Trees

Launch of the EAT Lancet report on Food, Planet and Health
2019-01-16

The report Our Food in The Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets From Sustainable Food Systems, brings together more than 30 world-leading scientists from across the globe to reach a scientific consensus that defines a healthy and sustainable diet.

Download the report

The Commission is delivering the first full scientific review of what constitutes a healthy diet from a sustainable food system, and which actions can support and speed up food system transformation. The results will be presented in The Lancet in mid-January 2019, and the report is co-authored by Beijer Institute researchers Therese Lindahl and Max Troell. Read more about the report here.

Friday, January 18, the Eat Lancet Report will be launched for a Swedish audience in an event organised by Stockholm Resilience Center in collaboration with the Beijer Institute and the Global Economic Dynamics and Biosphere programme at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and EAT.
The launch, which is mainly in Swedish, is recorded and can be seen here. For program see below.

The EAT Lancet report report is the first of its kind that quantifies, at a global level, how large a conversion is needed for the food system to be both good for human health and sustainable for the planet.

The report deals with a variety of topics, such as health, diet, climate, environment, fishing and agriculture. Here are some important conclusions:

• Providing a growing population of 10 billion in 2050 with food that is both healthy and sustainable requires that we change our diet, improve food production and reduce food waste. Achieving the report's scientifically based goals for a healthy diet within the limits of the planet will require significant changes, but is within reach.

• The dietary advice presented in the report include about 35% of calories from whole grains and root vegetables, protein mainly from plants - but also about 14 g of red meat per day and 500 g per day of vegetables and fruit. For each of these components there is great flexibility, depending on the availability of food and cultural and personal preferences.

• Making this major transition will require decreasing the consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar by about 50%, while more than doubling the consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables and legumes.

• Such a global diet change can lead to major health benefits, potentially averting 10.9-11.6 million premature deaths annually, according to the report.

Download the report


Time and place for Swedish Launch
Fredag 18 januari 2019, 09:15-12:00
Beijersalen, Kungl. Vetenskapsakademien
Program
09:15 Introduktion
Line Gordon, Executive Director Stockholm Resilience Centre vid Stockholms universitet, medförfattare till EAT Lancet rapporten och Gunhild Stordalen, Founder och Executive Chair, EAT.
09:30 Presentation av rapporten “Our Food In The Anthropocene: The EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems”
Johan Rockström, Commission Co-Chair för EAT Lancet rapporten, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research och Brent Loken, Director of Science Translation EAT, Stockholm Resilience Centre, medförfattare till EAT Lancet rapporten (in English)
10:10 Kaffepaus
10:30 Perspektiv
Health benefits. Marco Springmann, Oxford universitet, Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, medförfattare till EAT Lancet rapporten (in English)
Klimatgränsen i relation till kött. Elin Röös, Sveriges Lantbruksuniversitet, Institutionen för energi och teknik
Betydelsen av en blå transformation för att stanna inom planetens gränser. Max Troell, Beijerinstitutet för Ekologisk Ekonomi vid Kungl. Vetenskapsakademien, medförfattare till EAT-Lancet rapporten
Regional analysis – the EAT-Lancet report in the Nordic context. Amanda Wood, Stockholm Resilience Centre, medförfattare till EAT-Lancet rapporten (in English)
Forskning för transformation. Beatrice Crona, Kungl. Vetenskapsakademien, Stockholm Resilience Centre vid Stockholms universitet, medförfattare till EAT Lancet rapporten; och Line Gordon
11:20 Frågor
12:00 Avslutning

Solutions that provide synergies
2019-01-11

Environmental Policy Instruments must be used to deal with global environmental problems
Global environmental problems can be addressed by means of policy instruments such as carbon dioxide taxes, building and technology standards and support for new technology, but the issues are complex and several environmental problems must be addressed simultaneously in order to achieve optimal effect. Therefore, different research areas must work together to find solutions. This is evident from an article published in the journal Nature Sustainability, co-authored by several Beijer Institute researchers and Fellows.

Recognise the need for new economic policies
The major environmental problems are global, long-term and uncertain. They are also interconnected with each other and must therefore be analyzed together in order to find solutions that provide synergies and in order to avoid “solutions” that solve one problem but worsen others.

“It is not sustainable if you aggravate problems related to loss of biodiversity or the vital cycles for water or nutrients when you are trying to solve, for example, the climate problem, perhaps through a poorly conceived forest policy,” says Thomas Sterner, professor of environmental economics at the School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and lead author of the article.

