Geology for Global Development

Sustainable Development Goals

Event Report: UN Science, Technology and Innovation Forum 2018

Last month GfGD Director, Dr Joel Gill, attended the UN Annual Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With few other, if any, geoscience organisations in attendance we believed it to be important for Geology for Global Development to engage and ensure a voice for geoscience at this significant event. 

**Event Overview**

UN General Assembly resolution 70/1 on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for an annual science, technology and innovation (STI) Forum to discuss cooperation around thematic areas for the implementation of the SDGs. This is expressed in an annual gathering at the UN headquarters in New York, with focused discussion around a subset of the SDGs.

The event this year discussed the science required for “transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies”, including SDGs 6 (water and sanitation), 7 (energy), 11 (sustainable cities), 12 (responsible consumption and production) and 15 (life on land).

The STI Forum aimed to facilitate interactions, networks and partnerships to identify and examine needs and gaps in technologies, scientific cooperation, innovation and capacity-building to support the SDGs. The forum is attended by member states (official national representatives, civil society, the private sector, the scientific community, and United Nations entities (e.g., UNESCO, UN Water).

This was the first time Geology for Global Development has attended this meeting, having previously engaged in a UN scientific meeting around the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction in Geneva in 2016. Given the topics being discussed, and our commitment to ensuring the geoscience community is engaged and actively contributing to the SDGs (and processes around them), we believed it to be of paramount importance that the geoscience community attended and contributed. Given our leadership on geoscience and the SDGs, we made it a priority to attend and ensure a clear voice for geoscience at the heart of global development decision-making.

**How and what did we contribute to this meeting?**

The first thing we had to get to grips with, is understanding HOW to contribute to a meeting like this, different from the typical science conference. The forum included (i) formal panel discussions, followed by interventions from the floor, and (ii) side events. The latter generally allowed for more free-flowing dialogue and unscripted questions from the floor after a panel discussion. The former were a complex mix of science and diplomacy. Each SDG being discussed had a formal panel discussion, with interventions (largely scripted) afterwards to represent the perspectives of a stakeholder group. These interventions were generally made by member states (national representatives), with only a handful throughout the forum from non-member state groups.

Through collaborating with the UN Major Group on Children and Youth (UN MGCY), I was able to shape some intervention statements, and communicate geoscience messages at the meeting. UN MGCY are the UN General Assembly-mandated, official, formal and self-organised space for children and youth (under 30 [Editor: -ish!]), supporting their contribution to and engagement in certain intergovernmental and allied policy processes at the UN (such as this STI Forum). They act as a bridge between young people and the UN system in order to ensure their right to meaningful participation is realised.

By working in coalition with such stakeholder groups it is possible to construct strong, interdisciplinary interventions, that have greater resonance (and chance of being heard) than the voice of an individual or single-interest community. These interventions are captured in the meeting record and can eventually inform other gatherings, such as this week’s High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, attended by ministers from around the world.

UN MGCY at the Science, Technology and Innovation Forum, UN HQ (2018), with GfGD Director at the back (left).

So while the interventions made by UN MGCY were not wholly focused on the geoscience (not a bad thing, interdisciplinarity is essential) – this mechanism ensures perspectives from geoscientists, engineers, economists etc are integrated and heard. Here are some of our contributions to the official interventions:

SDG 7 – Energy. Editing was made to ensure clarity around the provision of energy to the poorest and most vulnerable.

SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities. Text was added which emphasised the role of (i) improved collection, management and integration of environmental, build environment and societal data, and (ii) that the spatial extent of cities does not cease at the surface, and that we encourage cities to develop underground master-plans, based on 3D subsurface models, to strengthen urban resilience as outlined in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

SDG 12 – Sustainable Consumption and Production. Text was added which brought attention to the
expected increase in demand for mineral resources as green technologies are more widely deployed.

In addition we made the following contributions to the less formal side events:

  • Smart Cities. In the context of a session primarily focused on the surface of cities, I emphasised the importance of the sub-surface to urban development was raised, highlighting its relevance to resource management, integrated spatial planning, and disaster risk reduction.
  • Capacity Building. In the context of a discussion about how to build science capacity in policy makers, I noted the importance of training and engaging with scientists to improve the communication flow between these two stakeholder groups. I emphasised the need to build the capacity of the scientific community through UN institutions, and to strengthen understanding of science for policy.
  • Disaster Risk Reduction. In the context of a session which primarily addressed DRR and
    hydrometeorological hazards, I noted the importance of geological hazards, holistic (or ‘multi-hazard’)
    disaster risk reduction that considers all relevant hazards, and dialogue between geologists,
    hydrologists, meteorologists and others.
  • Planetary Boundaries. In the context of a session emphasising green energy and transport technologies, smart technology, and ICT for development, I emphasised the need to consider current and future natural resource requirements. While others noted the need to protect water and air, the need for mineral resources was largely missing from all discussions at the meeting. I gave the example of coltan and batteries for car electrification, referencing this report by the BGS.

