The population of our planet is projected to hit 9 billion by 2050. Providing food security for these people will be an unprecedented global challenge. A special issue of Science probes and examines the obstacles to reaching this goal, but also provides some promising solutions.
How do we increase food production to feed a larger and more affluent global population while not pushing humanity further beyond the Earth’s already strained planetary boundaries? This problem is fittingly described as a perfect storm by an international team of scientists in a recent special issue of the journal Science that focuses on the question of future food security. Obviously the path forward cannot rely on the strategies used to address food shortages in the past, namely bringing more land under agriculture and exploiting more fish in the oceans. Land available for agriculture is becoming limited and many fish stocks around the world are either overexploited or at their exploitation limits. Some of the strategies discussed in the several perspective pieces and reviews are:
1. Address yield gaps. Yield gap refers to the difference between realized and potential productivity of a farm. It could be minimized through better application of biotechnology and management techniques. A yield gap may also exist because of the high costs associated with inputs (such as fertilizer and water) or the low returns from increased production. This is part of the poverty trap, where the risks of investment are so high and the means to offset them are absent that not investing can often be the most rational decision for a farmer to take.
2. Cut waste. Approximately 30 to 40% of food in both the developed and developing worlds is lost to waste (see figure below). In developing countries most waste occurs at stages prior to the retail stages, for example due to lack of cold storage facilities. Investment in transport infrastructure would reduce the opportunities for spoilage, whereas better-functioning markets and the input of capital could minimize waste, by allowing the introduction of cold storage (though this has implications for greenhouse gas emissions). In developed countries, food waste occurs at the consumer level. Consumers throw away huge amounts of food, due to low prices that give no incentive to minimize waste at the household level. Reducing developed-country food waste is particularly challenging, as it is so closely linked to individual behavior and cultural attitudes toward food.
Watch an enlightening, frustrating and hopeful presentation by world-leading coral reef scientist Nancy Knowlton. The talk was given 28 January 2010 at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
Most coral reefs are a pale shadow of their former selves. Overfishing, pollution, invasive species and increasingly greenhouse gases have taken an enormous toll: about 80% of the living coral in the Caribbean and 50% in the Pacific have already been lost.
- Fortunately, remote reefs protected from local human impacts still remain healthy, so we know that damage from global change is not yet irrevocable. The challenge for the future is to figure out how human wellbeing and coral health can co-exist, says Nancy Knowlton.
How can urbanization be directed so that cities can function as generators of innovation, and core contributors to future sustainability? The answer may very well be spelled “resilience”, claims a new article in SEED Magazine.
After Hurricane Katrina coastal restoration has emerged as a top priority both in New Orleans and at national level in the US. Researchers have calculated that restoring 1 kilometer of wetland would reduce the wave height during a hurricane by one meter, and now efforts are underway to begin rebuilding the southern Louisiana coastline. Likewise, New York City has decided to plant one million new trees as these will have a cooling, shading effect, will reduce air pollution, and will sequester megatons of carbon from the atmosphere. Moreover, a recent study found that tripling the number of street trees could reduce asthma among children by 25 percent. These are two examples of how cities around the world can become more resilient, put forward in an interesting article on the website of the bimonthly science magazine SEED.
The article defines resilience as "How much shock can a system absorb before it transforms into something fundamentally different?". It then describes resilience theory as based on two radical premises: (1) Humans and nature are strongly coupled and co-evolving, and should therefore be conceived of as one “social-ecological” system; (2) The long-held assumption that systems respond to change in a linear, predictable fashion is simply wrong. "According to resilience thinking, systems are in constant flux; they are highly unpredictable and self-organizing, with feedbacks across time and space. In the jargon of theorists, they are complex adaptive systems, exhibiting the hallmarks of complexity".
A month ago we ran a short post on the Climate Scoreboard - an interactive simulation model that shows in real time how emission cut proposals can have a bearing on global temperature projections for the coming century. The World Resources Institute (WRI) have recently released their own interactive chart that analyzes the comparability of nations emission reduction pledges. What's really neat about this chart is that the user can easily choose between a range of variables to include in the chart. For example it can be viewed in terms of absolute or per capita reductions, with respect to different baseline years and with any combination of ANNEX I countries (industrialized countries and countries in transition).
The Sixth Trondheim Conference on Biodiversity took place 1-5 February in Trondheim, Norway. More than 300 participants from almost 100 countries representing governments, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, as well as scientific and academic institutions, attended the meeting. During the five days, participants discussed status of and lessons learned from the current Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) 2010 target and setting post-2010 targets, including emerging issues and challenges for addressing drivers of biodiversity loss.
In the morning of the first day of the conference delegates were serenaded by the Cantus Choir. Photo: IISD Reporting Services
The aim of the Conference was to "provide CBD with a sound basis for developing post 2010 biodiversity targets". The Chairmen’s Report will be forwarded to the upcoming CBD Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) and Working Group on the Review of Implementation meetings. It contains the following main messages:
- The 2010 target has inspired action, but will not be reached in full - Biodiversity loss and degradation of ecosystem services have increasingly dangerous consequences for human well-being, even survival for some societies - Urgent action is needed to address the loss of biodiversity, especially to avoid tipping points - Biodiversity is the natural capital for sustainable development - Inaction is more expensive than action - Many more economic sectors than we realize depend on biodiversity - Biodiversity and climate change are inextricably linked - Implementation! Implementation! Implementation! - Now is the time to scale up our science and knowledge - We need to communicate that biodiversity matters - Substantially more resources are needed - Getting the biodiversity targets right
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Photo: Tom Hermansson - Snickars. Azote.se
Arguably the only positive outcome from COP15 in Copenhagen was the broad support toward the REDD-plus initiative. REDD-plus (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) is essentially a set of steps designed to use market/financial incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation (which today stands for around 20% of total human emissions). However the success of such initiatives hinges on whether they succesfully address and target the underlying factors causing deforestation.
The International Year of Biodiversity, which we at sdupdate.org will be covering thoroughly, highlights (among other things) the importance of biodiversity in providing us with the food, fuel and other essentials we require. But biodiversity is not evenly spread in the natural environment; large-scale gradients of biodiversity exist, and scientists have struggled to fully understand how these are created. A recent study published in the journal Science by a team of German and U.S researchers, suggests that, at least in the tropical marine seascape, reefs are the most important creators and exporters of diversity.
Don't forget: 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity! In order to celebrate this IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature) have launched the IUCN Red List ‘Species of the Day’.
Interestingly, the ‘Species of the Day’ is not only meant to increase awareness of the biology of the enormous variety of species on our planet. It is also emphasising the functions and ecosystem services provided by the different species.
This is what IUCN wrote the other day about the large charismatic fruit bat "Livingstone’s Flying Fox" (Pteropus livingstonii):
"It is one of the largest and most threatened bats in the world and is classified as ‘Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Around 1000 individuals remain in the forests clinging onto the precipitous mountain slopes of the western Indian Ocean islands of Anjouan and Mohéli in the Union of the Comoros. Flying Foxes have a vital role in the dynamics of forest ecosystems as they pollinate flowers and disperse seeds."