“Science is clear that we are at risk of destabilising the entire planet. The grand challenge is to recognise the need for new economic policies when faced with risks of irreversible changes at the global scale that would determine the future of all generations of humans on Earth,” says Johan Rockström, Professor of Environmental Sciences at Stockholm University and Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. He is one of the co-authors of the study.

“Biologists, physicists and other natural scientists see and analyze the changes, and are usually the ones who write about planetary boundaries and the Anthropocene. Social scientists are experts on how society and the economy work, and both skills are indispensable when analyzing social causes and proposing solutions that are effective and politically feasible. Therefore, collaboration between economists, social scientists and natural scientists is urgently needed to discuss solutions,” says Sterner.

Greenhouse gases must imply a significant cost.

The Earth is in the "Anthropocene" – an era when many crucial variables for the planet are controlled by man, and our activities and consumption patterns risk exceeding the planetary boundaries. This leads to changed climate, acidification of the oceans, loss of biodiversity and many other global environmental problems.Finding effective solutions is of course important, but the income distributional effects of policy measures and their perceived fairness are vital determinants of the political feasibility and thus also aspects that must be considered very carefully when policy instruments are selected and designed.

“The Anthropocene is a whole new era in human and planetary development. It is extremely important to adjust policy instruments and combine them in new ways. They must be adapted to phenomena that are becoming increasingly common now, for example the risk of collapse of certain natural resources, so-called "tipping points", or that human activities may have delayed influence on the environment,” says Anne-Sophie Crépin at the Beijer Institute and one of the co-authors of the article.

“The aim of our research is to contribute to a better policy throughout the world to deal with the major environmental problems. A first step could be a global agreement that all emissions of greenhouse gases must imply a significant cost for the persons or companies causing the emissions,” says Sterner.

About the article
In December 2017, Thomas Sterner gathered 25 international environmental researchers at the Gothenburg School of Economics for the workshop "Policies for Planetary Boundaries". Two key participants were Johan Rockström and Will Steffen, both attached to the Stockholm Resilience Center and lead authors of several major articles on Planetary Boundaries. The questions the researchers posed were "what economic and political measures do we need to cope with the global environmental challenges?" and "what can natural scientists learn from economists and vice versa?". The result was the article "Policy design for the Anthropocene" [link] which has now been published in Nature Sustainability.

Reference: Sterner, T., Barbier, E.B., Bateman, I., et. al. 2019. Policy design for the Anthropocene. Nature Sustainability volume 2, pages14–21

Human-Machine-Ecology: A Workshop on the Emerging Risks, Opportunities, and Governance of Artificial Intelligence
2019-01-09

The Beijer Institute, its partner Stockholm Resilience Centre, and the PIIRS GRS Research group at Princeton University have teamed up to organize a seminar and workshop 11-12 january 2019 at Princeton University,to adress growing concerns in the world of artificial intelligence. The central focus will be on the way emerging AI-systems shape the way we perceive and respond to environmental change, and how it could fundamentally alter the ways in which humans modify ecosystems around the world and impact human wellbeing. With the goal of fostering fruitful discussion and eventually a published work, this multidisciplinary workshop will bring together scholars from computer sciences, ecology, political science (amongst others), and actors from the IT-sector where these systems are currently being developed and tested on the ground. This is an initiative within the recently founded Beijer Institute research programme Complexity, Technology and Governance, led by Victor Galaz.

Background

It is becoming increasingly clear that rapid advances in algorithmic systems associated with artificial intelligence (such as machine learning, intelligent infrastructure, the Internet of Things) are likely to pose difficult challenges to governance and policy in multiple sectors such as medicine, finance, policing, urban planning, transport, and energy systems. In practically all modern domains, such technologies increasingly serve to impose order, hierarchize needs, allocate resources, and impact the distribution of wealth and opportunity. Algorithmic systems presently interact so closely with human decisions and behavior that these systems now influence many aspects of modern life in almost invisible ways. Questions such as who is policed, where it is lit, how much funding a community receives, and how jobs are allocated, are all becoming subject to the hidden hand of algorithms. Yet, much like Goethe’s (and Disney’s) sorcerer's apprentice, we may not be able to control or even understand the tools that shape our contemporary life. We may not even know the location or extent of failures caused by AI until damage has cascaded into catastrophe.