Alongside these interventions, the event also provided important opportunities for networking and sharing information about Geology for Global Development, and learning about the United Nations and how to engage effectively.

**What’s Next**

Given the topics being discussed (water, energy, cities, disaster risk reduction, planetary boundaries), the lack of geoscience engagement and attendance was notable, and disappointing. I have sympathy for those expressing frustration that general discussions on expanding green technologies ignore the question of accessing natural resources, or discussions on cities ignore the subsurface. It is not possible to have resilient and sustainable urban environments without comprehensively understanding the subsurface, given (for example) it’s interaction with surface infrastructure or the movement of water and contaminants between the surface and subsurface.

Cities: Opportunities and Challenges for Sustainable Development (GfGD Annual Conference, 2017)

However, if as disciplinary specialists in these aspects of global challenges we don’t prioritise attendance and engagement as part of our knowledge exchange and policy support responsibilities it is understandable to some extent that these factors are ignored. We need policy makers who understand (geo)science, but we also need scientists and scientific organisations passionate about policy.

Greater geoscience leadership on this theme is needed, with international geoscience organisations recognising their social and professional responsibility to give a voice to geoscience at these meetings. Geology for Global Development will be working to facilitate this over the coming months, building relationships with other national and international organisations to provide a stronger and clearer voice to the international geoscience community on sustainable development. We’ll be sharing more at our next annual conference (details coming soon). We’ll also be exploring how we can encourage greater engagement of our network with the United Nations, including through the UN Major Group on Children and Youth (for those in that category).

Discussion at this forum is now feeding into the annual High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, which started earlier this week. Ministers from around the world are gathering to examine progress towards the SDGs.

What is happening after the Fuego eruption in Guatemala? Is climate migration a bad thing? This and more in Jesse Zondervan’s June 2018 #GfGDpicks #SciComm

What is happening after the Fuego eruption in Guatemala? Is climate migration a bad thing? This and more in Jesse Zondervan’s June 2018 #GfGDpicks #SciComm

Each month, Jesse Zondervan picks his favourite posts from geoscience and development blogs/news which cover the geology for global development interest. Here’s a round-up of Jesse’s selections for the last month:

Everything about the Fuego eruption

At the start of this month, Guatemala’s Fuego volcano erupted explosively, costing many lives and destroying properties and infrastructure.

Professor Handley from Macquarie University explains why the eruption was so disastrous, while Professor Little notes the recovery efforts Guatemalans make on their own, without much government input. Sophie Brockmann delves into history and recovers the cultural significance and political intricacies of Guatemalan dealings with volcanoes.

Climate migration: is it a bad thing?

While the world wakes up to the magnitude of climate migration, a key question we will need to ask is: does climate migration pose a problem or an opportunity to climate adaptation? As always, knowledge is power: a team of New York scientists has modelled future migration due to sea level rise in Bangladesh.

Drought: South Africa out, India in

Drought seems to be a trendy topic this month. South Africa has moved out of the national state of drought disaster and is moving on to resilience. At the same time, India is approaching a long term water crisis and a map of desertification by the EU Joint Research Centre shows building pressures on the world’s resources.

Somewhat reassuring is the opportunity for mitigation that MIT researchers give us. They conclude that climate action can limit Asia’s growing water shortages.

This month a lot was written on climate change adaptation, but as well as disaster risk reduction and sustainability. I would like to highlight this one question: What’s the right goal – resilience, well-being or transformation?

Go ahead and explore:

The Fuego Volcano Eruption and Adaptation

Fuego volcano: the deadly pyroclastic flows that have killed dozens in Guatemala at The Conversation

How Guatemala has dealt with volcanoes over the centuries by Sophie Brockmann at The Conversation

From Kilauea to Fuego: three things you should know about volcano risk by Heather Handley at The Conversation

After volcano eruption, Guatemalans lead their own disaster recovery by Walter E. Little at The Conversation

Migration due to Climate Change and Natural Hazards

Problem to opportunity: migration in times of climate change by Arthur Wyns at The Ecologist

World wakes up to climate migration by Harjeet Singh at India Climate Dialogue

Universal migration predicts human movements under climate change by Simon Davies at Physics World

How Will People Move as Climate Changes? At State of the Planet

Droughts

India faces worst long term water crisis in its history -government think tank at Thomson Reuters Foundation

National state of the drought disaster expires at South Africa news

Is Australia’s current drought caused by climate change? It’s complicated at The Conversation

New World Atlas of Desertification shows unprecedented pressure on planet’s resources at the European Commission Joint Research Centre

Climate action can limit Asia’s growing water shortages at ScienceDaily

Sustainability

Science migrations hold the stage at èStoria, Gorizia at The World Academy of Sciences

What’s the right goal – resilience, well-being or transformation? By Laurie Goering at Thomson Reuters Foundation

Climate Change Adaptation

Alien apocalypse: Can any civilization make it through climate change? At ScienceDaily

Economic models significantly underestimate climate change risks at the London School of Economics and Political Science

Better be safe than sorry: Economic optimization risks tipping of Earth system elements at ScienceDaily

 

Follow Jesse Zondervan @JesseZondervan. Follow us @Geo_Dev& Facebook.

