Author: the_bridge_tank

When bad controversies drive out the good ones: rehabilitating scientific controversy

At a time when Covid variants are multiplying, what is known genetically about this virus, from the processes of its emergence, to the role of virology in the analysis of its current evolution, to the genetic origins of its transformation into a pandemic, as well as the hypothesis of the possible role of humans and virological laboratories in its rise? What are the hypotheses supported by facts and debated by scientists, the controversies based on scientific protocols?

From the emergence of a pathogenic virus to the pandemic and variants: virology’s point of view

To shed light on these questions, this dossier presents our exchanges with Sterghios Moschos, researcher, virologist, with Gabriel Gras, former virology researcher and biosafety expert, and with Professor Jacques Cohen, physician and scientist, professor of immunology.

Sterghios Moschos introduces the panorama of the scientifically debated theses, Gabriel Gras tackles the questions linked to the origins of the virus and the functioning of the biological security laboratories and finally Jacques Cohen tackles the questions linked, starting from the virus, to the emergence of the disease and then to its transformation into a pandemic, in order to draw some lessons on a better coordination between disciplines, between science and the public authorities.

Finally, in a current situation where the International Conference for the Conservation of Nature is being held, we open the question of the relationship between humanity and nature.

When bad controversies drive out the good: rehabilitating scientific controversy

When a new epidemic erupts into the world, virology and epidemiology are initially blind to the DNA of the virus, its capacity to spread and contaminate, as well as its origins. Eventually, these scientific fields become more astute, able to see more clearly the DNA of the virus, its family of possible reservoirs and hosts, becoming potentially clairvoyant later on its capability to spread, transform as well as its origins, resulting eventually in the creation of a vaccine.

However, science takes time and a certain protocol, during which hypothesises need to be raised and de-bunked, or confirmed, fully or partially. This is a classic process of science in the making, well established since modern science developed, well understood by the epistemology of sciences including Gaston Bachelard and others; in this context, “scientific controversy” helps unearthing the truth from gathering, accumulation and minute interpretation of facts.

In the post-media age, however, politicised as it is, scientific controversies often escape the preserve of science, leak or get leaked by the media, and can even be intentionally diffused as propaganda by all sides or state/philanthropy/media machines. The current pandemic most likely has not escaped this trap.  

To this, time may still clarify the debate, but an interesting tool is provided through “Mapping” controversies (MC). As defined by Wikipedia: MC is an academic course taught in science studies, stemming from the writings of the French sociologist and philosopher Bruno Latour. MC focuses exclusively on the controversies surrounding scientific knowledge rather than the established scientific facts or outcomes. This “mapping” helps sociologists, anthropologists and other social scientists get insights not into scientific knowledge per se, but rather into the process of gaining knowledge. MC sheds light on those intermediate stages corresponding to the actual research process whilst pinpointing the connections between scientific work and other types of activities.”

“Mapping of Controversies” goes against political controversy, and controversy in the right sense ought to be re-appropriated by those it belongs to by sheer design of science: the scientists.

To read more on this topic, Joël Ruet, President of The Bridge Tank, has published an article in french on the website La Tribune : Coronavirus _ un analyseur de la complexité des relations hommes-animaux _

The Bridge Tank also wrote a note on scientific controversies and a literature review: The Bridge Tank COVID19 – A note on scientific controversies and a Literature review

Read the transcript of each interview here: Verbatim – Interview Sterghios Moschos_FINAL; Verbatim – Interview Jacques Cohen_FINAL; verbatim – Interview Gabriel Gras_FINAL

Sustainable Energy transition trajectories in large countries

By Baudouin Becker, Antoine Goutaland, Xieshu Wang,  Joël Ruet, Laure Elise Wargnier and Malaurie Le Bail.

