Three words to address the world

27 NOV 2018

Just over five years ago I was working in the music events industry. It was my job to make sure that bands, equipment and guests all ended up in the right place, but that turned out to be far more difficult than I expected. With musicians getting lost all over the English countryside, I realised street addresses just weren’t reliable enough, and latitude and longitude coordinates were too long and easy to mistake. There had to be a better way.

I sat down with a couple of friends to tackle this problem, and what3words was born. We divided the entire world into 3m x 3m squares, and gave each square a unique 3 word address. recoil.itself.electrics for example, identifies the exact front entrance of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. We had a created a location reference solution that was very, very precise but also simple, and easy to remember, use and share with others. I had solved my problem of directing musicians to festival fields, but soon realised that 3 word addresses could have a far greater impact on the world. Four billion people don’t have a reliable address for where they live. They struggle to stake a property claim, register births, open a bank account, access health services, run a business or be found in an emergency. It hampers the growth and progress of nations and puts lives at risk. And even in the best-addressed parts of the world, street addresses aren’t accurate enough for services such as on-demand delivery, and certainly not for a future of autonomous vehicles and delivery drones.

what3words offers people a really simple way to talk about location. It can currently be used in 26 languages, including Arabic, and is optimised for speech recognition. The technology is used by businesses, governments and NGOs to operate more efficiently, and by individuals to find and share places reliably using the free app for iOS or Android.

Our system is being used by humanitarian organisations and NGOs around the world to give people access to essential services. In rural India, for example Pollinate Energy use 3 word addresses to deliver solar lanterns to communities without electricity, and in Mongolia and Liberia, people can now access microfinance for the first time thanks to having an address to give on their application form.

In South Africa, NGO Gateway Health provides vulnerable pregnant women with their 3 word address, and has trained the local ambulance drivers to find places quickly in an emergency using what3words. The technology has also been used by the UN, Infinitum Humanitarian Systems and the Philippine Red Cross for faster and more effective response in the aftermath of natural disasters.

As well as enabling access to basic services, what3words is working with innovative companies to build the cities, transport systems and mobility solutions of the future. Mercedes-Benz already offers what3words voice navigation in several of its vehicles, enabling drivers to input any precise destination simply by saying three words to their car. The technology has also been integrated into autonomous shuttles such as IBM’s #AccessibleOlli and modular vehicles created by Next Future Transportation in Dubai.

As we move towards increasingly fluid and flexible transport systems and the sharing economy grows in importance, being able easily to communicate precise location is essential. what3words has been built into ride-hailing apps such as Cabify, a key player in Spanish and Portuguese markets, and can be used to locate charging points for electric vehicles, as well as specific parking spots for car-sharing projects. By making these new mobility services efficient and easy to use, we can cut carbon emissions and enjoy cleaner, healthier cities.

By Chris Sheldrick / Chris Sheldrick, CEO and co-founder of what3words


27 DEC 2018

It’s all agreed. Now let’s make the transition to a safe future

The optimists won. The Paris Agreement on climate change now has a ‘user’s manual'. On 15 December, after three years of negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, countries reached agreement on the ‘Paris rulebook’. The robustness of this set of guidelines is an indicator of the broad support that multilateralism continues to have in the fight against climate change – a problem with only a global solution.

If some had doubts about continued international support for the Paris Agreement, they had a good reason for that. Brazil, the world’s eighth largest economy, recently elected a president who during his campaign had promised to withdraw the country from the Agreement. Meanwhile in Europe, which has traditionally demonstrated strong leadership in both cutting emissions and providing support to developing countries, focus has been on the domestic side, with France grappling with the yellow vests movement, Germany preparing for a leadership transition, and the UK struggling with how to leave the European Union.

Despite the difficult political climate, earlier this month, 196 governments unanimously settled to close to 100 pages of text that will guide the individual and joint efforts of all countries to combat climate change. This guidance will be crucial to ensure a transparent flow of information on both countries’ intentions and their actual actions.

The so-called Katowice Climate Package, named after the Polish host city of this year’s conference, contains instructions that all countries should apply from 2020 onwards when communicating on their actions to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, or to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change, such as storms or droughts. Industrialised countries are also required to regularly report on the climate finance that they intend to provide for developing countries and later account for the funds they actually have made available.

The package also sets the rules for different institutional arrangements under the Paris Agreement, such as a compliance committee, which will be allowed to initiate consideration of non-compliance if a country has not submitted its plans or its reports on emissions or climate finance to the UN. It also defines the exact process by which the UN will periodically take stock of how countries are making progress towards keeping the world safe from catastrophic climate change. This ‘global stocktake’, which will take place every five years, will inform countries as they design their updated national climate change plans, also every five years, as part of what is commonly described as the Agreement’s ‘ambition mechanism’ – the heartbeat that now needs to become stronger.