Demonstrating the Importance of Geoscience in the Transformation Towards Sustainable and Resilient Societies

Next week the UN Annual Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will discuss the science required for “transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies”. Discussions will focus on SDGs 6 (water and sanitation), 7 (energy), 11 (sustainable cities), 12 (responsible consumption and production) and 15 (life on land).  

This forum will bring together member states, civil society, the private sector, the scientific community, and United Nations entities. It aims to facilitate interactions, networks and partnerships to identify and examine needs and gaps in technologies, scientific cooperation, innovation and capacity-building to support the SDGs. We believe it is critical that the global geoscience community is represented, and will therefore attend and ensure a clear voice for geoscience at the heart of global development decision-making.

The natural environment is a key pillar of sustainable development. Research, innovation and improved communication and use of geological science (or ‘geoscience’) is therefore essential to delivering sustainable and resilient societies. For example,

  • Mapping and Understanding the Sub-Surface. In a sustainable and resilient society, interactions between the surface and sub-surface are understood and integrated into urban planning to ensure that development is safe, hazards are mitigated against, and environmental impact is minimised. Geological maps, geophysical surveys, and the integration of geoscience data to develop ground models can generate an understanding of the sub-surface and support effective urban planning.
  • Resource Management. In a sustainable and resilient society, everyone has sufficient and reliable access to energy, clean water, and the materials required for sustainable, resilient cities. This requires the identification and careful management of natural resources, including water, minerals, and building aggregates. The transition to renewable energies, such as solar panels and wind turbines, and electric transport will require a wide range of minerals, such as cadmium, lithium, molybdenum, selenium, and tellurium, as well as rare earth elements.
  • Waste Management. In a sustainable and resilient society, less pollutants are generated, and those that are generated are better managed to reduce the environmental impact of society. Pollutants can take many forms, and these can impact both the surface and sub-surface. For example, while mining may be necessary to supply the materials needed for green technologies, this can generate large amounts of waste which needs to be managed carefully to avoid chemicals leaching into groundwater.
  • Reducing Disaster Risk. In a sustainable and resilient society, the focus is on reducing risk (and preventing disasters), rather than accepting or increasing risk (and responding to disasters). Resilient communities, water supplies, energy infrastructure, and terrestrial ecosystems require effective disaster risk reduction. Research on the processes and potential impacts of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, landslides, subsidence, and other geological hazards can help stakeholders to understand and reduce risk.

Sustainable and resilient societies, therefore, depend on access to geoscience information and the expertise to interpret this, as well as meaningful engagement by the geoscience community. The networks and partnerships being developed at the UN next week, to identify how scientific cooperation and innovation can support the SDGs, need to include geoscientists working across a broad array of specialisms.

Since the SDGs were agreed in 2015, we have been at the forefront of mobilising and equipping the geological science community to engage and help deliver this vision. We are proud to continue our international leadership on this topic, and will be a champion of the geosciences next week at the UN Headquarters.

Follow updates on Twitter – #GfGDatUNHQ

Read more about this event: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/18157Forum_Concept_Note_April_26_draft.pdf

Read more about Geology and the Sustainable Development Goals: http://www.episodes.org/view/1835

Weighing up the pros and cons of artificial coral reefs

Weighing up the pros and cons of artificial coral reefs

The world’s oceans cover 71% of the Earth’s surface and contain 97% of Earth’s water. They play a key role in the climate cycle and, though perhaps not always visibly, are suffering significantly under our changing climate. An place where we can see the alarming effects of rising temperatures and increasingly acidic waters is coral reefs, which experienced the longest, most widespread, and possibly the most damaging coral bleaching event on record between 2014 and 2017. In today’s post, Heather Britton compares natural vs. artificial coral reefs in the context of protecting life below the water (UN sustainability goal 14).

Reefs around the world are dying – approximately half of the world’s coral reefs have disappeared over the past 30 years, and many are showing signs of following in their stead – be it due to increased water temperature, sea level change or an influx of sediment in previously nutrient-poor conditions. Many of the factors contributing to the bleaching and eventual death of these ecosystems stem from the impact of people, such as global warming and the development of resorts in the vicinity of fragile reef environments.

