The glimmers of hope in the latest dire climate report


(Bob Blob, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: John Crawford, Scientific Director, Sustainable Systems Programme at Rothamsted Research

Last week’s Special Report on Climate Change and Land from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change captures the wide range of factors affecting how we use land and the consequences for a stable climate, nutritious food, and secure water supplies—in other words, the consequences for our future wellbeing.

Although the report points to the dire consequences of continuing with a business-as-usual approach, there is a lot to be optimistic about. Much of the human activity affecting the climate and environment has been undertaken in willful or accidental ignorance of the impact. By better accounting for the effects of these activities—and particularly the interactions between them—we can not only continue to meet the growing demands of the world’s population and improve global wellbeing, but also reverse some of the damage that has been done. The report highlights many examples of such win-win scenarios.

The single most important message from the report is that the food system has been broken by a worldview that ignores the interconnections in the system, producing unintended results that will have dire consequences on our future wellbeing if they’re ignored. However, by acknowledging these interconnections and reconnecting the food system, we can identify fewer but more synergistic interventions on the system as a whole and thus reduce our future risks.

Yes, we can solve our climate crisis—if we pay attention to the interconnections in the food system and create new alliances to solve the complex challenges in the system.

The bright side of complexity

In terms of improving global wellbeing, agricultural science has been spectacularly more successful than almost any other science. During the last 50 years, global population has doubled and consumption has almost quadrupled, due, in large part, to higher standards of living in developing countries as well as overconsumption in the West. It has been only during this time that it’s become clear that human activity is of such a scale as to modify natural systems globally.

We can certainly argue that we should have responded to this knowledge faster. However, the complexities of the challenge have provided an excuse—and have, to some extent, been overwhelming. The IPCC’s report highlights how embracing these complexities will be the single most-important factor in realizing solutions.

In this sense, “complexity” means that the future risks are highly interconnected, often in ways that make it difficult to predict outcomes. However, “complexity” should not be conflated with “complicated.” As the report suggests, these interconnections mean that by solving a few problems in a coordinated way, we can mitigate a far larger number of additional connected risks in the future.

For example, increasing soil health will have wide-reaching positive outcomes: significant reductions in atmospheric carbon, the ability to store more water for food production, more efficient crop nutrition, and production systems more resilient in the face of climate shocks and food commodity price fluctuations. Embracing this complexity actually makes it easier to identify and implement solutions.

However, it also means that there is no single intervention—and solutions will require us to break down traditional barriers between scientific disciplines as well as between science and business in such a way that we can coordinate our response across the entire food chain.

Big data and big business can help

Agriculture is on the brink of a technology- and data-enabled revolution, which will give us access to pervasive and almost real-time information about agriculture and its environmental impact. This will enable more sophisticated mathematical analysis, such as has been used successfully in physics for nearly 300 years to solve complex problems in astronomy, engineering, and, to a lesser extent, medicine.

As the report highlights, progress will require a new synthesis of social factors, economic factors, and physical and life sciences, powered by data and mathematical analysis. Because evidence suggests that governments will be unable to cooperate and coordinate at a global scale in time to avert the worst outcomes, we need global business to take the lead by recognizing that solutions are in their own long-term and near-term best interests. Governments can then take on the role of facilitating this data-enabled innovation at a national and global scale.

The consumer is key

Perhaps the greatest enabler of change, however, is the consumer. We know food choices better aligned with our dietary health (such as diets with higher plant content) exert much less pressure on the environment. By making better dietary choices, consumers can drive the needed changes to the food system.

What we need, then, is a new alliance between science, business, and the consumer, enabled by data and transparency, to help all of us know what these better choices are, and act collectively to make them.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Global Trade Identity can be the cornerstone of paperless trade

An overview of the Tobacco Control Measures in India: problems and solutions

Great Reset: What university entrepreneurship can bring to the post-COVID world

The Fourth Industrial Revolution can close the digital divide. This is how

Europe fit for the Digital Age: Commission proposes new rules for digital platforms

Here’s how drone delivery will change the face of global logistics

ILO welcomes new UNDP report that places decent work at the heart of sustainable development

Why the world is not as globalized as you think

‘Let the children live’: UN prepares to ramp up food aid to Yemen as famine risk grows

How can we make enough vaccine for 2 billion people?

Tuesday’s Daily Brief: Guterres calls for restraint in Venezuela, Jazz Day, the importance of breastfeeding, and updates from Libya, Iran and Mozambique

The UK is building the world’s first airport… for flying cars

Switzerland has the most highly skilled workers in the world. This is why

Parlamentarians to “break up” with reality in the Google antitrust case

Cultural diversity can drive economies. Here are lessons from India and South Asia

UN mourns death of former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, ‘a guiding force for good’

Trust is at breaking point. It’s time to rebuild it

G20 LIVE: G20 Statement on the fight against terrorism

Team Europe: The European Union disburses €25 million to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus crisis in The Gambia

Eurozone: GDP development heads to naught; the expensive euro serves only Germany

Yemen: EU allocates over €70 million to help most vulnerable population

Engaging world’s youth vital to preventing violent extremism, building sustainable peace, UN official tells Baku Forum

Want a Sustainable Earth? Bring on the Fourth Industrial Revolution

EU survey confirms citizens’ call for EU to have more powers to tackle pandemic

Here are five ways we can make mental healthcare better

Global OECD welcomes Colombia as its 37th Member

OECD Secretary-General: coronavirus “war” demands joint action

Why the ocean holds the key to sustainable development

New UN forestry project bids to help countries meet climate change commitments

Vaccine against Ebola: Commission grants new market authorisations

Sri Lankan authorities must work ‘vigorously’ to ease simmering ethno-religious tensions, urges UN rights expert

Protecting European consumers: Safety Gate efficiently helps take dangerous COVID-19 products off the market

Trump’s Russophiles under investigation, Europe remains ‘en garde’

‘Global care crisis’ set to affect 2.3 billion people warns UN labour agency

Why philanthropy for – and by – Africans is the future

Cameron readies to support ‘yes’ for Britain in the EU

These chefs are fighting hunger and poverty with gastronomy

Long-term EU budget: It is not possible to do more with less, say MEPs

Latvian economy is thriving, but boosting productivity, improving social protection and transitioning to a low-carbon productive model are vital for sustainable and inclusive growth

Let’s Learn

UN chief calls for ‘solidarity, compassion and action’ on World Refugee Day

Greece @ MWC14: Greek-born mobile champions at MWC 2014

Here are 3 ways venture capital can fund a better future

A poor kid died just now. Do you know why?

Discrimination in the medical curriculum: are medical schools providing students with equal access to the medical profession?

ECB describes in detail how it exploits the poor

Coronavirus: Commission holds first meeting of EU COVID-19 national scientific advice platform

These entrepreneurs are turning discarded fishing nets into surfboards and swimwear

How the tech world could make nonprofits a more powerful force

Transport Committee approves major reform of road transport sector

Mental health and suicide prevention: why focus on primary care

CDC advises against gatherings of 50 or more – Today’s COVID-19 updates and analysis

5 crises that could worsen under COVID-19

The inhumane face of crisis mirrored in numbers

The ITU Telecom World on 14-17 November in Bangkok, Thailand

World Malaria Day: 7 things to know about the deadly disease

The UN came of age with the nuclear bomb. Time for it to step up to the AI era

More than just a phone: mobile’s impact on sustainable development

Peace will be ‘paramount’ issue for incoming Afghan Government: UN mission chief

A breath of fresh air: How three disused industrial areas became beautiful parks

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s