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Bold optimism for science to address global sustainability challenges

Major political processes such as Rio+20 can only be successful with substantive scientific input. Photo: N. Palmer (CIAT).
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Mar 26, 2012



by Vanessa Meadu

As we search for solutions to big problems, researchers must provide decision makers and policy makers with knowledge that is directly useful for informing sustainable development policies.  At the global level, major processes such as the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, which take place in Rio this June) can only be successful with substantive scientific input to help direct the political discussions.

At Planet Under Pressure 2012, CGIAR is showcasing how it is now working across disciplines and tackling broader issues of natural resource sustainability rather than solely focusing on ‘green revolution’ technologies. CGIAR research is increasingly linking local action and global systems thinking. At the same time  CGIAR is part of a wider scientific community that is stepping up to the challenge by bringing concrete messages and actions to inform the upcoming Rio+20 sustainable development conference. CGIAR is also uniquely positioned to contribute to local sustainable development through innovations and approaches that put global policies into local action.

At a special session “From Planet Under Pressure to Rio+20,” Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom introduced a new set of recommendations tackling issues of importance to the Rio+20 conference. "I raise my hand as an optimist and hope that by the end of the conference everyone will raise their hand," she said, highlighting some of the opportunities and challenges for sustainability. The recommendations offer an opportunity to move ahead, offering guidance for policy actions to achieving a green economy, improving governance for sustainability, and ensuring sustainable food, energy and water.

The brief on Food Security boldly states that it is possible to achieve food security for all despite the world’s population growing towards 9 billion in 2050, and despite the additional challenges that climate change will add. Transitioning the food system will depend largely on our ability to implement interconnected solutions “that work across disciplines, sectors and national boundaries”. The brief sets out broad guidelines for a cooperative and integrated approach that can make the food system more equitable and resilient. The brief draws heavily on a study we published last year, Mapping Hotspots of Climate Change and Food Insecurity in the Global Tropics.

It also echoes a number of the more detailed and concrete policy actions from the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change, including changing diets, reducing loss and waste in the food system, and creating integrated information systems. The Commission is launching its final recommendations at Planet Under Pressure this Wednesday.

Vanessa Meadu manages communications for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). Follow coverage of the Planet Under Pressure conference all week at this blog and on twitter @cgiarclimate. You can also see the full list of CGIAR events and stories from the conference.