The ecological emergency has caused a sharp pressure on policy makers to concentrate their efforts on elaborating public policies to organize the passage from the existing fossil fuels based system, that is unsustainable, to another system, whose contours are unknown in details for the time being, but whose ambition is to be durable. Unlike previous energy transitions that were achieved through industrial investments, the decarbonization of national economies is directly led and orchestrated by public authorities through incentives, constraints and policies. The presented documents are methodologies that aim at assessing the ability of governments to coordinate key actors and systems in order to achieve their climate goals and to identify the structural characteristics of the countries’ ecosystems.

 These studies identify trajectories, that we define as the coordination of variables that allow a system to remain balanced while being in motion. A systemic understanding of these trajectories is proposed, including both major responses of public policies to climate issues and the possible integration of the new technologies within the existing system, including an analysis of industrial systems and their capacity (or disability) to meet these challenges.

 In order to understand energy transitions across sectors, we have developed a detailed and replicable methodology that fully integrates the role and potential impact of actors (political and industrial). This has enabled us to understand energy transitions in an original way, freeing us from siloed macroeconomic studies and overly specific energy studies that do not allow us to understand the energy stakes as a whole.

In the following documents, you will find this methodology applied to over 20 economies.

The full report : Energy trajectories in main markets

Specific focus : Energy trajectories in main markets

The making of Hydrogen – Definition and acceleration of a sector

By Joël Ruet, Baudouin Becker, Antoine Goutaland and Xieshu Wang.

Hydrogen is a subject in trend and announcements of breakthrough hydrogen technologies have been multiplying in the last couple months. Indeed, it seems hydrogen, as an energy vector similar to electricity, has imposed itself in most government’s eyes as an indispensable tool in order to transition to climate neutral economies by the end of 2050. Indeed, a number of executive bodies have published hydrogen national strategies in the last 15 months, among which notably the EU, the US, France, the Uk, Germany, and many others (even if mostly Europeans so far).  

            Hydrogen is not a new molecule and has been known and used for decades. Currently, it is mostly utilized as an industrial composite for the production of ammonia, of steel or for refining oil. However, in the context of the energy transition, it is mostly considered useful as an energy vector that would complement electricity. Indeed, in hard-to-abate sectors, meaning sectors where electricity isn’t a solution or an unsatisfactory one, hydrogen appears as a viable replacement to fossil fuels, for example in long-distance transport or shipping where oil is hard to substitute.  

These two documents provide an overview of hydrogen developments and increasing importance in the energy transition as well as a prospective analysis of its prospects of evolution towards 2030. It notably identifies an unexpectedly faster pace of development of the molecule. Country that are mostly likely or unlikely to decarbonize their current hydrogen production are also identified. Finally, the documents provide a specific lens on hydrogen use for mobility and on hydrogen ecosystems.

 

Main report : Main Report – The making of Hydrogen – Definition and acceleration of a sector over 2017-2021

Executive summary : Executive Summary – The making of Hydrogen – Definition and acceleration of a sector over 2017-2021

The current state of the hydrogen ecosystems in the world

By Florian Dommergues and Joël Ruet

Retrospectively, 2021 might well prove to be the breakthrough year for the ecological transition towards climate neutral societies. With the election of Joe Biden, who reinstated the United States in the Paris Agreement hours after coming into office, the ecological transition has gained new momentum.
By the end of 2020, more than 110 countries had pledged to reach climate neutrality by the mid-century, including China by 2060. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has induced an important economic crisis which in response has required the launch of large-scale recovery plans by OECD countries, such as Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue plan, France’s €100 billion recovery plan (of which €30 billion are dedicated to the ecological transition), or the EU’s €1800 billion plan, of which one third is dedicated to the European Green Deal to reach climate neutrality. These plans have been seen as a chance to accelerate further the ecological transition and to invest in the technologies and energies of tomorrow.

In this context, one energy in particular gained particular drive and importance : hydrogen (H2). The aim of this policy brief is therefore to provide an overarching view of the current state of affairs of the hydrogen ecosystem and a review of the existing literature.