The disappearance of coral reefs would lead to a catastrophic loss of biodiversity – coral reefs are thought to be the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet, displaying a greater variety of life than even rainforests, and it is clear that we need to act now if these environments are to be saved – for many reefs it is already too late.

One popular response to the loss of natural coral reefs has been to construct artificial reefs, replacing those that have died and providing a habitat for organisms that may otherwise become extinct. These structures take a plethora of forms, from sunken ships to cinder block stacks, but as long as they are made of a hard substrate and are able to offer protection and a place for sheltering organisms to spawn there is potential for a reef to develop in as little as two-three years.

In many ways, this is an elegant solution. Not only do artificial reefs help to combat the loss of biodiversity associated with the decline of their natural counterparts, but they attract divers and other tourists to the sites where they are placed, bringing in tourism and strengthening the economy in the area. This benefit is particularly valuable to lower income countries, some of which boast extensive coral reef ecosystems. In addition, reefs are known to concentrate fish populations and therefore are popular with the fishing industry worldwide – the first recorded artificial reefs were developed by fishermen in Japan in the 18th century, who sunk makeshift shelters to increase their haul. Reefs form from man-made substrates relatively easily, and they are certainly preferable to a lack of reefs altogether – but can artificial reefs really ever match their natural cousins?

Diver installing ocean-chemistry monitoring equipment at Florida Keys. Credit: Ilsa B. Kuffner (U.S. Geological Survey). Distributed via U.S. Geological Survey. 

Artificial reefs are created extensively off the coast of Florida, as much for the economic benefit that the tourism brings (both through fishing and diving) as increasing ocean biodiversity. The region is encountering problems, however, one of which is local people choosing to develop their own personal reefs using suboptimal materials. For example, tyres, when strapped together, attract aquatic organisms as they provide a place to spawn and the shelter of a natural reef, but the toxicity of the rubber can negatively impact the environment in ways that a ship or concrete blocks will not. Ships that are sunk professionally for the purpose of artificial reef formation are extensively prepared before they are placed underwater, whereas amateurs rarely take the time to prepare their seeding structures properly. This has led some countries, such as Australia, to develop laws against the formation of artificial reefs without a permit.

Artificial reefs are also celebrated because they attract divers away from the surviving natural reefs, meaning that each individual reef is less damaged by people. It is also possible, however, that the number of tourists in total might increase in response to the increased number of dive-sites, having the opposite effect and causing dive sites in the region to become more popular.

Arguably, the most important question to be asked when discussing natural vs artificial reef structures is: do artificial reefs have biodiversity equivalent to that of natural reefs? The answer is unclear, but it certainly seems that the biodiversity of each kind of reef is different. Artificial reefs, at first glance, seem to attract more fish to them than natural reefs. This suggests that that artificial reefs may be encouraging fish to reproduce more than the naturally occurring reefs scattered throughout the oceans. However, many of the marine animals attracted to feed and shelter around artificial reefs do not breed there, and simply visit from other regions of the ocean. Artificial reefs therefore may only be acting to concentrate the fish in a single area, making them more susceptible to fishing and generally increasing the effect of fishing pressure on marine populations. This is commonly referred to as the ‘aggregation vs production’ debate. If the fish are more numerous at artificial reefs because they are breeding there, then the reef is likely acting to increase the population of that particular fish species and artificial reefs are helping to sustain the biodiversity of the oceans. If they are simply concentrating fish that typically spend their time swimming between reefs, however, fish numbers are likely to be negatively, not positively affected.

Dead corals turned to rubble, off the coast of the US Virgin Islands. Credit: Curt Storlazzi (U.S. Geological Survey). Distributed via U.S. Geological Survey.

A study on the Caribbean island of Bonaire provides some insight into the differences in diversity between natural and artificial reefs. Equal diversity was found at partnered artificial and natural reefs, but the composition of this diversity was starkly different. Whilst the sergeant major and bluehead wrasse fish were most commonly seen on the artificial reef, the natural was more commonly frequented by bicoloured damselfish and brown chromis. Similar trends were visible within the benthic community of organisms, suggesting that although artificial reefs may preserve the diversity that we see within the oceans today, some organisms appear to populate natural reefs to a far greater extent than their artificial counterparts, and these species may still be lost.

For this reason it is of the utmost importance that every effort is made to protect the natural coral reefs of today, thereby working to achieve UN sustainability goal 14 (Life below the Water). Artificial reefs are helping to preserve the biodiversity of the oceans and save countless organisms from extinction, but it is important to remember that what causes the corals of natural reefs to die will also impact the corals which begin to grow on artificial reefs. In order to prevent the loss of these ecosystems we need get to the root of the problem and combat the things that are harming coral reefs – global warming, human physical destruction of reef environments and the pollution of our oceans.