Sector urged to draw on key data

Sir David King called on planners to draw more on available data to tackle global problems in a recent lecture, Lesley Downing reports.

The University of Oxford Smith school of enterprise and environment director and former government chief scientific adviser Professor Sir David King urged planners to better use the data readily available to them in the David Fryer Memorial Lecture, organised by RTPI South East this month.

King took "21st century chal-lenges" as his topic. He argued that policy-makers in the public sector must connect more robustly with the knowledge base that is available to them. He cited the case of the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 as an example of incomplete understanding of science that resulted in a failure to adopt early warning systems.

King contended that there is no single overarching challenge but rather a number of interconnected global issues that significantly impact on the well-being of humans. All these issues must be dealt with in the context of more people living to an older age, which will lead to a global population explosion.

Currently, the world population totals about six billion and this is predicted to increase to nine billion by 2060. Collective action is needed across the scientific community to handle this phenomenon, King urged. He went on to explore the interconnectivity between the challenges, which include biodiversity, food production, conflict and terrorism, water resources, energy security and supply, health and education and climate change.

Population growth has increased the demand for food cropped per hectare but swathes of the world already suffer from water scarcity, King explained. He questioned whether the world could afford to ignore the potential of genetically modified crops. Currently, South Africa is the only country where such crops are widely planted.

Climate change, King suggested, is the biggest challenge of all and needs to be met collectively and globally. There has already been a 0.7 degsC rise in global temperature and a 20 per cent probability that this will ultimately be a 3 degsC rise. If this occurs, the world is courting runaway climate change, he argued.

King proposed several strategies to counter this crisis. An agreement at a global level, with national targets, is required to stabilise levels of carbon emissions. Fixed mechanisms should be established to make carbon a trading commodity. Technology transfer and help for the developing world to prepare adaptation strategies to meet the challenge of climate change are crucial. He speculated that there would be a massive improvement in the conversion of solar energy in the next 50 years.

King's concluding remarks were built around a slide headed "Future 2050", in which he dealt with the cultural challenges to the paradigm shift. National perspectives should take into account global priorities, but he acknowledged that there will be conflict where countries try to protect their own resources.

The current global model to manage resources needs re-evaluation as unfettered free market consumerism is no longer fit for purpose, he said. Science has brought an awareness of the scale of the problem. Political and collective will through strengthened international bodies is needed to deal with the resources more efficiently.

Finally, King emphasised that the developed world must engage the emerging economic powers of China, India and Brazil to tackle the challenges of the 21st century.

- Lesley Downing is a community planner at Planning Aid South.

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