G7 leaders commit to STI concerns

Veronica Silva
June 20, 2018

AI, climate change in G7 talks

G7 Leaders have committed to act on key issues brought to their attention by the science, technology and innovation (STI) community, particularly around artificial intelligence (AI) and climate change. However, the US stayed away from any further climate change commitments, while Canada’s STI stakeholders are asking for action beyond signatures on a piece of paper.

The Charlevoix G7 Summit Communique and related documents coming out of the Leaders Summit on June 8-9 at Charlevoix, QC include commitments to work towards implementing the Paris Agreement and collaboration on AI. Climate change, oceans and clean energy is one of the five themes emerging from the meeting, while AI is included in the theme related to investing in growth. For these two STI items, the leaders endorsed two related documents: the Charlevoix Common Vision for the Future of AI and the Charlevoix Blueprint for Health Oceans, Seas and Resilient Coastal Communities.

The AI vision for G7 underscores the importance of technology in fuelling economic growth and its benefits to society, including addressing human rights, poverty, gender equality and empowering the elderly and people with disabilities. The leaders committed to promote R&D investments in AI and urged industry to invest in developing and deploying AI that supports economic growth and addresses societal issues, digital security and respect for privacy.

Six of the G7 Leaders and the European Union committed to promote the fight against climate change and called for international collaboration to this effect with the US abstaining. Instead, the US said it would promote energy security and economic growth that improves healthy oceans. In the Communique, the US said it would work with other countries to help them obtain clean fossil fuels and deploy renewable energy and other clean sources.

Dr Catherine Beaudry, a professor and Canada Research Chair holder at Polytechnique Montreal, says that with the G7 Leaders encouraging increased availability and sharing of science and data, as stated in the healthy oceans blueprint, Canadian researchers could gain access to data which are otherwise too expensive without government’s help. She cites the RADARSAT Constellation project currently being developed and due for launch later this year as an example where Canadian researchers can benefit from niche Canadian expertise — satellite-based radar technology.

“We need to have the RADARSAT data available at a reasonable price for researchers (for them) to be encouraged to create a community of practice that uses these data,” says Beaudry. “That’s important for the development of this fantastic technology that was developed in the country.”

The G7 healthy oceans blueprint also calls for a joint G7 initiative to deploy Earth observation technologies to better manage coastal resources to support disaster risk prevention and related risk management planning to help those in the poorest and most vulnerable regions in the world.

Beaudry adds that in other G7 initiatives, such as harmonizing G7 science-based monitoring to tackle the proliferation of plastic in oceans  — which was another key focus area in the healthy oceans blueprint — it is also important to have a community of practice that collectively develops methodologies for monitoring oceans. “Technologies that are used by various countries need to be accessible for them to be shared,” she explains.

The G7 leaders called on the G7 environment ministers who are meeting in Halifax this fall, to look into other initiatives to promote R&D on new and more sustainable technologies to address plastic waste.

Dr Gordon McBean, climatologist, professor at Western Univ and president of the International Council for Science (ICSU), says the oceans and coastal communities are important, but the G7 documents should address the full spectrum of 2030 Agenda international agreements — Paris Agreement, Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Though some keywords used in the G7 documents are consistent with the Sendai Framework and they mention the 2030 Agenda, McBean tells R$ the focus on emergency preparedness “needs to address all communities — floods on rivers and big cities, ice storms, ocean surges, etc … Canada needs more than reports; we need action.”

McBean also expressed concern about how Canada will collaborate with international partners in the fight against climate change, as the G7 Communique mentions, if Canada doesn’t coordinate its efforts. He is calling for an “integrated science” approach for Canada to live up to its commitments to climate change as well as Sendai and SDG targets.

“We have no national program of organized science feeding into the World Climate Change Research Programme (WCRP); we have no national program on Future Earth (a research initiative on global environmental change and sustainability). We have no Canadian participation in an organized way. We have individual participation,” says McBean, who is co-chair of the governing council for Future Earth, which has a hub in Montreal.

“I’ve been asking the federal government to create a national committee to coordinate Canadian participation in international research programs like Future Earth and for coordinating science input into Agenda 2030,” McBean has proposed the Canadian National Committee for Integrated Science for Agenda 2015-2030 to include representatives from the three levels of government, stakeholder communities, the private sector and academia.

Artificial Intelligence

The Canadian AI community is also looking forward to opportunities coming from the high-level G7 talks to capitalize on previous investments.

Dr Elissa Strome, executive director of the federally funded Pan-Canadian AI Strategy at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), tells R$ that she is encouraged by the statements made on AI as they complement CIFAR’s  coordinating activities with the Toronto’s Vector Institute, the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms and the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute, and researchers across Canada.