We argue that three trends required special attention and allow to have a structured analysis of the field.
First, hydrogen must be approached around the industrial problematics that compose the ecosystems that are emerging around the molecule. One of the decisive dynamic being the interaction between industrial players (both new upcoming players and old industrial fossil fuel players, such as gas utilities) and government public policies which will shape the regulatory environment.
Second, hydrogen in the years to come, will most probably become an object of trade between countries with abundant RES and those with scarcer ones in the years to come. If we analyse these dynamics that notably take the form of bilateral partnerships between states, we argue that for a long time to come hydrogen exports will not take the magnitude nor the forms of standardized transactions, such as oil or natural gas. Indeed, hydrogen cannot be understood as a uniformed commodity, as we stated in a previous policy brief (in french).
Third, the place of green hydrogen in the energy transition must be considered lucidly, what we call a « philosophy of transition ». Hydrogen, if an essential tool of the energy transition, will remain second whenever electrification is possible. It must be considered first and foremost in order to decarbonize industrial uses of hydrogen, then in hard-to-abate sectors and finally as a tool for system integration (providing grid stability and allowing sector coupling).

You can find the full brief here : The current state of play of the hydrogen ecosystems in the world

China’s policy on strategic materials – impact on the batteries ecosystem and industry recommendations

By Xieshu Wang and Joël Ruet.

Strategic materials, such as rare earth, lithium, cobalt or nickel, are indispensable inputs for green transition technologies such as wind turbines or batteries for electric vehicles. With more and more governments aiming to reach climate neutrality by 2050 and as the necessity to transition to sustainable economies is becoming more and more pressing, primary materials’ demand will rise and they are therefore considered critical inputs, or strategic materials. It is expected that consumptions of strategic metals will increase from 7 to 19 billion tons per year, inducing serious tensions on the supply side. Cobalt is one of these metals used as an input in the magnets of wind turbines, and for the production of the cathodes of lithium-ion and nickel metal hybride batteries.

As China quickly understood the importance of the metal for future strategic technologies, it positioned itself early on the cobalt value chain and has therefore been able to control a significant part of the chain, mostly by controlling a large portion of the DRC’s cobalt ressources.

This document provides an analysis of China’s materials strategy, the way it has managed to gain a privileged position on the value chain,  as well as an analysis of the key private actors that are major players on the cobalt value chain.

Industry recommendations : Industry Recommendations – China’s key materials strategy

Analytical report : Analytical Report – China’s key materials strategy

Policy Brief – Hydrogen, a new commodity, a ‘magic’ energy carrier, or a prescriber of demanding public policies?

By Antoine Goutaland and Joël Ruet

“Hydrogen” is seeing its industrial and energy uses differ while its synthesis processes abound. But in reality, there are hydrogens whose promoters constitute a heterogeneous club with more or less convergent interests, present at different geographical, sectoral and temporal levels. A unified and stabilised ecosystem does not exist at this stage, and due to the characteristics of the molecule, we defend that this unique and global ecosystem will not be emerge.

Green hydrogen remains a decisive tool for the energy transition. It has the capacity to better store, use, and valorise renewables, and, more generally, offers an additional flexibility option to the great energy systemic overhaul necessary for the ecological transition.

At present, the World Hydrogen Council has an interest in showing a united front to policy makers, in order to broaden the base of what has not, so far, really been a “sector”. But behind this homogeneous ‘narrative’, industrial and political battles are being fought.

Hydrogen will contribute to the slow change in perspective of ecology: in parallel with the systemic question of transitions and trajectories, there will be a return, not of the micro-economic question (price formation on markets), but rather of the macro-economic policy of natural resources, an all-encompassing problem, going from a national accounting of resources to a geostrategy of resources.

