By the year 2050 the world’s population is predicted to increase from 6.8 billion to 9 billion. The addition of more than 2 billion individuals to the global population in combination with changing dietary habits is expected to require a doubling of the amount of food, feed and fiber currently produced. Our ability to grasp the magnitude of this issue, and its consequences, requires analyses that link credible scientific understanding and technological options with the “actionable decisions” needed to formulate and implement practical policies. Sustainable development as reflected in economic progress, national security, and quality living standards depends on reliable access to adequate supplies of safe, nutritious and wholesome foodstuffs in essentially all countries. In this White Paper, the Institute on Science for Global Policy (ISGP) undertakes a preliminary examination of the issues related to Food Sustainability (i.e., specifically, safety and security of supply) by summarizing the current realities, the scientific and technological (S&T) challenges and opportunities, and some of the related domestic and international policy issues facing societies and their governments.
The ISGP Approach
Many of the most significant global challenges for 21st century societies are directly related to the profound S&T achievements of our time. Success in fostering safe, secure, and prosperous societies often reflects how well societal and governmental institutions recognize the opportunities and consequences associated with existing, emerging, and “at-the-horizon” S&T and how effectively governmental policies balance short-term challenges requiring immediate attention with the need for long-term investments in transformative research and development. Unfortunately, large gaps too often exist between S&T understanding and the governmental policies that emerge from the political processes within a society.
The ISGP seeks to significantly improve the capability of governments to effectively bridge these gaps and to help shape the relevant domestic and international policies. ISGP programs use a unique format based on multiple conferences designed to address specific aspects (e.g., water availability and food production, advancing food safety, climate change impacts on agriculture, enhancing agricultural productivity via remote sensing, global food supply networks, etc.) of a broad S&T topic (i.e., Food Sustainability) previously vetted as a priority with participating governments. While each ISGP program focuses on a specific S&T topic (e.g., energy, infectious diseases, food safety and security, or cyber security), the ISGP is positioned to examine several S&T topics simultaneously through parallel programs.
Each ISGP conference focuses almost exclusively on critical debates and caucuses involving highly credible, articulate scientists chosen by the ISGP and an international group of policy makers from the United States, Europe, and Asia selected by the participating governments. The ISGP selects a few (6-8) S&T experts for each conference to prepare concise, focused written documents describing their views and to participate in the critical debates led by a global group of decision makers. Emphasis remains on specific “actionable decisions” and their foreseeable consequences. Separate caucuses held during each ISGP conference provide opportunities for governmental and societal representatives to discuss next steps, both domestically and internationally.
In preparation for each conference, the ISGP staff interviews or corresponds with a wide range of globally recognized subject matter experts from academia, industry, and the non-governmental community. These discussions seek to elicit the interviewee’s opinions concerning the relevant S&T realities, challenges, and options that should be considered by governments. To ensure a comprehensive understanding of these issues, the ISGP also reviews the relevant international reports, statements, and S&T publications. Taken together, these materials and information are used by the ISGP to prepare a Strategic Roadmap which not only summarizes all the findings, but also describes the content and structure of a series of 6-8 conferences to be convened by the ISGP on the S&T topic (e.g., food safety and security) over a two- or three-year period.
The global character of the ISGP is reflected not only through the engagement of the United States, European, and Asian governments, but also in its international network of affiliated universities. Students and professors from these affiliated institutions participate in ISGP programs and are involved in real decision-making processes occurring at each ISGP conference (fundamentally a “practical policy laboratory”). ISGP programs also seek to foster public respect for the role of S&T in policy, and obviously, to help shape strategic public policies worldwide.