“It (G7 Communique) really echoed many of the issues we see as important, and these are issues that researchers across the country are coming together to try to address and understand,” she adds.

Strome says the fact that the Communique was signed by seven countries is an international recognition of the critically important themes and issues in AI. “It’s nice to know that the other members of the G7 — aside from Canada and France, which have already signed the Canada-France Statement on AI  — are in alignment on what are the critical issues and what are the areas that need focusing on,” she adds.

Prior to the G7 Leaders Summit, Canada and France held bilateral talks after which the Canada-France Statement was signed. It calls for the creation of an international study group on inclusive and ethical AI that can become the global reference for research and understanding AI.

Research input

Prior to the Leaders Summit, scholars from the G7 economies submitted recommendations on the digital future and Arctic sustainability.

“In addition to engaging with political leaders in each country through the Academies, we are also attempting to contribute to public debate and interest as we work with domestic and international partners,” says Royal Society of Canada president Dr Chad Gaffield. “We’ve certainly been able to be helpful in keeping with the idea that the world of science and scholarship can really help at this challenging time.”

Gaffield says the statements are useful in identifying key challenges and recommendations on priority issues and principles for action.

“We identified a series of principles that will allow us to continue policy development,” says Gaffield, adding that the RSC has also been collaborating with counterparts in France, next year’s host, and the US, 2020 host.

On the digital future issue, the G7 Academies have proposed principles of action while on Arctic sustainability, they have proposed collaboration in data-sharing and support for interdisciplinary research.

Gaffield says Canada is well situated to take the lead on the two key issues. “We can understand and have deep appreciation of climate change … Canada is obviously well situated to contribute to global Arctic (discussions) because what is happening there (in the Arctic) is a global phenomenon.”

On the digital future discussions, Gaffield notes that the other themes of G7, like investing in growth and jobs of the future, are intimately connected to artificial intelligence and digital technologies, which are real strengths for Canada.

“Clearly the central message that comes out of our statements is that we cannot think about the challenges and opportunities of the global Arctic or of our digital age without bringing together -- in an integrated way -- the kind of research expertise that has been for far too long, separate and really has been not harnessed together in ways that are necessary,” he explains. “It’s clear in our research summits … Everyone came away convinced that the approach of cross-disciplinary or interdisciplinary is really essential to coming to grips with all the complexity of the challenges that we’re facing today.”

Global leaders

The G7 leaders also met with some global leaders to discuss concrete actions to protect the oceans, seas and coastal communities and make them sustainable. The meetings were part of the G7 Outreach Session on June 9. Among the heads of states or government that the G7 leaders met with were the heads of G20 (which the G7 Summit feeds into), International Monetary Fund, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, United Nations, World Bank, the chair of the African Union, chair of the Caribbean Community and more.


Principles of action from the statement “Realizing Our Digital Future and Shaping Its Impact On Knowledge, Industry, and the Workforce

  • Inclusion and access with the goal of equal opportunity to participate in and gain from the digital transformation, to channel gains equitably and eliminate digital divides.
  • Information literacy relying on a comprehensive educational plan for all age groups with the objective of providing skills and tools allowing citizens to critically interpret, verify and validate the quality of information circulating in the digital infrastructure.
  • Quality of tools and standards through robust mechanisms for production, validation, access and dissemination of open data, information and machine learning systems, to strengthen reliability and security, preventing tampering, manipulation and privatizing use of data and ensuring that machine learning algorithms are interpretable by non-specialists.
  • Democratic governance in the form of regulatory frameworks to set up an oversight of internet service providers, social media and other entities and prevent private monopolistic or oligopolistic power in the digital economy and to ensure open and neutral internet, protection of digital data and respect for norms of individual privacy.
  • Employment and training policies to encourage new economic activities, foster emerging technological sectors and ensure that the benefits of new technologies also be distributed to workers and that schemes be available for their training and reemployment.
  • Ethics and human values should guide the development of digital technologies, artificial intelligence and big data analytics and intervene in all stages of digital innovations to preserve values of freedom, democracy, justice and trust.

Proposals from the statement “The Global Arctic: Sustainability of Communities in the Context of Changing Ecosystems

  • Research cooperation relying on augmented interdisciplinary research supported by large scale international science initiatives in combination with cooperative decision-making among Arctic nations;
  • Training individuals from a diversity of fields and backgrounds, including those residing in the Arctic, to ensure the necessary scientific capacity to address global and local issues;
  • Accessible, usable and timely science databases that can be shared among all stakeholders and decision makers;
  • Programs on remote sensing linked with in-situ monitoring activities integrating sustained high- inclination satellite missions, new technologies for underwater measurements and regionally- integrated in-situ monitoring that incorporates local knowledge.


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