Biodiversity collapse: the wild relatives of livestock and crops are disappearing

Philip McGowan, Newcastle University; Friederike Bolam, Newcastle University, and Louise Mair, Newcastle University

“Transformative change” is needed to prevent over a million species going extinct, according to a new report on the world’s biodiversity. Based on information gathered over three years from land, freshwater and marine ecosystems, and drawing heavily from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the report from the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services warns that Earth’s life-support systems may collapse if humanity doesn’t change the way it values and uses nature.

But what does this mean for everyday life? “Biodiversity” – which describes the variety and abundance of species living on Earth – is a term which doesn’t travel far outside debate between scientists and policymakers. The consequences of the biodiversity crisis can seem abstract and difficult for many people to understand, particularly the implications for their own lives. Continue reading

How to start interacting with the SDGs

Brett Cherry
The UN Sustainable Development Goals provide numerous opportunities for science and engineering to make a wider impact globally upon society and the environment. Aligning them with publicly funded research is imperative to their success. Times Higher Education just released their Impact ranking for the SDGs. I am pleased to say that Newcastle University was ranked 23rd in the world for this ranking.

If you’re an academic researcher, and new to the SDGs, one of the things you should know about them is that they are interconnected – each goal relates to, influences and affects the other goals.

There will always be specific goals that an individual or organisation may focus on but this doesn’t mean the others aren’t relevant to your work; indeed the framework is broad enough to enable achieving targets for different goals together. For example, while you thought you were working on clean water and sanitation, you may not have realised that you’re also helping to achieve gender equality.

If you do research or other relevant work to goal 3 – Good Health and Well-Being, likely it will have implications for other goals such as goal 1 – No Poverty and goal 2 – Zero Hunger.

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G-STIC 2018 – The future is our responsibility

The G-STIC Conference in Brussels.

Ismuruthy Pushparajah

On the invitation from the UN Major Group for Children and Youth (UN MGCY) and with the support from the Newcastle University London Student Services, I was able to attend the Global Science, Technology & Innovation Conference 2018 (G-STIC) in November 2018 in Brussels. The main aim of the conference is to facilitate research, innovation and implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals were adopted in 2016 with the purpose to combat poverty, promote sustainable development and protect the earth from the harmful effects of climate change. The conference addressed various topics related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which include agroecology for sustainable food systems, economy, education, energy positive communities, geospatial data, health and wastewater as a resource.

Initial impressions and climate change

The conference was attended by various stakeholders, including scientists, innovators, technology providers and policy makers, with the aim to discuss the most effective implementation of the UN SDGs. This great opportunity, in addition to being a valuable learning experience, was the perfect complement to my academic goals. Travelling with my peer student, Vishnuja Shantharupan, made the experience even richer as we could further discuss topics of common interest. One particular presentation that piqued our interest was called “Project Drawdown”. This plan proposed to reverse global warming and focused on our lack of implementation and speed changes, despite being the victims. Continue reading

How we can turn plastic waste into green energy

File 20181001 195282 u8z9ln.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Shutterstock.

Anh Phan, Newcastle University

In the adventure classic Back to the Future, Emmett “Doc” Brown uses energy generated from rubbish to power his DeLorean time machine. But while a time machine may still be some way off, the prospect of using rubbish for fuel isn’t too far from reality. Plastics, in particular, contain mainly carbon and hydrogen, with similar energy content to conventional fuels such as diesel.

Plastics are among the most valuable waste materials – although with the way people discard them, you probably wouldn’t know it. It’s possible to convert all plastics directly into useful forms of energy and chemicals for industry, using a process called “cold plasma pyrolysis”.

Pyrolysis is a method of heating, which decomposes organic materials at temperatures between 400℃ and 650℃, in an environment with limited oxygen. Pyrolysis is normally used to generate energy in the form of heat, electricity or fuels, but it could be even more beneficial if cold plasma was incorporated into the process, to help recover other chemicals and materials. Continue reading

Interlinkages of culture and government policy in tackling global challenges: A story from Indonesian fisheries

Fishermen unloading buckets of fish from their boats in Makassar, South Sulawesi, Indonesia. (Photo: Asian Development Bank/Flickr)

Livia Putradjaja

Indonesia, an archipelago in Southeast Asia, is situated strategically between the Indian and Pacific Ocean and made up of more than 17,000 islands. Fisheries become one of the Indonesians’ main occupations. The country’s local media, Tirto, reported that Indonesia was the second largest producer of the world’s marine fisheries after China in 2014. Last report from FAO stated that Indonesia is included as one of the world’s biggest shrimp export suppliers – along with China, Vietnam, India and Ecuador.

However, recent research has found a lack of sustainable implementation in the Indonesian fisheries sector. The question of sustainable fishing in Indonesia and other parts of the world includes challenges that are economic, political, technical and cultural.

Indonesian fisheries’ products are desired by both the local and international market. Ensuring the steady supply of the demand therefore becomes the major focus. It is known that most Indonesian fishermen use small fishing boats with relatively low-level technology for their daily, small-scale fisheries operation. Most of them operate near the coastline which leads to overfishing and the decrease of fish stocks in coastal areas.

This becomes a problem for the local fishers. Although most of them admit that overfishing would impact fish stocks and put sustainable livelihoods at risk, economic pressure is primarily why this practice continues. As international concern regarding the source of fishery products is on the rise, the challenge for the Indonesian government is to ensure that their seafood products are sustainable, and come from responsible fishing practices in order to be accepted by international standards. Continue reading

Conserving biodiversity: a 2030 story

As today is International Day for Biological Diversity it is a good time to reflect upon the progress we’ve made in conserving species, the numerous environmental pressures that threaten biodiversity, and ways forward to protect it. As the Aichi Biodiversity Targets are due to expire in 2020 international policy dedicated to biodiversity and conservation will continue under the auspices of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Providing thoughtful commentary on how to move forward in conserving biodiversity post-2020, we have produced a series of scenarios that address Goal 15: Life on Land and the Aichi Targets. They focus on:

  • Preventing species extinctions
  • Tools for predicting species distribution
  • Prioritisting species for conservation planning
  • The role of citizen science

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