Read the Full Brief (in French): 2021-07-07-PB_Hydrogene

 

Key points

  • Hydrogen is not a commodity and will probably not become one. However, this by-product can play a key role in the decarbonization of certain heavy industries or energy uses.
  • Hydrogen is not oil, therefore the previous economic model of this sector is not necessarily adapted to hydrogen. It is consequently necessary to question the assumptions and cognitive habits acquired, as well as to objectively analyse the accelerators at hand, and in particular the territories, that are determining factors.
  • Hydrogen opens the Pandora’s box of the industrial economy: are forced technological oligopolies coming? Will they overlap or will they transcend geopolitical competition? Will certain coal basins impose themselves by a sort of return of history? Will industrial parks turn demand to their advantage?
  • The electrification of the world, mobilizing hydrogen, and associated with “natural” uses of hydrogen where electrification is not relevant, is compatible with an explosion of energy transformations, alongside a decrease in CO2 emi

‘China, new Atlantis between the United-States and Europe?’ Joël Ruet deciphers the triangular power-play in his latest article in Euraktiv and The Tribune

There is no longer denying that America, under Biden’s new administration, is preparing to confront the growing presence of China within the global arena by waging what many have called the ‘new Cold War’. Despite growing concerns over what America’s aggressive stance could bring to the future, as echoed by the likes of Bernie Sanders, the China-centric discussions conducted by the American president during the recent series of world summits, from the G7 to NATO, confirm this claim. His recent tour to Europe was essentially a call to arms to his allies, a congregation of democratic powers and values. However, within the friction created by the shifting of these political tectonic states, Europe declines to choose a side, its leaders evoking in response repeatedly the term; “strategic autonomy”. In refusing to align explicitly with either America or China, Europe plans to forge its own destiny; with China’s entry into the Northern Atlantic, the political fabric of the world is being restitched. 

This, in short, is the context of Joel Ruët’s recent article published on the website La Tribune, titled: ‘China, the new Atlantis between the United-States and Europe?’. Anchored on the analysis of dialogues that took place over the recent series of world summits, Ruët’s article explores not only the meaning behind Europe’s key phrase: “strategic autonomy”, but also what this strategy entails for its potential partnerships with America and China. Through profound and precise analyses of the events and dialogues which took place over the recent series of summits, Ruët presents crucial observations and outlooks within the tense context of an American-China Cold War 2.0. 

Read the article in French here: https://www.latribune.fr/opinions/tribunes/la-chine-nouvelle-atlantide-entre-les-etats-unis-et-l-europe-887357.html

Read the article in English, republished by Euraktiv here: https://www.euractiv.com/section/china/opinion/china-the-new-atlantis-between-the-united-states-and-europe/ 

Download the PDF version in French here: La Chine, nouvelle Atlantide entre les Etats-Unis et l’Europe

The African diaspora recalled by the continent?

The sustained growth of the last two decades and the two global crises of 2008 (Subprimes) and 2020 (Covid-19) have revealed new challenges on a global scale, which are illustrated in Africa by a sustainable modernisation challenge. The role of the diaspora in accessing international finance is one of the keys to Africa’s challenges. Morocco published this Tuesday, May 25, 2021 its report entitled “The New Development Model, unleashing energies and restoring confidence to accelerate the march towards progress and prosperity for all”.

Read here the french paper : La diaspora africaine rappelée par le continent ?

Contradictory trends on EU-China, relations? The case of industry

The paradoxical observation of deep disagreement and necessary cooperation

Relations between the EU and China are conditioned by a double observation : observation of a deep disagreement on political values, in terms of human rights and democracy, but also observation of the need for the two powers to cooperate on major issues, such as climate, strategic materials or industries of the future.

Such is the Bliken doctrine, with the exception that the US play the confrontational rivalry while the Eu remains more soft spoken.

While the EU is now the largest trading partner and foreign investor in China, a deep and lasting mistrust marks bilateral relations and tends to poison them. Strategic partners and systemic rivals, the EU and China are now reaching a turning point in their relations. Also, the EU must redefine its Chinese policy, between taking an assumed position, pragmatic cooperation, and inevitable negotiations, to get out of the stop and go provoked by these antagonistic tendencies.

