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We must act on climate change to avoid catastrophic impacts

14 February 2017


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In addition to the higher temperatures and more violent storms, Professor Thomas Homer-Dixon, director of the Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation, said climate change was a factor in world conflicts.

In addition to the higher temperatures and more violent storms, Professor Thomas Homer-Dixon, director of the Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation, said climate change was a factor in world conflicts.

Speaking during Day Two of the 2017 World Government Summit, Prof. Homer-Dixon said that cities flooded with migrants fleeing droughts in the Eastern Mediterranean from 2008 to 2010 were among the first to revolt against the Assad regime in Syria.

This set the tone for the morning panel to demonstrate just how important it is to take climate change seriously. In a series of discussions that followed, panellists focused on the future of the global food supply and the evolution of food. The highlights are as follows:

1) Food security must become a global priority

Dan Glickman, former US Secretary for Agriculture, said climate change and resulting food security issues must be part of global dialogues.

“You would attend events like the G7, and agriculture and food was never part of global discussions for the last 70 years since the second world war. The only thing they talk about is ‘when is dinner?’

That has to change.”

2) Future farmers will work in laboratories, not fields

Caleb Harper, principal scientist and director the MIT Media Lab, said farmers will grow food in using technology to ascertain ideal conditions.

“The future of food is not about ‘GMO is bad, no it’s not, organic is good, no it’s not’ it’s about networking the next one billion farmers with the common tools to simply ask the question: 'What if?'"

3) Governments must fund cultivated meat projects to save emissions

Emissions from animal agriculture mean governments must act to fund alternatives including meat grown from cellular tissue, said Isha Datar, CEO of New Harvest.

“If we continue on this grass roots funding for research, it could be decades before we have cultured meat products, whereas if funding changes, we could see it within a decade,” she said.

4) Health and food industry will begin to work together

The health and food industries are using technology to help people think about what they put in their bodies, said Lynda Deakin, partner and managing director, IDEO San Francisco.

She said: “There is a really interesting quote ‘we are fed by an industry that pays no attention to health and we are healed by an industry that pays no attention to what we eat.” Historically that was true, but those worlds are blending in really interesting ways.”

5) UAE could be a base for vertical farming

David Rosenberg, CEO of “vertical farmers” Aerofarms said the UAE could be a base for laboratory-grown crops, thanks to the low cost of energy, saying high costs had been a barrier elsewhere.

“90 per cent of players in the indoor agriculture industry are going out of business, it is a tough environment, but it is still in the early stages,” he said.

  6) We must find ways to harness technology to reduce food waste

Marc Zornes, CEO of Winnow’s said his company had helped reduce food waste in some UAE hotels by between 3-8 per cent by installing monitoring technology.

“We are telling people that they need to do something different. That is the equivalent of when we were telling people to turn off the lights. It does not drive the change in the world we want to see in the future.”