One often ignored fact is that algorithmic systems of different degrees of sophistication are already important today in the environmental and ecological domain. This includes social media mediated filtering of environmental information online, environmental monitoring systems, climate change modeling, energy distribution, and urban and landscape planning, just to mention a few. Advanced algorithmic systems and robotics are also making rapid progress in the agricultural sector, for example through “precision agriculture” investments in Europe and in Asia, and in technologies for marine exploration and exploitation. It would be a mistake to assume that these applications will remain flawless in an environment of rapidly changing ecological circumstances.

This means that not only our monitoring of the present, but also our forecasting of the future is controlled by mechanisms whose collective behavior we do not understand. The possibility of a disastrous accident in agriculture is a critical issue in a world where we remain “three meals away from chaos.” Moreover, as we come to depend on constant monitoring of the environment and subsequent policy choices, the very means by which we make the world legible need to be better understood.

Preliminary list of Participants:

Miguel Centeno, PIIRS GSR (Workshop Co-Organizer)
Victor Galaz, SRC (Workshop Co-Organizer)
Brian Arthur, Santa Fe Institute
Chloé Bakalar, Princeton CITP
Solon Barocas, Cornell Information Science
Seth Baum, Global Catastrophic Risk Institute
Irina Brass, University College London
Sarah Brayne, UTAustin Sociology
Joanna Bryson, University of Bath CS
Darryl Farber, Penn State Engineering Design
Ed Felten, Princeton CS
Danit Gal, Keio University
David Garcia, CSH Vienna
Brian King, CGIAR
Paul Larcey, Cambridge University
Karen Levy, Cornell Information Science
Arvind Narayanan, Princeton CS
Jen Rexford, Princeton CS
Jonathan Tannen, Facebook Research
Michael Veale, University College London
Ben Zevenbergen, Princeton & Oxford Internet Institute

 

Contagious collapses
2019-01-08

New study reveals hidden links and potential domino effects between tipping points in climate, ecosystems and societies

Sometimes ecosystems change in so dramatic and substantial ways that they cross a “tipping point”. Scientists call such largely irreversible changes “regime shifts”. One example is how a rainforest can shift abruptly to dry savannah due to the combined effect of deforestation and climate change.

Now a group of researchers from Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Beijer Institute has teamed up with Beijer Fellow and Princeton University ecologist Simon Levin to study how such regime shifts can be better managed and prepared for. Their results, published in Science, suggest that more attention should be paid to how regime shifts are connected and how those connections could be managed.

"Regime shifts pose challenges to ecological management and governance because they are difficult to predict and reverse and substantially alter the availability of benefits that people receive from nature," explains Juan Rocha lead author of the new study.

The group of researchers, has specifically studied the potential for some regime shifts to trigger or increase the risk of other regime shifts occurring, so called “cascading” regime shifts. One such example is the connection between Arctic ice sheets and boreal forests, which amplifies each other. When the ice sheets melt, the reflection of the sun’s heat diminishes so the temperature of the planet rises. This increases the risks of forest fires, which discharge carbon into the air that adds to the greenhouse effect, melting more ice.

Hundreds of case studies

The study is based on a systematic network analysis of more than 300 case studies and 30 types of regime shifts, which have previously been collected in the Regime Shifts Database.

The researchers divided the regime shifts into two different types of cascading effects “domino effects” and “hidden feedbacks”. The first type is rather straight forward and occurs when one regime shift gives rise to subsequent regime shifts in a nearby or distant ecosystem, whereas the other “hidden” type is the result of two-way interactions that cannot be identified by studying one regime shift at the time.

When regime shifts are interconnected over large distances, whoever makes decisions on management is not necessarily the one that has to deal with the impacts. This is for example the case for mechanisms that connect far away ecosystems through climate change, fire, nutrient inputs, or trade.

Moisture recycling is another interesting example. It is both a key underlying factor for the regime shift from rainforest to savannah in the Amazon, but also has the potential to cascade far beyond the forest that depend on moisture recycling as an important water source. In this way, changes in moisture recycling can affect mountain forests in the Andes, nutrient cycling in the ocean by affecting sea surface temperature, and therefore regime shifts in marine food webs.

Avoiding regime shifts

For managers it is of key importance to avoid regime shifts as they can have substantial impacts on human economies and societies and are often difficult and costly to reverse. Developing early warning signals that also take coupled regime shifts into account is therefore urgently required.

