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Technology breakthroughs, the future of work and a new food waste index

  • 15 March 2021 (5 min read)

Big technological breakthroughs, the pandemic’s impact on emissions and the way that we work, plus a new way to measure food waste. Our round-up of provoking thoughts, penetrating insights and digital curiosities.

Biotech, AI and batteries among breakthrough technologies

Messenger RNA, used in the development of coronavirus vaccines, can potentially provide solutions for other diseases such as malaria and sickle-cell disease. It is just one of the ‘breakthrough technologies’ of 2021 highlighted by the MIT Technology Review, in a list that also includes the computer language GPT-3 – tipped to create great strides in machine learning – and lithium-metal batteries, that could boost the range of electric vehicles by up to 80%. Other technologies that made the list include hyper-accurate positioning that could provide landslide warnings and green hydrogen’s potential as a new energy source.

Carbon emissions fell in 2020 – but are already rebounding

Carbon dioxide emissions fell 5.8% in 2020, the largest annual decline since World War II, according to new data from the International Energy Agency. Energy demand fell nearly 4% last year, with the biggest drop seen by oil, where demand slid 8.6%, largely as a result of lockdowns. In addition, low-carbon fuels and technologies including solar and wind power reached their highest ever share of the global energy mix at more than 20%. However, in a sign that emissions are already rebounding to pre-pandemic levels – or higher, global emissions were 2% higher in December 2020 than they were in December 2019.

The future of work post-COVID-19

The world is facing a new way of working post-COVID-19, with the number of employees based at home expected to rise to as much as five times the pre-pandemic level, according to a new report from McKinsey. In addition, more than 100 million workers may need to switch occupations by 2030, a 25% increase on earlier forecasts for some countries. Women, ethnic minorities, young people and those without a university degree may be the most affected. The report, The future of work after COVID-19, urges businesses and policymakers to focus on retraining, prioritising equal access to digital infrastructure and improving benefits for independent workers.

Nearly a fifth of food wasted

Nearly a fifth (17%) of the food produced globally could be being wasted, according to the United Nations’ first Food Waste Index report. Some 931 million tonnes of food are thrown out each year, with 61% of that being thrown out by households, 26% from the food service industry and 13% from retail. Reducing food waste would ease pressure on land, water, biodiversity and waste management systems, as well as help address climate change, it says.

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