Resilience and transformation: towards a ‘safe and just’ operating space

The report of the 5th SCAR Foresight Exercise Expert Group Natural resources and food systems was released 15 December at the German EU Presidency conference. I had the pleasure of participating as one of the experts.

In the report we argue that Europe needs more comprehensive policies on diet, diversity and circularity if it is to recover speedily from the pandemic and help realise a “safe and just” world. For that, the soon-to-start Horizon Europe programme and related research and innovation activities will be essential.

Read the short Fact Sheet on the report

Read the full report

Key conclusions of the report:

• To tackle the challenges, R&I must help define clear targets for the future – for instance, that by 2050 we cut agricultural phosphorous usage by 81% and pesticides
by 75%, and that we roll back the average human body mass index in the EU to a healthier range – well below the current 51.8% that are overweight. The report lists 11 such targets relevant to the physical and social spheres.

• R&I is a key enabler of food systems transformation that can take multiple forms. Key to making advances will be the application of a systems approach that cuts across sectors and disciplines and engages multiple actors to deliver co-benefits for health, sustainability, climate and inclusion.

• An extended R&I programme is needed to improve diets and nutrition across the EU. For instance, we eat 2.5 to 3 times as much meat as recommended by dieticians, with knock-on effects on our own health and that of the planet. The reasons are complex: a mix of industry structure, sectoral lock-ins, social pressures, economic inequalities, and personal preferences. R&I can help understand the causes, and guide needed government action – in food advertising, education, competition policy, and technological aids to better nutrition.

• A circular food and resource supply can become reality. Wasteful practices can be stopped, circularity designed into all products from the start. Critically important: R&I into the advancing field of ‘agroecology’: for instance, farmers working to improve soil biota naturally, paying more attention to crop rotation and cover, making use of microbiomes. For this, a massive effort in education is needed – on the farm, post-farm, and among consumers. But governments must also act, with more coherent policies, support to promising innovations and networks, better cost accounting and investment, and more information from production to consumption to better trace supply routes.

• For society and the economy to become more resilient, – a problem highlighted by the pandemic – we need more diversity: in what we eat, what we grow and fish, and how we structure society, and who engage with to co-create solutions

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