Another important aspect put forward in the new study is the need to identify common drivers for several different regime shifts. This could result in management strategies that target specific “bundles of drivers”, increasing the chances to avoid several regime shifts simultaneously.

Read more

Reference: Rocha, JC, Peterson, G, Bodin, Ö, and Levin, S. 2018. Cascading regime shifts within and across scales. Science 362 (6421), 1379-1383. DOI: 10.1126/science.aat7850

Funding for three new research projects
2018-12-06

The Beijer Institute has recently been granted funding for three projects by from the Swedish Research Council for sustainable development, Formas, and more specifically, Beijer researcher Caroline Schill who is project leader for all three projects.

Understanding a new reality for small-scale fisheries

Caroline Schill and Therese Lindahl, together with colleagues Nanda Wijermans and Maja Schlüter at Stockholm Resilience Centre has received a grant for a project that will identify critical multi-level processes for sustainable small-scale fisheries. These fisheries are often referred to as traditional, artisanal, low-tech, labour intensive, low capital operations that contribute about 50% to the global fish catch and jobs for millions of people. They are vulnerable to climate change effects, e.g. changes in abundance, variability and predictability of fish stocks.

The ability of fishers to deal with this new situation will crucially depend on the capacity of fishers to adapt individually and collectively, which in turn is affected by how fishers perceive this new situation individually and collectively.

However, little is known about the interplay between cooperation and sustainable resource use in this new situation. To study these interactions holistically, the research team will use agent-based modelling to represent, simulate and analyse the role and effect of individual and situational heterogeneity on multiple levels.

The new normal in the Arctic

Together with Simon West at the Resilience Centre, Caroline Schill also recieved funding for a project called 'Living with the 'new normal': exploring human responses to abrupt environmental change in the Arctic using behavioural and interpretive social science'.

The project brings together behavioural and interpretive social science to explore, together with Alaskan Inuit communities, their responses to a changing Arctic. Schill and West will first use participatory photography to enable participants to identify the environmental changes that matter most to them.

"Building on that knowledge, we will design behavioural economic experiments to study the effects of different scenarios of change on actual behaviour. Through this approach, we aim to empower communities to reflect, share experiences and devise strategies to live with change and uncertainty," they explain.

Also involved in this project is Tracie Curry, University of Alaska Fairbanks, like Caroline Schill a member of the second Beijer Young Scholars group.

Inequality of the Biosphere

This second Beijer Young Scholars group was given a SEK 2 million planning grant, to continue their exploratoion of the linkages between social inequality and changes in the environment, read more here. Starting in December 2018It will allow them in the upcoming 12 months to work towards a long-term research agenda around trade-offs, synergies and interactions between the SDGs Reduced Inequalities, Zero Hunger, Climate Action, and Life Below Water and on Land (SDGs 10, 2, 13, 14, and 15). In particular, with the help of a set of pre-studies (building on some of the pathways discovered in the paper) and stakeholder workshops, the group will characterise synergies and trade-offs and identify research questions to inform a large future research proposal. 

Moreover, Beijer Institute partners Stockholm Resilience Centre and Global Economic and Dynamics and the Biosphere (GEDB), at the same time received several major research grants, read more about the projects here.

The economics of resilience
2018-12-06

The economics of resilience has been studied for the past few decades. Now, a review paper co-authored by Beijer researchers Li Chuan-Zhong (professor at Uppsala university), Anne-Sophie Crépin and Carl Folke, offers a summary of this body of work.

More specifically, the paper, published in the International Review of Environmental Resource Economics, looks at resilience and economic models, theories, and cases, with special reference to social-ecological systems and regime shifts, the latter referring to large, abrupt, persistent changes to a system.

Crépin explains, “We address the basic sciences of regime shifts and resilience in different settings linked to empirical cases, and review the related economic models. In particular, we discuss models to assess market outcomes when thresholds exist and are known and particular characteristics of such systems when they are optimally managed.”

Models of interest

The paper starts off with a review of three categories of economic models related to resilience thinking.

The first category reviewed were deterministic models of central and cooperative decisions. Deterministic models do not account for any randomness in the system, and will always produce the same output if initiating from the same starting point. In economics and resilience literature, these models focused on optimization. An example is whether it would be better for a community to have a clear lake providing more fisheries amenities by restricting agricultural activities on the shore or promote agriculture but accept that the lake would undergo a regime shift.

