New technologies for sustainable food, water and energy: opportunities, limitations and risks

Organizer: Jennifer Yarnold
Format: Onsite-Online, Afternoon

Enabling technologies will be critical to meet increasing food, water and energy demands of a population estimated at 9.8 billion by 2050, whilst operating within safe planetary boundaries under a changing climate. Just some of the many ways new technologies can be used to address these challenges include: – data-driven satellite crop monitoring systems to intensify food production with less land, water and fertiliser; – nanotechnology to deliver safer, chemical-free pesticides to minimise crop losses and disease; – synthetic biology to design efficient microbial cell factories for industrial bio-production of renewable fuels; and – blockchain coupled with AI-systems to track and reduce food waste – from farm gate to plate – throughout the supply chain. Yet the rapid pace and scale of technological change that we see today also creates unprecedented challenges for governments and society – both to manage the potential risks they pose and to capitalise on the benefits they can bring about. Lessons from the past have taught us–if anything–that improvements from innovation can also be met with unintended perverse outcomes and third party impacts. This session brings together a unique panel of research, policy and industry experts – all with knowledge of the opportunities, limitations and risks of new technologies and innovations – but trained in disciplines in the humanities and sciences ranging from history, sociology, political science and economics to molecular biology and engineering. The scope and diversity of perspectives will set the scene for an engaging debate from the audience and live polling in order to develop a coherent cost-benefit analysis of these technologies and a set of actions that could be undertaken to ensure they are managed in such a way as to provide the best possible outcomes to society.

Themes: Integrated Action for the SDGs, Knowledge-to-Action