The agreement in Katowice was significant for at least two reasons. First, it resolved major and politicised differences in view that were left unresolved in Paris in 2015, which evolved around how to ensure sufficient flexibility for emerging economies and other developing countries in implementing the Agreement, and how to make sure that there will be sufficient climate finance to help developing countries as they reduce their emissions and adapt to the already unavoidable impacts of climate change.

Second, it provided rules that are sufficiently detailed and binding and common for all. Common guidelines are crucial because reporting on countries’ emission reductions by using the same metrics and methodologies, for example, will allow for scientists to add up different countries’ pledges and actions to see how well we are on track and how much still remains to be done.

What Katowice did not succeed in was convincing the world that countries are on track to saving the world from climate change. This was not the principal aim of this conference, it can be argued. But the backdrop was hard ignore: the year 2018 has seen numerous weather extremes and natural disasters across the world, including a scorching summer in Europe, and deadly monsoon rains in India and wildfires in California. Messages from science are also growing stronger and more urgent.

While countries now have a solid rulebook for the Paris Agreement, there are few signs that the warning signals from nature and science are translating into sufficiently fast economic transitions on the ground. Global GHG emissions grew in 2017 while the latest science suggests that saving many small island states would require emissions to be halved from current levels by 2030. Even staying below the 2°C limit, to which all countries subscribe, will require unprecedented efforts from everyone, ranging from governments through to companies and individuals. Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, which will again bring decision-makers and businesses from all around the world to the UAE in January, will be the first opportunity to signal levels of ambition that match the scale of what is needed.

The Paris Agreement is ready for implementation. Now we all need to make it our priority.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Emirates Diplomatic Academy.

By Dr Mari Luomi / Senior Research Fellow, Emirates Diplomatic Academy


27 NOV 2018

The future of cooling Abu Dhabi

At the heart of Abu Dhabi’s sustainability efforts is how to efficiently provide the Emirate’s cooling. With temperatures staying above 30 degrees Celsius for nearly nine months of the year, there is huge demand for cooling for providing refrigerated transport for food and medicines, ensuring cool water supplies for residents and workers, and the need to keep buildings and data centres cool. In fact, almost 70% of Abu Dhabi’s electricity consumption is accounted for by air conditioning alone.

In line with Abu Dhabi’s sustainability ambitions to tackle climate change and reduce polluting emissions, there is an increasing demand to provide this cooling cleanly. As London-based experts in clean cold, we are proud of our groundbreaking innovations based on our zero-emission, liquid nitrogen technology, and we look forward to contributing to the UAE’s significant expertise on clean energy.

At Dearman, we have successfully shown what our technology can achieve, and that is why leading sustainability-conscious food manufacturers and the largest fleet operators in the world are coming to us. Given that 80% of the UAE’s food is imported through global logistics chains, we know we can be part of the country’s more sustainable future.

In food logistics, large delivery trucks typically have two diesel engines - the main engine to propel the vehicle, and a second engine to power the refrigeration and keep the food cold while in transit. The second diesel engine can be significantly more polluting, emitting six times as much nitrogen oxide and 29 times as much particulate matter as the main engine. This has significant impacts for public health and subsequently for healthcare costs.

In stark contrast to dirty diesels, the revolutionary Dearman engine is zero emission. It emits zero nitrogen oxides and zero particulate matter. Crucially for Abu Dhabi and its refrigerated delivery trucks, the extremely low temperatures of liquid nitrogen (going down to -196 degrees Celsius while in the tank), mean that the same tank of liquid nitrogen, while powering the refrigeration, also provides the cooling needed to keep food cold.

Similarly, the Dearman engine also has huge potential for use in electric buses. Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2018 was notable not least because the all-electric Eco-Bus was unveiled, running up to 150km on a full battery charge. In hot climates, 40% of an electric bus’s energy demand is consumed by the air-conditioning alone. The cooling derived from a Dearman system means the range the bus can travel is increased, without needing to increase battery capacity. In fact, with a Dearman system, the battery pack itself could also be smaller, cheaper and lighter.

In short, as shown by the refrigerated delivery and bus air-conditioning examples, our technology has enormous potential in Abu Dhabi given the Emirate’s huge demand for cooling all year round. There is ample supply of liquid nitrogen globally to supply thousands of zero emission Dearman engines - which helps the affordability of our technology.

Our refrigeration unit has already been used in delivery trucks by global consumer goods giant Unilever and British retail giants Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer. We are also currently running projects looking at using our technology to cool data centres, and help farmers reduce post-harvest food loss.

The UAE’s population is forecast to grow from 8.5 million in 2015 to 10.5 million in 2030, and naturally this will mean a growing demand for cold, whether in air conditioning, transport refrigeration, public transport, data centres, or elsewhere. The challenge will be providing this cooling in a clean way that is affordable, efficient and non-polluting. But the scale of ambition behind Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week shows a clear intent to meet that challenge head on - and we at Dearman would be proud to join you in delivering that ambition.