The second category focused on situations with multiple independent resource users. In such situation each resource user faces strategic uncertainty because they do not know what other users will do. This could either lead to more or less exploitation depending on users’ strategies.

The third type of models was stochastic, or models that account for random variability in the resource itself. The authors say that while these types of models have been used in economics and resilience literature as in reality, end results are often unpredictable no matter how much information is known at the start.

In the review, the authors highlight that, “economic theory has substantially advanced the deterministic and stochastic models of regime shifts linked to resilience.” For example, fishers can influence the risk of a regime shift by acting precautionary. Such behavior could hinder the system from undergoing a shift to a permanently much lower capacity to grow a fish stock. However, model recommendations about whether or not to act precautionary seem extremely sensitive to the assumptions made and more research is needed on that topic.

However, Carl Folke notes that urgent unsolved problems remain. “These involve situations when crossing thresholds imply life-threatening situations at the global scale. In particular, the great acceleration and the risks this has brought for the global environmental security should be better studied.”

Valuing resilience

The review also demonstrates three different aspects of resilience in different systems.

First, biodiversity has been demonstrated to play a role in ecosystem resilience. As Crépin elaborates, “In the environmental and resource economics literature several approaches have been used to measure and value biodiversity.”

From rainfall models to measuring biodiversity levels, biodiversity has been shown to be valuable when it comes to ecosystem resilience.

Second, resilience is known to act as insurance against a shock, such as a natural disaster or civil upheaving, in the economics-resilience literature. However, this was not always the case.

As Folke explains, “Although resilience services and their value as insurance are known to be positively correlated, the exact relationship between them remained less obvious in the earlier literature.”

Finally, the authors reviewed resilience as a “stock.” What the authors mean by this is that resilience is the characteristic of a system to withstand change, such as a regime shift. However, across economic- resilience literature, although resilience has become a popular concept in the literature, few attempts have been made for quantitative measurement.

Putting it into practice

Finally, the authors examine how all of this knowledge generated is applicable in real world. Specifically, they turn to resilience assessments, and how these have informed the management of resilience and sustainability analyses.

While the authors draw a number of links between resilience and economic theory, as well as highlight a number of cases with this focus, they argue that links between these two fields have not been systematically established.

As Crépin explains, “There is substantial potential for economic theory to learn from resilience thinking and vice versa. For example, there is substantial potential for economic theory to provide novel insights to resilience thinking by focusing on the impacts of individual incentives, collective action, and economic policies in a more applied resilience context. This in turn can help resilience thinking better understand how economic processes work in a resilience context.”

Furthermore, Crépin adds, “Advances in resilience measurement and valuation studies, could be useful for improved cost–benefit analysis, dynamic welfare analysis, and practical policymaking.”

In other words, advancements in economics-resilience literature could help us improve policy tools. It could also help us improve our understanding of how resilience can help us in the real world overall.

Li, C.Z., Crépin, A.S. and Folke, C., 2018. The Economics of Resilience. International Review of Environmental and Resource Economics, 11(4), pp.309-353.

 

Connecting the dots between social inequalities and environmental change
2018-11-22

Rising inequalities and accelerating environmental change are two of the most significant challenges of the twenty-first century. But how are they linked? 
 
A new study in the journal Annual Review of Environment and Resources presents a literature review of the linkages between social inequality and changes in the environment. It is an outcome of the Beijer Young Scholars programme which consists of a interdisciplinary group of 19 early career scholars from around the world, including researchers at the Beijer Institute and its partner Stockholm Resilience Centre.
 
 
Their study shows that most research is one-directional, i.e. focusing on the specific effects of a social inequality on the environment, and fails to take into account a more complex understanding of how inequality and the biosphere interact with each other. 
 
"Previous analyses have mainly focused on economic inequality and its effect on a specific environmental variable such as resource degradation or pollution, often using national-level data," explains lead author Maike Hamann, University of Minnesota.
 
“However, inequality is much more than financial differences between the rich and the poor, it includes the whole spectrum of society, highlighting differences between individuals or groups of people in relation to gender,  or ethnicity for instance”, says co-author Caroline Schill, the Beijer Institute. “Moreover, this study also looks at the way drastic and gradual changes in the environment affect inequality in different ways”, she adds.
 
