We can all now say we have been warned. Multiple internationally-recognised and peer-reviewed reports have warned of dire consequences if we do not urgently take action to protect global eco-systems. Governments, businesses and individuals have been told to drastically change consumption habits and lifestyle choices or our children and grandchildren will live in a world where devastating climate change and shortages of food and water are more probable than possible.
While it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and disheartened by this information, it’s worth revisiting the well-known phrase ‘think global, act local’ which is purported to have its origins in environmental activism. Think global act local tells us we can’t wait for big corporations and governments to make a difference – we have to take responsibility for our own actions and choices.
Ironically, the same phrase has been borrowed by multinational corporations as a marketing tactic to boost sales by tailoring globally-sold products to local markets. Take, as an example, the Chicken Maharajah in India and recipe changes made by Coca Cola in countries such as Mexico to suit the local palate.
Here, we detail some practical cases of thinking global and acting local by reviewing a selection of research projects undertaken by the AFTP university partners to combat or mitigate the effects of climate change and loss of biodiversity warned about in reports published since autumn 2018. Firstly, let us remind ourselves about the findings of those reports:
In October 2018, the UN Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report saying we have only 12 years to act if we wish to keep global warming to 1.5°C. Urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to reach the target, which they say is affordable and feasible although it lies at the most ambitious end of the Paris Agreement pledge to keep temperatures between 1.5°C and 2°C.
In the same month, Options For Keeping the Food System Within Environmental Limits was published in Nature by Marco Springmann and colleagues warning that substantial changes have to be made to reduce the environmental effects of the food system, including dietary changes towards healthier, more plant-based diets, improvements in technologies and management, and reductions in food loss and waste.
The AFTP covered the publication of the EAT Lancet report in January which has subsequently been challenged after the World Health Organisation (WHO) pulled out of an event to promote it. It withdrew after the Italian ambassador and permanent representative of Italy to the United Nations in Geneva, Gian Lorenzo Cornado, raised concerns over the report’s recommendations for diets in developing countries. Cornado also questioned the scientific basis for the EAT diet which is focused on promoting predominantly plant-based foods, excluding foods deemed unhealthy, including meat and other animal-based foods.
Two more influential reports were published in May 2019. The Government’s official advisers, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), said on Thursday 2 May that the UK’s net greenhouse gas emissions should fall to zero by 2050, emphasising that the transformation is necessary, affordable and desirable. The UK landscape will also significantly change by 2050, if emissions are stopped. A fifth of all farmland – 15% of land – will have been converted to tree planting and growing biofuel crops, said the CCC report.
The final and most concerning report is the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). It delivered a global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services indicating that biodiversity – the diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems – is declining faster than at any time in human history.
The IPBES report contains four key messages:
Nature and its vital contributions to people, which together embody biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, are deteriorating worldwide.
Direct and indirect drivers of change have accelerated during the past 50 years
Goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories, and goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors
Nature can be conserved, restored and used sustainably while simultaneously meeting other global societal goals through urgent and concerted efforts fostering transformative change
As stated previously, all these reports and warnings can be extremely worrying and disheartening. However, readers should be aware that research and knowledge transfer is being undertaken at universities and research institutions in the UK and overseas to counter the effects of climate change and desertification and to improve primary production productivity.
At Bangor University, an international team has examined what needs to be done to protect the Madagascar's unique biodiversity including their world famous lemurs, while benefiting local populations.
This will enable the country to maintain the unique flora and fauna that makes it unique ecologically and also acts as a tourist destination which assists to improve local employment and provide sustainable employment rather than logging and destruction of the rosewood forests.
At the Aberystwyth University, researchers are looking at ways to reduce Campylobacter infections in chicken, and resulting cases of food poisoning in humans, as well as some life-threatening cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
Working with businesses this will allow production of more sustainable poultry and reduce the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry which is another challenge for the food industry.
The Soil Science Team at Cranfield University has undertaken the equivalent of more than 200 years of fieldwork and has identified more than 750 different types of soil. Together with a unique parallel international soils archive, the university has created the largest collection of soil information in Europe.
Soils are recognised as a major carbon sink trapping carbon dioxide and alleviating greenhouse gas emissions. Healthy soils enable production of higher yielding crops that provide greater nutrition especially in developing countries where suboptimal micro nutrition is a problem.
Baby leaf greens salad is being grown on a trial basis indoors in a shipping container at Harper Adams University. The work is to explore two big questions: can we increase the efficiency of the propagation facility in terms of getting a more homogenous crop? And is it feasible to produce baby leaf crops during the winter at an affordable price point?"
Growing salad greens in the UK all year round under the right conditions will save carbon by cutting food miles and enable materials to be produced in controlled conditions to meet sales forecasts in a timely way.
The University of Reading is co-ordinating various projects to highight the importance of pollinators including bees in maintaining biodiversity and agricultural productivity. Pollinators are in decline around the world. That's a problem, not only for pollinating species, like bees, butterflies and hoverflies, but for all the other species that depends on pollination for their future - including us. Reading Bee Team is a group of scientists who work around the world to highlight the value of pollinators and find out which species are in trouble and what's causing them to decline. current research projects include Posh Bee, STEP and LIBERATION
A blood test to detect diseases that affect dairy cattle developed by researchers at the University of Nottingham has received the Royal Dairy Innovation award.
The research team led by Dr Cath Rees, an expert in microbiology in the School of Biosciences and Dr Ben Swift (now at the Royal Veterinary College), were presented with this award by Princess Anne at a special ceremony at Buckingham Palace.
They have developed a new test to detect Mycobacteria in blood and milk in just six hours, allowing affected cattle to be identified quickly to allow effective disease management. This simple test detects very low levels of mycobacteria using a bacteriophage-based technique. The new method has been used to show that cattle diagnosed with bovine tuberculosis (bTB) have detectable levels of the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis) - which causes this bTB - in their blood.
If you want to personally benefit from these research innovations why not take a course with the AFTP where this research is used to inform and educate participants, who can quickly put these innovations to use in their own businesses.
AgriFood Training Partnership
The University of Reading
PO Box 226, Whiteknights
Reading RG6 6AP