COMSATS and promotion of bio-economy

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By Fauzia Nasreen
Since its inception in 1994, the Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (COMSATS) has endeavoured to consolidate linkages among the developing countries through scientific and technological cooperation with the end objective of promoting sustainable development and socio-economic transformations. In this context cooperation with the countries of the North have played a catalytic role because of rapid growth in science and engineering. The concept of Triangular Cooperation has further provided space for organizations like COMSATS in taking advantage of the new and emerging development paradigms. COMSATS’ scientific international Centres of Excellence play a pivotal part in addressing some of the development challenges confronted by COMSATS’ member countries in such fields as education, ICT, health, climate change, water resources and food security and agriculture. Inter disciplinary approach to scientific and technological fields do constitute the foundation of mutual collaboration.
All stakeholders in the scientific community are cognizant of a) the demands imposed by the fourth industrial revolution; and b) the increasing importance of Bio-economy. Critical breakthroughs in technology and innovation are bringing about major transformations in every aspect of the planetary existence. The adaptation to and management of the challenges posed by the scientific and technological advancement are dependent on knowledge generation, adequate governance framework and the requisite resources (both human and material). Deficiency in these areas is not only widening the gap between developed and the developing world but is also creating disparities among the countries and regions of the South. Notwithstanding the inspirational goals of the 2030 Global Development Agenda of “reducing inequality” among and within countries and “leaving no one behind” the risks are enormous. These risks are compounded by climate change and environmental degradation within the vicious cycle of poverty, hunger, disease and institutional capacities.
In view of the growing vulnerability because of food insecurity and adverse impact on energy generation and progressive resources depletion, the field of Bio-economy has gained increasing traction. Understood as “an approach aiming to substitute conventional synthetic functions by applying innovative technologies which rely primarily on biological processes…” Bio-economy requires a sound governance structure involving policy guidelines, strategic direction and institutional support. International collaboration, cooperation and sharing of experiences also on the basis of indigenous and traditional technologies can contribute significantly. “The term Bio-economy encompasses biotechnological activities and processes that translate into economic outputs, particularly those with industrial application.” In addition to the role of state, organizations like COMSATS are of paramount importance in pooling of resources and in providing stimulating environment to various stakeholders including societies and communities in making the transition towards innovative solutions and ways of conducting their day-to-day lives in a productive and sustainable way.
Bio-economy is deeply entrenched in the idea of sustainability i.e. reliance on renewable resources and conversion of natural resources into food, feed, fibre and other bio-based products as well as bio-energy. There are several factors responsible for declining resources necessitating a shift towards Bio-economy pressing the need for innovative approaches to the sustainable use of natural resources. These include degraded ecosystems and loss of ecosystem services, land degradation and over exploitation of ocean fisheries and damage to biodiversity. In all the processes involving a shift towards Bio-economy, science and technology has a critical role. Therefore, it is heartening to note that in so many different ways COMSATS has paid attention to this field taking into account the dividends it can bring to the societies and communities of its member countries.
The world today is confronted with many challenges that have serious repercussions for the sustainable survival of mankind and the planet, earth. There are urgent and decisive reasons for bringing about meaningful transformations that would arrest the negative implications through realistic and new methods of changing lifestyles, consumption and production patterns. The world population has increased manifold over the last few decades emphasizing the need to analytically look at the compulsions it would impose on adapting to the changes in several ways. Having crossed 7 billion it is projected to touch 9 billion by 2043. The increase is not uniform regions-wise. Some are witnessing rapid growth the others aging population burdening the societies to provide for them. Because of conflict, war, hunger and disease, and dwindling economic opportunities the world is facing complex migration problems as well. Bio-economy could be an effective vehicle for minimizing and mitigating some of the effects particularly in the context of population matrix.
Moreover, Sustainable Development Goal 12, addresses the impact of population growth in relation to lifestyles and industrial growth. Captioned as “Responsible Consumption and Production” it outlines “promoting resource and energy efficiency, sustainable infrastructure, and providing access to basic services, green and decent jobs and better quality of life for all” as urgent goals. Similarly a UN report of 2018 underscores “the circle of consumption does not guarantee socially inclusive and sustainable outcomes.” In order to make the benefits of industrialization inclusive, incomes must flow to the bottom of the pyramid and environmental mitigation be addressed through changes in approaches and processes. The need, therefore, is for Bio-economy transformations that also involve entrepreneurs and businesses as well as behavioral change among the consumers. In the 21st Century due importance is being attached to “the contribution of Bio-economy in the management of natural resources in which bio-technology and bio-mass based production to generate economic output will continue to grow.”
Policy coherence and comprehensive framework that has holistic approach are important in transformation to Bio-economy. The education system, research and development, reorganization and reorientation of existing institutions are some of the measures that could deliver the outcomes. Government of Pakistan’s two important initiatives: Poverty Alleviation Programme Ahsaas and Kamyab Jawan Pakistan for youth if aligned with the overall strategies such as SEZs, for SMEs, HEIs deserve special attention in this regard.

Ms Fauzia Nasreen is a retired diplomat. She has served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Nepal, Poland with concurrent accreditation of the Czech Republic and High Commissioner of Pakistan for Australia. Since her retirement she has worked as head, CPS, CUI and later and todate as Adviser in COMSATS’ Secretariat.