Interactions between inequality and the biosphere in social-ecological systems.
The biosphere is naturally unequal. Not all places on Earth are equally endowed with access to energy resources, freshwater reserves or appropriate conditions for large-scale agricultural production. That has led to an inequality of opportunities for societal development and economic expansion in different parts of the globe. However, natural disasters such as storms, floods, droughts and epidemics tend to hit low-income communities the hardest, wherever they are, as exemplified by the hurricane Katrina 2005 and the 2014-15 West Africa Ebola epidemic. 
 
More gradual environmental change can also have a strong impact. Take fisheries, for example. Many of the world’s least developed countries that are most vulnerable to impacts of climate change are also heavily reliant on seafood and marine resources. In these countries, climate change is likely to reinforce economic hardship and hamper development and poverty alleviation. It may also exacerbate inequalities on a local level.
 
How inequality affects the environment
The authors of the study argue that “subjective inequality”, an individual’s perception of existing inequalities and beliefs about what is just and fair, can be a significant driver for how someone behaves towards the environment. For example, perceptions of inequality, fairness and even jealousy have played an important role in the success or failure of marine protected areas. If people feel they have been treated unfair in getting access to a marine protected area, jealousy may lead some to encroach or even sabotage it, even if they were positive to creating it in the first place.
 
In many parts of the world, aspirations to achieve a higher living standard and status lead to behavioural changes, such as an increase in meat consumption. This, in turn, has significant impacts on land use and the conversion of natural habitat to pastures for livestock.
 
Collaboration and collective action are one of the ways in which shared natural resources can be sustainably managed. But if there is inequality within the group that is managing a shared resource, this may lead to an erosion of trust, less cooperation, and the unsustainable use of the resource.
 
Finally, market concentration can cause inequality which could benefit or harm a natural resource. The global seafood industry, where a small number of actors has a disproportionally strong influence on the management of the resources, is a fitting example. 
 
New funding for more research
With their study, the authors show that environmental change and inequality must be looked at in more depth.
 
Together with her co-authors, Caroline Schill calls for more research into these feedbacks, calling their work a “first step toward a more systemic, cross-scale and multidimensional understanding” of the interactions between inequality and the environment.
 
And to the great delight of the BYS group and the Beijer Institute, they have been awarded a SEK 2 million planning grant from the Swedish Research Council for sustainable development (Formas). With this grant they will be able to continue and deepen their fruitful inter-disciplinary collaborations with a specific focus on inequality and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Starting already in December 2018, it will allow them in the upcoming 12 months to work towards a long-term research agenda around trade-offs, synergies and interactions between the SDGs Reduced Inequalities, Zero Hunger, Climate Action, and Life Below Water and on Land (SDGs 10, 2, 13, 14, and 15). In particular, with the help of a set of pre-studies (building on some of the pathways discovered in the paper) and stakeholder workshops, the group will characterise synergies and trade-offs and identify research questions to inform a large future research proposal. 
 
The Beijer Young Scholars
The interdisciplinary group of authors is the second generation in the Beijer Young Scholars programme (BYS), established with the aim of creating an international network of young researchers and stimulating the emergence of new research pathways and modes of cooperation across disciplines to address global challenges. 
 
Throughout the three years of support from the Beijer Institute, the 19 PhD candidates and early career researchers in the BYS group embarked on an exploration of the potential links between inequality and the biosphere, in a series of three workshops held at the Academy and in the Stockholm Archipelago. Together they also organised a session at the Resilience 2017 conference in Stockholm, and the discussions with the audience were very valuable to the development of the study.
 
Conducting collaborative, integrative and interdisciplinary research is a time-consuming endeavor that is not always well recognized in the academic incentives system, but is crucial to advance science into deeper research questions. One important aim of the BYS programme is to facilitate and provide the space for such research.
 
 “Having the privilege to be part of the BYS program has been an inspiring and transformative experience, to not only broaden my research horizontally towards becoming an interdisciplinary scientist, but also distil deeper understanding of how different fields such as ecology, economics, geography, and political sciences are inherently connected. It has also reinforced my aspirations for continuing interdisciplinary collaborations that are essential for addressing contemporary wicked social environmental problems”, said Jiangxiao Qiu, University of Florida, after the workshop in June 2018. 
 
 
  
 

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Smart Groth, a popular concept for sustainable cities lacks scientific proof
2018-10-18

The Smart Growth concept has been hailed as a way to turn our increasingly urbanized planet into a compact, walkable and bicycle friendly one, where urban sprawl is halted because old land is used for new constructions. The concept is frequently endorsed by national and local policy makers. However, conclusive proof of its ability to deliver environmental benefits is lacking.
 