By Scott MacMeekin / CEO, Dearman Engine Company


27 NOV 2018

Sustainability on Earth depends on our exploration of space

Today, the world faces mounting environmental challenges. With rising sea levels, increasing ocean temperatures, desertification and resource shortages, our planet faces distinct and unprecedented threats. Now, more than ever, we must use all means at our disposal to develop cutting-edge sustainability practices on Earth as well as enhancing existing ones.

Some may wonder why a space agency, which focuses on furthering human knowledge of the universe, is concerning itself with environmental protection. Yet I would say that each and every one of us has a role to play in ensuring the future of our planet. Entire sectors, some of which are seemingly unrelated to sustainability and environmental protection, can in fact provide global solutions. I have no doubt that space is one such sector.

So, how can space science, dedicated to the study of the stars and the exploration of what lies beyond our fragile atmosphere, lead this planet’s efforts at self-preservation? One of the biggest differences we can make — whether on an individual or a global scale — is to improve efficiency in the way we use resources. By reducing the amount we consume, we decrease both our net waste and emissions. Here, we have already learned a great deal from space exploration, which requires highly efficient processes as a result of strict weight limits applied during launches.

Water preservation and recycling techniques have brought much-needed benefits to at-risk communities around the world. For example, the University of Kenitra in Morocco is applying techniques to filter and purify nearby groundwater supplies that were initially developed for recycling wastewater into drinking water for astronauts. Providing water for some 1,200 students, this reduces the need for transporting drinking water, bringing the added benefit of lower carbon emissions from the logistics sector.

This example highlights the clear imperative to develop innovative technologies for water efficiency and conservation, especially with estimates that two-thirds of the world’s population will experience water shortages by 2025. It also highlights the extent to which all of our actions are connected. When taken together, small-scale local projects around the world have a global impact on reducing emissions and waste.

This convergence of activities across different industries is an important area of attention. Through its far-reaching impact, the space sector operates at the intersection of other key industries related to sustainability — from renewable energy and oil and gas to logistics and construction.

As such, I’m pleased to see space added as a pillar of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. While the sector has already benefited environmental and sustainability efforts, there is always more that can be done. For example, the construction industry could adopt a range of new materials and technologies in order to reduce power demands in buildings, from self-illuminating materials to voltage controllers.

Locally, the UAE Space Agency, along with our close partners throughout the national space sector, have implemented a range of projects that will similarly bolster environmental efforts and sustainable practices, both in the UAE and abroad.

Firstly, the landmark Mars Scientific City announced by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has the primary objective of replicating conditions on Mars in order for us to develop technologies and techniques for surviving the inhospitable environment of our neighbouring planet. In doing so, we will produce tangible and practical solutions for some of our most pressing challenges, including sustainable water supplies, hyper-efficient recycling of resources and enhanced renewable energy production systems. Once launched in 2020, I am sure that the research and development set to take place at Mars Scientific City will bring tremendous benefits to humanity.

In the near term, the MeznSat project is currently being designed and developed by local undergraduate students at Khalifa University for Science and Technology and the American University of Ras Al Khaimah. The 3U CubeSat will collect data about carbon dioxide and methane levels above the UAE. This valuable data will then provide insights into the concentration of nutrients in the Arabian Gulf’s coastal waters. Among other applications, MeznSat will allow us to predict harmful algal blooms that can negatively impact on ocean ecology and enable us to implement precautionary measures to address them.

Pioneering projects such as these are providing students and early career professionals with tangible opportunities throughout the space sector — ones that will bring potential for significant and global benefit surrounding environmental protection and sustainable practices.

The Mars Hope Probe, which will enter the Martian orbit in 2021, represents the first Arab and Islamic interplanetary mission. Not only is this a truly inspirational project for our youth, it will also deliver on the environmental agenda. Vast amounts of environmental data gathered during the Hope Probe’s mission will allow us to get a better understanding of the Red Planet’s climate and, in the process, that of our own.

The range of scholarships and agreements with universities that we have put in place serve to facilitate our vision of using space to bolster sustainable activity on Earth. Indeed, with more awareness than ever about the environmental implications of our actions, engaging the upcoming generation and facilitating their entry to the sector and industry is one of the surest ways to achieve this.

Our future on Earth depends on our joint cooperation, and that is why I am proud that the UAE Space Agency can take learnings from the distant cosmos and faraway planets, and reapply them to those of us here on Earth. I firmly believe that the space sector is uniquely positioned to lead the development of sustainable technologies and to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

By H.E. Dr Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi / Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced Skills, Chairman of the UAE Space Agency