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The third Commonwealth Science Conference will take place virtually from 22-26 February 2021, co-organised by the Royal Society and the African Academy of Sciences. The conference is funded via the UK government’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), part of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA).

The theme of the conference will be “Science for a resilient future”, with three main sub-themes:

  • Developing resilient energy systems – climate resilient infrastructure; decarbonising energy systems; and a circular economy for the Commonwealth 
  • Nurturing resilient ecosystems – challenges and opportunities for the blue economy; trajectories, challenges and solutions for biodiversity; and adaptation and mitigation challenges for coastal states in the era of climate change
  • Building resilient societal systems – pandemic preparedness before and after Covid-19; climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction; and a ‘just transition’ to a sustainable Commonwealth

Day 1 highlights include keynote talks from: 

  • Professor Gagandeep Kang, Professor of Microbiology, Wellcome Trust Research Laboratory, Division of Gastrointestinal Sciences at Christian Medical College (CMC) on What is our ‘new normal’?: Vaccines and resilience in the time of SARS-CoV2
  • Professor Veena Sahajwalla, Professor of Materials Science in the Faculty of Science at the University of New South Wales on Aligning recycling and manufacturing 
  • Professor Salim Abdool Karim, CAPRISA Professor for Global Health at Columbia University on A tale of two pandemics: AIDS and Covid-19 
  • His Excellency Anote Tong, Former President of Kiribati on The impact of sea level rise on small island states
  • Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg on The Fourth Industrial Society, and the Economy  

Attending this event

  • The event will be livestreamed on the Royal Society YouTube channel on Tuesday 23 February 2021 at 6pm GMT
  • The event is free to join, and there is no registration required
  • Live subtitles will be available

For all enquiries, please contact


Interview with His Excellency Anote Tong

His Excellency, Anote Tong, Former President of Kiribati

Elaine Sadler, Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Sydney, interviews Anote Tong, former President of Kiribati and advocate for ocean conservation. 24 of the Commonwealth’s 54 member states are small island developing states. The interview focuses on the impact of sea level rise on small island states, the importance of ocean and marine conservation, and the role of the Commonwealth and the global scientific community in addressing the impact of climate change on the oceans.

Aligning recycling and manufacturing

Professor Veena Sahajwalla, Australian Research Council (ARC) Laureate Professor, The University of New South Wales, Australia

We need to look at waste, recycling and manufacturing in a new way and to acknowledge the valuable materials contained in waste. Virgin resources are finite and rather than sending waste items to landfill or other unsustainable disposal methods, we need to reuse those materials over and over to support the new products and materials needed by societies. Waste therefore is a type of new ‘renewable resource’ for us to mine and use as feedstock materials for manufacturing. By aligning manufacturing and recycling, communities can become more resilient and sustainable. This presentation explores and provides examples of how we can take so called “end of life” waste products and reform them into materials for remanufacturing.

What is our ‘new normal’?: Vaccines and resilience in the time of SARS-CoV2

Professor Gagandeep Kang, Professor of Microbiology, Wellcome Trust Research Laboratory, Division of Gastrointestinal Sciences, Christian Medical College (CMC), India

What is our new normal in thinking about vaccines, especially at a time of SARS CoV2? From AIDS to Zika, this presentation examines why there is an increase in epidemics and pandemics and the lessons that can be drawn from these outbreaks; the development of the CoV2 vaccine and what the future holds for the current pandemic; and also, pandemics in the future.

A tale of two pandemics: AIDS and Covid-19

Professor Salim Abdool Karim, Director, Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), South Africa

South Africa has the highest number of Covid-19 cases in Africa, reporting over 1.3 million cases and 38,000 deaths by 20 January 2021. The Covid-19 epidemic has unfolded against a backdrop of a substantial HIV epidemic in the country, which accounts for 1 in every 5 people living with HIV in the world. Early predictions raised concerns that people with compromised immunity, such as those living with HIV, particularly those with low CD4 T-cell counts, would be at higher risk of developing severe Covid-19. Although some studies have shown that the clinical presentation and outcomes of Covid-19 in HIV-infected and HIV-uninfected individuals are similar, others find an increased risk of death in HIV-infected individuals. 

In addition to deaths, the Covid-19 epidemic has impacted the HIV response in several ways. Firstly, key resources used for control of HIV, including: diagnostic platforms, community outreach, programs, medical care access, and research infrastructure, were redirected to control COVID-19. Secondly, the national lockdown early in the epidemic resulted in a significant decrease in patient attendance at health care facilities, potentially reversing the gains made over the past 2 decades. Delays in HIV testing impedes initiation of ART, potentially increasing the risk of new infections and drug resistance.

This presentation will highlight ten lessons from HIV for the Covid-19 response. Scientific evidence has assumed new importance in decision-making and both pandemics have provided a new lens for the nexus between science, policy-making and global health in pursing the sustainable development goals, with equity and social justice as guiding principles.

The Fourth Industrial Society, and the Economy 

Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, Vice-Chancellor and Principal, University of Johannesburg, South Africa

As we wage a war against the coronavirus pandemic, the global economy has taken a hit likened to the great depression. South Africa, which has been in an economic downturn for a decade, is far worse off than many other nations. As we begin to rethink our policies and strategies to rebuild the economy, our focus needs to shift towards embracing a digital transformation. The economic benefits of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) are apparent. If we are to emerge on the other side stronger, we have to begin to tap into policies that speak to this shift - beginning with implementing our national 4IR blueprint. The pandemic has confirmed that the 4IR is certainly here, we must adapt in order to be relevant!