In a study published in the journal Ambio, Beijer Institute researchers Åsa Gren and Johan Colding, also affiliated with Stockholm Resilience Centre, and colleagues take a closer look at the Smart Growth concept and whether it delivers what it promises. The short answer is no.
 
Studies lack a broader perspective
In their review, the team, including colleagues from Chalmers University and Gävle University in Sweden, analysed the scientific literature on the concept and found that a surprisingly limited number of studies have actually examined the environmental rationales behind Smart Growth. In fact, 34 percent of the studies even presented negative consequences of applying a Smart Growth strategy, particularly for biodiversity.
 
The studies that do show positive outcomes are focusing on a limited number of environmental parameters, such as reduced C02 emissions due to less private transportation. However, even these studies lack a broader perspective, failing to take into account important aspects such as leisure travel, which lead author Åsa Gren and her colleagues warn could turn out to be a game changer.
 
“This leaves us as uninformed as before even about the environmental gains that a compact city structure offers in order to reduce CO2 emissions,” Gren explains.
 
There was also confusion about what Smart Growth actually stands for.
 
“We found that there is no generally agreed upon definition of Smart Growth, rather a broad number of description exists, varying around certain themes”, says Åsa Gren.
 
Their study reveals a variety of inconsistencies in how things are defined and measured. One example is population density, which describes how many people that live within an area. However, although appearing straight forward, this can be, and indeed is, measured in multiple ways in different studies, making comparisons very difficult.
 
Not debunking Smart Growth
Amid rapid urbanization, Gren and her colleagues are not arguing against the Smart Growth concept per se, but the authors consider it an “unfortunate time in history” that strong scientific knowledge and consensus is still lacking about the concept, considering the amount of cities being built. More research is needed, they argue.
 
Based on their review, the authors push for a research which includes three important issues:
Research must, to a greater degree, apply systems thinking in its understanding of urban processes
Making cities more resilient against for instance climate change effects must be a priority
Research must be founded in more advanced knowledge and consistent use of geospatial analysis
 
“The aim here is not to debunk Smart Growth but to argue for the need to set research on sustainable urban planning on firmer grounds,” co-author Johan Colding explains.
 
Gren, Å., Colding, J., Berghauser-Pont, M., Marcus, L. 2018. How smart is smart growth? Examining the environmental validation behind city compaction. Ambio DOI 10.1007/s13280-018-1087-y
 

How smart are smart cities?
2018-10-15

The Smart City is by far the fastest growing concept in the current urban sustainability literature and has been embraced by many politicians and city planners as a way forward for creating more sustainable cities. It comprises an urban development approach for integrating information and communication (ICT) technology and the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) technology to digitally connect a city’s infrastructure and services, in order to better manage and control them.  This can include collecting data from citizens, monitoring and managing traffic and transportation systems, power plants and water supply networks, and using information systems in remotely diagnosing patients for medical treatment. The idea is that by enhancing the quality, performance and interactivity of urban services, resource consumption and costs can be reduced.
 
Concerns for resilience and security
In two articles published during the year, Beijer Institute researcher and programme director Johan Colding and colleagues assess the Smart City concept from a social-ecological resilience perspective.
 
In the first article, in Journal of Cleaner Production, the authors identify critical gaps in the thriving literature on Smart Cities and point out that these deserve greater attention. They argue that the literature on Smart Cities needs to better address issues of resilience and cyber security, including how Smart City solutions may affect the autonomy of urban governance, personal integrity and infrastructures that provide inhabitants with basic needs, such as food, energy and water.
 
As Johan Colding explains: 
“We are already seeing vast internet- and computer technology problems related to hacking, sabotage and terrorism that could harm large-scale critical infrastructure, such as electricity, hospitals and other basic services. However, the issue of security is largely absent from the literature.”
 
Connecting technologies – disconnecting to nature?
Another issue that deserves greater attention, according to the study, is how Smart City developments may change human-nature interactions, for instance whether they hinder or support children’s learning and psychological connection with nature. 
 
“Smart City policies may unintentionally further disconnect citizens from nature experiences. Hence, we argue that it is critical to move from a solely sociotechnological focus of the Smart City framework to a more biosociotechnical focus, integrating ecology and including the role of ecosystem services as technologies and promoting reconnection to the biosphere”, emphasises Johan Colding.
 
