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Global sustainability challenges and their impact on society have been well-documented in recent years, such as more intense extreme weather events, environmental degradation, as well as ecosystem and biodiversity loss. These challenges require a united effort of scientists from multiple disciplines with stakeholders, including government, non-government organizations, corporate industry, and members of the general public, with the aim to generate integrated knowledge with real-world applicability. Yet, there continues to be challenges for these types of collaboration. In this commentary, we describe processes of collective unlearning that serve to decenter academia in collaborations leading to a more equitable positioning of practitioners engaged in collaborative global sustainability research.
Nature and culture are intricately linked and the rapid loss of both biological and cultural diversity around the globe has led to increasing concerns about its effects on sustainability. Important efforts to understand biocultural relations and bolster sustainable practices have been made by scientists, local communities, civil society organizations and policy makers. In spite of their efforts, a stronger articulation between sectors and biocultural discourses is needed for a broader transformative impact. Here, we analyse the connections between prominent biocultural discourses and discuss how the biocultural paradigm can contribute to both local and global sustainability.
A large share of our food comes from international supply food chains that are difficult to trace. Therefore, consumers are not aware of their environmental and social effects. We analysed the tomato supply system for Germany. Tomatoes consumed in Germany are produced either in The Netherlands by Polish workers and using large amounts of energy, or in Spain by West African workers and depleting the aquifer. The analysis shows the long-distance effects of food consumption that should be considered when designing strategies for a sustainable global food system. Comparable results can be expected for other food products traded around the world.
Decisions on the use of nature reflect the values and rights of individuals, communities and society at large. The values of nature are expressed through cultural norms, rules and legislation, and they can be elicited using a wide range of tools, including those of economics. None of the approaches to elicit peoples’ values are neutral. Unequal power relations influence valuation and decision-making and are at the core of most environmental conflicts. As actors in sustainability thinking, environmental scientists and practitioners are becoming more aware of their own posture, normative stance, responsibility and relative power in society. Based on a transdisciplinary workshop, our perspective paper provides a normative basis for this new community of scientists and practitioners engaged in the plural valuation of nature.
We argue that the ways in which we as humans derive well-being from nature – for example by harvesting firewood, selling fish or enjoying natural beauty – feed back into how we behave towards the environment. This feedback is mediated by institutions (rules, regulations) and by individual capacities to act. Understanding these relationships can guide better interventions for sustainably improving well-being and alleviating poverty. However, more attention needs to be paid to how experience-related benefits from nature influence attitudes and actions towards the environment, and how these relationships can be reflected in more environmentally sustainable development projects.
Projections of a burgeoning population coupled with global environmental change offer an increasingly dire picture of the state of the world's food security in the not-too-distant future. But how can we transform the current food system to become more sustainable, more equitable and more just? We identify kitchens as sites of transformative innovation in the food system where cooks and chefs can leverage traditional food knowledge about local food species to create delicious and nutritious dishes. Achieving a sustainable food system is a grand challenge, one where cooks in particular are stepping forward as innovators to find solutions.
Sharing information between different countries is key for developing sustainable solutions to environmental change. Coastal wetlands in the Gulf of Mexico are suffering significant environmental and human-related threats. Working across national boundaries, this research project brings together scientists, specialists and local communities from Cuba and the USA. While important advances have been made in strengthening collaborations, important obstacles remain in terms of international policy constraints, different institutional and academic cultures and technology. Overcoming these limitations is essential to formulating a comprehensive understanding of the challenges that coastal socioecological systems are facing now and into the future.
There are significant challenges to retaining indigenous biodiversity and ecological infrastructure in African cities. These include a lack of formal protection and status for remnant ecologically functional patches rendering them open to ad hoc human settlement, which is in part linked to weak governance and management emerging from complex histories, and competing crisis-ridden demands. Persistent gaps in knowledge and practice mean that the social, economic, development and well-being benefits of ecological infrastructure are not understood or demonstrated. Addressing these challenges requires the adoption of multiple top-down government interventions and bottom-up community and neighbourhood actions. The development of detailed case studies that engage with knowledge generation and sharing at multiple scales through co-learning practices will also help create a much-needed deeper understanding of development options within this context.