At the 5th World Congress of Latvian Scientists "Research Latvia", Latvian and diaspora researchers and other experts gathered to discuss the use of natural resources and the opportunities and challenges created by the green economy.
The plenary session "Are there enough resources for a prosperous Latvia?" was introduced by a presentation by Arne Bardalen, Research Director of the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy (NIBIO), which highlighted a global challenge – the harms of climate change caused by humanity, exacerbated by increasing geopolitical tensions in the context of natural resources.
In the ensuing discussion, researchers and policymakers addressed the challenges of natural resource management. The researchers stressed the need to protect natural resources from the threats posed by global challenges, which also affect human well-being – as biodiversity decreases, the risk of spreading plant and animal diseases increases. Aivars Bērziņš, Director of the Scientific Institute of Food Safety, Animal Health and Environment "BIOR", pointed out that the risk is also increasing due to the high mobility of animals and humans, and complex solutions are needed for the management of both natural resources and the health system in order to reduce the spread of diseases and the increase in microbial resistance.
The panelists also pointed to the challenges associated with changing the culture of agriculture, since agricultural land must be seen as a living system rather than a mere business. Rector of Latvia University of Life Sciences and Technologies Irina Pilvere noted the important role played by digital tools – the number of people employed in agriculture is expected to decrease due to digital solutions, while the circular economy still lacks digital infrastructure and support tools for sustainable management of waste and byproducts. The Bioeconomy Strategy for 2030 is the way in which these strategic objectives could be achieved.
In the session "How to profit wisely in the green economy?" representatives of several Latvian scientific institutions presented innovative ways to benefit from the green economy, focusing on the processing of biomass into high value-added products.
Researchers from the Latvian Institute of Wood Chemistry presented the extraction of birch tree for suberin and betulin extraction, and this technology is already on its way to commercialization, with the support of the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia. The institute has also developed wood protection material and wood binders, while another group of researchers has developed fully biological three-dimensional composite materials containing basidium fungi and cellulose substrates. In turn, plant researchers from the University of Latvia presented the possibilities of using invasive plants in high value-added products, including in the manufacture of extracts, materials and fuels.
Materials science and packaging researchers stressed the need to reduce the use of plastics and choose plastic substitutes, such as readily degradable bioplastics. The researchers noted that there is no room for compromises in quality, because food and other goods can be damaged during transportation without proper care, therefore, researchers from Riga Technical University have developed a multilayer nanomaterial for bioprotection using propolis and copper.
Both the discussion on the challenges of resource management and presentations on the innovations of Latvian researchers in the green economy confirm the diversity of the green transformation, at the same time reminding of the opportunities it provides.
The World Congress of Latvian Scientists has been held in Latvia since 1991, and four congresses have been held thus far, bringing together many participants from both Latvia and abroad. In 2018, 750 participants from 24 countries took part in the 4th World Congress of Latvian Scientists. The main objectives of the Congress are to provide opportunities to exchange views on current scientific problems, to establish and strengthen contacts of Latvian scientists with scientists of Latvian origin from different countries, as well as to draw the attention of the public, media and politicians to the importance of Latvian science and the achievements of scientists.
Photo: Toms Norde, Gatis Orlickis / Ministry of Education and Science
The 5th World Congress of Latvian Scientists "Research Latvia" is implemented within the framework of the ERDF project No. 188.8.131.52/17/I/002 “Integrated national level measures for strengthening interest representations for the research and development of Latvia as part of the European Research Area”.