Enerqy effiency
In a second article, in Environment and Planning B, the authors call for a greater societal debate on smart cities, raising the question of whether, if carried too far, digitalisation could result in diminishing return on energy savings and create unmanageably complex cities. They predict that, as more people and things are connected by IoT, the complexity of urban systems will increase over time and they point out that throughout the history of human civilisation, increasing complexity has led to growth in energy consumption.
Finally, in a forthcoming article Johan Colding and colleagues elaborate on the role different kinds of disturbance play in the context of Smart City development. They indicate some critical features that developers and planners need to consider carefully and propose a set of policy recommendations for ensuring more resilient development of city digitalisation.
References:
Colding, J. and S. Barthel. 2017. An urban ecology critique on the “Smart City” model. Journal of Cleaner Production 164:95-101.
Colding, J., M. Colding and S. Barthel. 2018. The smart city model: A new panacea for urban sustainability or unmanageable complexity? Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science. First online. 10.1177/2399808318763164.
Colding, J., M. Colding and S. Barthel. In preparation. The Smart City as an ecosystem: applying resilience thinking on the digital city.
 
 

Healthy fish, healthy people – reducing antimicrobial use in aquaculture
2018-10-15

Global seafood provides almost 20% of all animal protein in diets and aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector worldwide. The intensification of fish and shrimp farming systems has been accompanied by increased use of antimicrobials (AMs), which are hazardous to both human health and the industry itself. In an attempt to reverse this trend, a study by Beijer Institute scientists, which is reported in Sustainability Science, identifies some key drivers behind the overuse in different sectors and regions, and suggests ways to reduce it. The good news is there is much room for improvement.
 
“One of the findings, which was most surprising, is that much of the overuse is due to pure lack of knowledge”, says lead author Patrik Henriksson. “This means there are multiple measures for reducing AM use that can be applied at different levels of the value chain.”
 
The dangers of overuse
Successful treatment with AMs constitutes the foundation of modern medicine and the spread of AMR bacteria has been classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the major threats to the human population in the twenty-first century. Today, the amount of AMs used for animals is much higher compared than that used to treat humans and even involves some AMs that are deemed critically important in human medicine.
 
While AM use in aquaculture is lower than that in meat production on land, in light of the expected rapid future growth in aquaculture (doubling by 2030), it is critical to come to terms with overuse. 
 
Underlying factors and regional measures
The study provides a systematic overview of reasons behind usage. In particular, six drivers are identified as key: vulnerability to bacterial disease (which varies between species and regions), easy access to AMs, poor disease diagnostic capacity, AMR (caused by overuse, triggering even more use), poor food safety regulations in target markets, and lack of certification.
 
Building knowledge around these can enable local governments to reduce AM use through farmer training, spatial planning, assistance with disease identification and stricter regulations, the study concludes.
 
“There is a lot to be gained from training farmers in correct diagnosis of disease, how to use AMs and the consequences of overuse”, Patrik Henriksson explains, “not to mention training in better hygiene and other measures to prevent pathogens entering farms or hatcheries in the first place, thereby reducing the risk of disease outbreak”. He points outs that the aquaculture industry largely consists of small-scale, sometimes uneducated, farmers who often overuse AMs in their production. 
 
National and international action also needed
Moreover, national governments and international organisations could assist by producing disease-free fish seed and vaccines, enforcing rigid monitoring of the quantity and quality of antimicrobials used by farmers, and minimising antimicrobial residues in farmed species and in the environment. 
 
“Lack of regulations in many low- and middle-income countries, or inadequate enforcement of existing regulations, has incentivised restrictions on AM residues in seafood imported to high income countries”, says study co-author Max Troell. While this is an important mechanism to limit AM use, it only applies to internationally traded products and leaves production aimed for domestic consumption largely unregulated. The authors conclude that a better solution would be to limit access to AMs nationally, for example by banning specifically harmful AMs or requiring veterinary certificates for every purchase, measures that have proved successful in higher-income countries. 
 
While the focus of the study was on the aquaculture industry, the authors acknowledge the importance of a “One Health” perspective to find global solutions – which means that all sectors using AMs need to work together.
 
Henriksson, P.J.G., A. Rico, M. Troell, D.H. Klinger, A.H. Buschmann, S. Saksida, M.V. Chadag and W. Zhang. 2018. Unpacking factors influencing antimicrobial use in global aquaculture and their implication for management: A review from a systems perspective. Sustainability Science 13(4):1105-1120.