure. The new deal appears to mean Meta won’t bother doing that again – perhaps because it’s had a rotten time managing a MySQL migration?

The joint blurb also reveals that Meta already uses AWS “to complement its existing on-premises infrastructure”. More of that is coming: Zuck’s umbrella brand plans to “broaden its use of AWS compute, storage, databases, and security services to provide privacy, reliability, and scale in the cloud”.

The two companies are also both fired up about the PyTorch machine learning framework, which The Social Network™ spawned in 2016. The pair have promised to work together to optimise the tool so it works well with Amazon’s EC2 and SageMaker services.

“To make it easier for developers to build large-scale deep learning models for natural language processing and computer vision, the companies are enabling PyTorch on AWS to orchestrate large-scale training jobs across a distributed system of AI accelerators,” the announcement states, going on to promise “native tools to improve the performance, explainability, and cost of inference on PyTorch.”

While that work will be open sourced, the plan is to drive PyTorch users to AWS.

Meta’s veep of production engineering, Jason Kalich, said the special bond between them means “The global reach and reliability of AWS will help us continue to deliver innovative experiences for the billions of people around the world that use Meta products and services” – which reads like the sort of language it’s appropriate to write off as marketing doggerel.

Or perhaps not: Meta’s plan to build a metaverse – whatever that is – has been sketched out as requiring a lot of real-time multi-party video set in detailed virtual environments. That sort of thing is rather well suited to an elastic cloud that constantly upgrades its infrastructure with new instance types and GPUs, and perhaps less apt for a social network operator that essentially runs exceptionally large databases and analytics engines. ®

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What this leader finds most rewarding about working in medtech

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The general manager of Johnson & Johnson’s Cerenovus site in Galway tells us about his role and the importance of gender equality in STEM.

Michael Gilvarry is the general manager of Cerenovus in Galway, which is part of the Johnson & Johnson family of medical devices companies.

It is a research site that develops a broad portfolio of innovative devices that aim to help patients after they have had a stroke.

Here, Gilvarry gives an overview of his role at Cerenovus and what a typical day looks like.

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What kind of teams do you oversee at Cerenovus?

Cerenovus is a global leader in neurovascular care. Our commitment to changing the trajectory of stroke is inspired by our long heritage and dedication to protecting patients from stroke-related disabilities.

The functions at the Cerenovus Galway site are R&D, supply chain, quality, clinical, regulatory, finance and marketing. As well as leading the R&D in acute ischemic stroke, Cerenovus Galway also manufactures and supplies approved devices to global markets and oversees clinical activity.

What does a typical day at Cerenovus look like for you and your teams?

Our work at Cerenovus is focused on changing the trajectory of stroke. How do we do this? It all starts with scientific research into the underlying diseases which lead to stroke. We conduct this work under the umbrella of the Cerenovus Neuro Thromboembolic Initiative (NTI).

We work closely with universities and academics, including strong collaborations locally with GMIT and NUI Galway. This helps us recreate stroke in bench models. When we can simulate stroke in a lab environment, the creative process begins to think up new ideas for devices that can solve the real-world scenarios that we recreate. We then design and build in our prototype lab and test and refine designs until we have a concept that we are confident will work clinically.

Quality assurance is an essential part of what we do, so before devices are approved, they undergo rigorous design testing generating thousands of data points that are eventually submitted for approval before we can bring the device to market.

For our approved devices, we manage the supply chain from end to end – from material purchases, supplier quality, manufacturing devices through our external partners, sterilising and releasing the product, and shipping to distribution centres all over the globe.

What does leading the R&D taskforce involve?

The Ireland R&D taskforce is about bringing together our diverse businesses to strengthen our research, development and innovation footprint and looking at the external environment – such as how we engage with universities in research, strengthening and developing a diverse talent pool and networking with other researchers across Johnson & Johnson.

We are fortunate to have the support of agencies such as Science Foundation Ireland, IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland that recognise how important it is for us to continue to make scientific and technology advancements so we can continue to be leaders in the life sciences sector.

Is there anything you’re particularly excited to be working on at the moment?

We are continuously working on new product developments and building on past success. There is nothing more rewarding than hearing about successful patient outcomes after being treated with our devices. And it a big personal driver for me to continue to push the boundaries of technology to put even better tools in the hands of physicians that make stroke treatment quicker, easier and even more effective.

The growth of our business has led to a significant expansion of our facility, which is almost complete. I’m also excited that the business is recruiting new roles to continue to expand our capabilities. Each year we have seen new, talented people join our team and they are bringing the business to new heights. I’m excited to continue to bring on new employees that will bring new perspectives, ideas and diversity to our team.

It looks like your responsibilities are multifold, from R&D to boosting gender equality. How do these responsibilities complement each other?

I don’t just see this as my responsibility as a business leader in Johnson & Johnson, but also as a responsibility as a member of the scientific community and as a globally minded citizen who feels passionately about developing future leaders.

When I reflect on my career, I appreciate how fortunate I was to have mentors to guide me along my path from an engineering graduate to my current role as general manager. Looking back, I appreciated the importance of having a mentor to support, advise, challenge and encourage in the right measures.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to sponsor the Johnson & Johnson women’s leadership and inclusion employee resource group for across our Ireland campuses, which promotes the development of female leaders in the organisation. The programme supports professional development through networking initiatives, mentorship programmes and personal brand development.

We recently expanded Johnson & Johnson’s WiSTEM2D programme to NUI Galway, offering more female STEM students support even before they start their careers. This programme has been very successful and is helping build a more diverse STEM community in Ireland.

Why do you think gender equality should be a priority for more science and tech companies?

At Johnson & Johnson, we recognise that women are continuously and disproportionately missing from the STEM workforce and in higher education. We need a more diverse STEM workforce if we are going to unleash our potential to change the trajectory of health and stroke.

More than 5,000 people work for Johnson & Johnson across 10 sites in Ireland. We have women working in STEM roles every day and we put them to the forefront to showcase that an exciting career in STEM is possible.

The lack of representation of women in STEM is high, so businesses need to spend time designing accessible solutions to attract more women to the sector and help remove barriers – thereby opening pathways, creating networks and job opportunities.

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