Whether it takes the form of a technological, trade or human rights war, a tendency towards confrontation is gaining ground in diplomatic relations between Chinese and Western powers. Rising diplomatic tensions between the EU and China, illustrated by European sanctions over forced labor in Xinjiang province and the subsequent Chinese counter-sanctions, have brought bilateral cooperation to a halt, as demonstrated by the vote of the European Parliament on May 20 in favor of the suspension of negotiations for the ratification of the Agreement on Investment announced in December 2020.

However, the same day, a partnership was announced around battery materials between the German manufacturers BASF and Chinese Shanshan. This twofold topicality testifies to an inconsistency in the European line of conduct towards China. Beyond the apparent incompatibility of the two political systems illustrated by an increasingly less diplomatic tone, a real complementarity of interests between the two parties remains. In fact, the EU and China cannot do without having discussions with each other, if not cooperation, at least an open and pragmatic dialogue on certain issues.

BASF and Shanshan enter into joint venture in battery materials sector

If the light is red in terms of political cooperation with China, Sino-German industrial collaboration is for its part in good shape. The two leaders have embarked on a joint venture serving the Chinese market, the largest in the battery materials sector. For BASF, a leading global supplier of Computer Aided Manufacturing to the automotive industry, this is an opportunity to access the Chinese CAM market, expanding its global footprint with an integrated cathode active materials supply chain and unique. BASF would become the first company to have capacity in all major markets by 2022. For its part, Shanshan, a leading supplier of lithium-ion battery materials serving both the electric mobility market and consumer electronics, would benefit from BASF’s global network of automotive customers to strengthen its competitiveness in the Chinese market.

Thanks to the strong technological and development capabilities with a global footprint of one, and the vast experience of the Chinese market on the other, these two giants, by combining their expertise, will be able to offer incomparable competitiveness in terms of innovation, customer proximity and cost and become one of the world’s leading CAM suppliers. The aim is to generate important technological synergies and accelerate the transformation of the electrification of the transport industry.

The issue of this partnership is central when we consider that China has control over the value chains of strategic materials necessary for the manufacture of batteries, for which it dominates the market and holds around 90% of world production. In addition, China is a key player in the supply chains in key areas of energy transition (solar panels, wind turbines, hydrogen).

What method for a coherent European position?

Between deep political dissension and innovative cooperation on issues of the future, the Sino-European relationship is subject to contradictory trends which seem irreconcilable and prevent the EU from maintaining a unambiguous course of action.

In any case, the Sino-European divorce is not consummated. Beyond the sirens of political rivalries, points of convergence still make it possible today to talk about shared visions of the future. In view of the COP26, it is necessary to establish essential strategic axes towards which to orient Sino-European cooperation. The subject of raw materials, agricultural and mineral, is for example a central point of support for this cooperation, as is the climate or the energy and industrial transition.

The EU will only be able to impose its views if it shows a unanimous and coherent discourse. It should therefore first agree internally on its course of action, then externally by positioning itself according to a flexible method capable of breaking out of permanent stop and go in international relations. Thus, it will be able to hold a precise but firm dialogue in negotiation, redefine demanding and lasting partnerships, respectful of the law, and based on real reciprocity. In short, assume a role of “balancing power”.


Our analysis of Morocco’s New Development Model

Context:

Ambassador and former Interior Minister Chakib Benmoussa, Chairman of the Special Commission on the Development Model (CSMD), presented his general report on Tuesday 25 May 2021 at a ceremony presided over by King Mohammed VI. The latter will give rise to a national pact for development – an unprecedented proposal in Morocco. The objective is to anchor the New Development Model as a common reference for the actors and to commit the different parties. In other words, the pact will be the tool for renewing the relationship between the State and the development actors (political parties, constitutional institutions, the private sector and social partners, territories and the third sector); a renewal whose key words are: accountability, subsidiarity, partnership, sustainability and inclusion.

Read our report in french here

Download the version PDF in French here: The Bridge Tank_analyse_Maroc_Juin2021

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