Challenging wasteful thinking?

How do we feed the world’s growing population, and how do we do this whilst minimising environmental impacts such as deforestation? Today’s main topics at COP 21 are Forestry and Agriculture and delegates will no doubt be trying to find the right answer to both questions above, along with a myriad of other related issues.

Ecosystems and food production – a web of interconnections

Recognising and valuing our ecosystems, such as the forests around the globe and the ecosystems surrounding global food production, is of critical importance in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 2 in particular aspires to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”.

As ever, the answer isn’t a simple solution of just increasing food production, but instead a nuanced web of interconnections and grey areas. A technique Ramboll is adept at applying for our clients in the agricultural sector is ecosystem services – applying a scientific approach in a holistic way to enable appropriate and sustainable decision making to this critical sector.

SDG 12 seeks to “ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”, which is accompanied by the target to “by 2030 halve per capita food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses”.

If food waste was a country, it would be the 3rd largest CO2 emitter

If food waste was a country, then it would apparently be the third largest CO2 emitter in the world, which is a sobering thought. And as the planet’s population continues to increase, this places more pressures on global food supply. Reducing food waste is one element, along with traditional solutions for utilising it as a resource in itself – for instance in anaerobic digesters. Add to this the issue of sustainable pesticide use and the picture becomes even more complex.

The ultimate aim has to be to help supply chains become more circular and less linear and cut out the wasteful areas in the first place.The majority of food waste in terms of quantity is at the agricultural production stage, whereas the carbon footprint impact is largest at the consumption stage. Clearly we need to promote behavioural changes from both consumer and producer in order to meet the SDGs mentioned above.

The importance of urban trees

Valuing our ecosystems includes recognising the benefit that urban trees provide. Many of our cities in the UK are enhanced by the presence of Plane trees, planted by Victorian town planners in graceful avenues. It’s well known that trees in urban environments are beneficial in terms of urban cooling, let alone pollution, rainfall interception and habitat. With urban areas already hosting a significant majority of the world’s population, urban trees are an important element of meeting SDG 11, which aims to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.

COP 21 is a huge opportunity for firm international decision making and commitment to a more sustainable future. Let’s hope today’s talks aren’t wasted.

Where would you start in terms of meeting the SDGs?
We’d love to hear your ideas and solutions in the comments section below.

Authored by Luke Strickland and Emma Green.

4 Replies to “Challenging wasteful thinking?”

  1. From my experience working in developing countries, robust governance is key. Without it achieving the SDGs just won’t happen. It won’t be easy, but I therefore think SDG 16 (Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels) is the most important and this is where I would start.

  2. On the topic of challenging wasteful thinking and providing space in urban developement for trees and green infrastructure, I believe one of the key challenges is the human desire for space and ownership of land/property. In many countries our cities are sprawling, the suburbs encroaching out into the countryside and agricultural land and natural landscapes are being lost. Do you think there should be a drive on bulding upwards, both in developing and developed nations. By limiting the landtake of urban areas we can provide more greenspace/forests. Furthermore there can be a much more sutainable use of energy and resoruces from housing people in a block rather than seperate housing units. But maybe this is a price we aren’t wiling to pay, as we continue to aspire to live in properties bigger than we need, further from where we need to be.

  3. As someone who’s been going along blissfully ignorant for a long time, I haven’t formed a strong enough opinion based on my limited (but growing) knowledge of all things ‘world’. However, what I do think is that there’s not enough meaningful education on the basics. If the world is to change, then EVERYONE needs to understand how and why. I read too many reports/blogs/papers etc. that aren’t new audience friendly, and therefore in danger of completely disengaging people who could help to make a contribution, if they only knew how. With that in mind, I dread to think where the message lies with our children and ‘leaders of tomorrow’. I think this is an excellent post and has helped me to further understand what is evidently a tricky equation to solve. Sadly, what I didn’t know about beforehand, and something that isn’t explained or has links to, is what the SDG’s are (link below). I’m really glad that I made the effort to find out because seeing those 17 main goals and sub-goals has reminded me that the world isn’t all doom and gloom, and that efforts are in full swing to unify its inhabitants within a brighter, smarter place.

    https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/index.php?menu=1300

  4. Thanks for your comments – John it’s a good point that the arguments can sometimes be overly technical and disengage the wider public, and I’m glad you found the SDGs, definitely something to be positive about in what can be a gloomy topic.

    Bram, that’s an excellent point about governance, and for all that may or may not be agreed at COP21, without good governance nothing may get implemented!

    Mike, yes I think developing upwards could be something to explore further, but how do we change the underlying consumerist attitudes about wanting to own more than the next person? Answers on a postcard!

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