People-Centered Research for Social and Environmental Sustainability

Insights from a SDGs Symposium 2021

Insights from a SDGs Symposium 2021: Interdisciplinary science solutions for food, water, climate and ecosystems Sustainable Development Goals.

Written by Peljee Batbayar

Hello everyone, hope you all are doing well. I am Pere, M2 student in this lab. I had a chance to participate this great event last month. Thanks to Abe sensei who informed us. The seminar was held via zoom in 26th of March and over 500 people participated. It took me so long to finish this writing, but better late than never! Although contents written here are very limited as audiences could hear the seminar just once, I hope someone could grasp something from here.

In the recent few years, we hear a lot about global crisis such as increasing natural disasters, habitat loss and climate change. Experts and scientists are proving that many of them are driven by human activities. At the same time, we also see everywhere about SDGs, and the raising awareness of environmental issues is undoubtful. However, are we (each of us) trying our best? about this, I doubt, even though it’s hard to tell. To understand and mitigate ongoing climate and ecosystem change, there is an urgent need to generate interdisciplinary knowledge between SDSs (according to the event introduction) which I agree with because the issues and solutions are all interconnected, complex and global. Everyone is needed to reach these ambitious targets (SDGs), not only researchers but also police makers, business owners, and we global citizens need to work together. The aim of this seminar was to highlight and strengthen the connections between each group. The event was co-organized by Springer Nature and The University of Tokyo. Some of the Japan’s renowned researchers working in this field were invited to give a presentation.

Springer Nature, is a publishing company which plays an important role in advancing the discovery and sharing the evidence-based sustainability research. One of the keynote speakers of the seminar was Philip Campbell, who is editor-in-chief of the company. He introduced Springer Nature’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Programme, which aims to support researchers across the globe as they tackle urgent societal needs, and to connect them with the practitioners in policy and business, who can implement those insights to achieve SDGs. As I look into their website after the seminar, I was very surprised at their incredible work. Springer Nature has published many journals (Nature journals) that are committed to SDGs related solutions including Nature Climate Change (2011), Nature Energy (2016), Nature Sustainability (2018), Nature Food (2020) etc. And not only the journals, but they have also published Sustainable Development Goals Series, which is organized into eighteen subseries: each of the seventeen SDGs, and an eighteenth subseries, “Connecting the Goals”.

Mr. Campbell also introduced Dimensions, a research information system where users can find not only publications and citations but also datasets, grants, clinical trials and patents all in one place. It has a collaboration with over 100 leading research organizations around the world and contains more than 106 million publications (as of 2019). In March of 2020, Dimensions included new research category filters for seventeen SDGs, which is available to all users including free version users. I think this is truly a great opportunity for everyone who is interested in studies related to SDGs to gather insights and make a connection.

He also mentioned about CERES2030: Sustainable Solutions to End Hunger, a project which aims to achieve SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) and contributes to sustainable food systems. Cornell University, International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) cooperated together to build this project. I visited their website and learned that 70 researchers from 23 countries volunteered for this project, dividing into 8 research themes (water scarcity, employment, livestock, post-harvest, vibrant food, policy, plants and farmers organization). As my research is related to livestock and food insecurity to some extent, I am very glad to know these institutions and projects, where people from all around the world gather and work together towards one goal to solve the global issues.

Taikan Oki, Special Advisor to the President, and Professor at Graduate School of Engineering, The University of Tokyo was the 2nd keynote speaker. He talked about the interdisciplinary aspects of his research, how it is connected to the SDGs, and how to select research themes that are meaningful and worthwhile. Professor Hiroyasu Hasumi (Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, The University of Tokyo), Associate Professor Alexandros Gasparatos (Institute for Future Initiatives, The University of Tokyo), and Associate Professor Tomoko Hasegawa (College of Science and Engineering, Ritsumeikan University) introduced their research.

Although I didn’t fully understand all of the details that were presented by the speakers, I am very grateful for just to get to know these scientists and researchers (leaders I would say). Their presentation and discussion encouraged me to study more about SDGs and global environmental issues. You can read brief introduction of each speaker’s research and their SDGs point of view from the link below.

(Both Japanese and English version are available.)

https://www.natureasia.com/ja-jp/natsustain

In the end, I want to introduce my research in relation to the SDGs, using this opportunity. As I mentioned before it is related to livestock to some extent. Livestock industry is strongly related to environmental impacts for its high amount of GHG emissions (accounting for 14.5% of anthropogenic GHG emissions), high water footprint and for being the primary reason for deforestation, land degradation and ocean dead-zone. Against this background, global meat consumption has been rising continuously and expected to grow due to the income growth and world population growth. Scientists are indicating that this pathway is incompatible with preventing global temperature rising more than 2 degrees. Adding to the environmental aspects, high intake of animal-based food products has been associated with a greater risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease. Therefore, meat-reduced diet not only contributes to the reduction of GHG emissions, but it is also beneficial for consumer’s health. If we see it from the perspective of SDGs, reducing meat consumption is related to SDG 2 (Zero Hunger), SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-being), SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), SDG 13 (Climate Action) and SDG 15 (Life on Land). I personally think that it’s one of the necessary actions that we as consumers can and need to do in order to mitigate climate change. However, reducing meat consumption is not as simple or easy as it sounds for majority of us (at least for now). The reason is that there is a very complex system working behind it. Our habit, attachment to meat, family and friends’ influence, culture and social norm, our attitude and individual needs, availability and acceptability of the meat substitutes, it all can be factors that affect this decision to various extent depending on individual circumstances. My research aim is to identify the relevant socio-psychological and socio-demographic factors and to what extent these factors influence consumer’s willingness to reduce their meat consumption. Also, to find out how and what factors of currently available plant-based meat alternatives are playing a role in this process.

It’s still a controversial topic and sometimes I even confused about what I’m doing and if it is necessary or beneficial to the society. But one thing that encouraged me was in the end of the Professor Taikan Oki’s talk. He said that “Let’s try to do what is right, not what is easy!” as he took a line from Harry Potter. After attending this seminar, I got an idea that I need to dig deep into the background of my research and study various related fields in order to clear my doubts and connect the dots, so that I can see more clearly.

Thank you for reading this till the end, have a good day!

Sources:

References for my research part:

  • Gerber, P.J., Steinfeld, H., Henderson, B., Mottet, A., Opio, C., Dijkman, J., Falcucci, A. & Tempio, G. 2013. Tackling climate change through livestock – A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome.
  • OECD/FAO (2020), OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2020-2029, OECD Publishing, Paris/FAO, Rome.
  • World Wildlife Eating for 2 Degrees: New and Updated Eatwell Plates. 2017.
  • Wang, Y., & Beydoun, M. A. (2009). Meat consumption is associated with obesity and central obesity among US adults. International Journal of Obesity, 33(6), 621–628.
  • Micha, R., Michas, G., & Mozaffarian, D. (2012). Unprocessed red and processed meats and risk of coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes – an updated review of the evidence. Current Atherosclerosis Reports, 14(6), 515–524.
  • McEvoy, C.T., Temple, N., Woodside, J.V. Vegetarian diets, low-meat diets and health: A review (2012) Public Health Nutrition, 15 (12), pp. 2287-2294.