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Transitioning to Sustainability Through Research and Development on Ecosystem Services and Biofuels: Workshop Summary 1 Introduction and Overview The National Research Council’s Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability hosted Transitioning to Sustainability through Research and Development on Ecosystem Services and Biofuels: The National Academies’ First Federal Sustainability Research and Development Forum on October 17th and 18th 2007. The Forum discussed sustainability research and development activities related to ecosystem services and biofuels.1 The objective of the Forum was to identify research gaps and opportunities for collaboration among federal agencies to meet the challenges to sustainability posed by the need to maintain critical ecosystem services, to support the development of alternatives to conventional fossil fuels, and to manage oceans and coastal areas. The forum focused primarily on federal activities, but included the participation of representatives from the private sector, universities, and nongovernmental organizations. The Forum’s session on ecosystem services featured an introduction defining the concept of ecosystem services and elaborating on some of the most critical research gaps. The gaps included: appropriate theories; multi-scale connections, interactions and tradeoffs; monitoring and indicators; and the design of institutions and policies. Agency presentations emphasized how the results of their R&D activities can lead to more sustainable approaches to natural resource management. Many of the projects discussed addressed the impacts of climate 1 The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment defines ecosystem services as “the benefits people obtain from ecosystems.” (http://www.millenniumassessment.org/en/index.aspx) Biofuels are defined by the U.S. Department of Energy as “liquid fuels and blending components produced from biomass (plant) feedstocks, used primarily for transportation.” (http://genomicsgtl.energy.gov/biofuels/transportation.shtml)
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Transitioning to Sustainability Through Research and Development on Ecosystem Services and Biofuels: Workshop Summary variability and land use changes on ecosystem services. Efforts included the development of life-cycle assessment tools for multiple resources, ecological models, and holistic, place based ecosystem analysis. The geographic areas being studied included the Great Plains, California’s Central Valley, and regions of Central America. The session on biofuels addressed many of the themes identified during the session on ecosystem services including the need to examine biofuels holistically—developing frameworks for analyzing environmental and economic impacts associated with various feedstocks and for looking at impacts at different scales. For example, while many cropping decisions are made by individual farmers, their decisions are driven in part by federal and state policies as well as global markets. At the same time, the environmental impacts of production are seen well beyond individual farms with impacts on local streams, watersheds, coastal areas, such as the Gulf of Mexico, and even international changes in land use. While much of the workshop focused on specific research gaps, participants emphasized that much is already known about the natural science issues associated with ecosystem services and biofuels. The bigger gap is in understanding some of the associated social, economic, political, and behavioral issues. For example, what resource management approaches are most effective and why (and what does not work and why). Is it possible to identify the effects of changing ecosystems on communities and vulnerable people? Who benefits most from current efforts to expand the production of ethanol and other biofuels? Who loses? Many participants emphasized the need to take a holistic approach in looking at the sustainability of biofuels as well as in developing approaches to manage ecosystem services. A theme throughout the meeting was the importance of strengthening connections between researchers and decision makers—including farmers, fishermen, resource managers, and policy makers. These connections should help shape federal research priorities and assure that the results of this research are used to improve the sustainability of natural systems and local knowledge dissemination—making the results of federal R&D widely available and linking this knowledge to concrete policies and programs at federal, state, and local levels. BACKGROUND The National Research Council (NRC) report, Our Common Journey (NRC, 1999), described a general strategy for research and development in support of the transition to sustainability—i.e., meeting the needs of present and future generations while substantially reducing poverty and conserving the planet’s life support systems. The report stressed the importance of moving beyond “sectoral” approaches to more integrated approaches to sustainability challenges that take into account complex interactions among systems (water, atmosphere/climate, ecosystems, humans, and their institutions). Examples of such integrated chal-
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Transitioning to Sustainability Through Research and Development on Ecosystem Services and Biofuels: Workshop Summary lenges to sustainability include those associated with (a) ecosystem services; (b) biofuels; and (c) oceans and coastal resources. Federal agencies sponsor many programs that support the development of knowledge and the linkage of that knowledge with actions to address sustainability challenges, such as those listed above and described in the NRC report, Linking Knowledge with Action for Sustainable Development (NRC, 2006). These programs cover different elements of the research and development continuum, including fundamental research, technology development, and application. Many governmental program activities are tied to specific agency objectives. Few mechanisms currently exist to identify areas where research and development programs in multiple agencies could be better coordinated to promote the transition to sustainability or to determine critical research gaps and needed analytical tools. Identifying opportunities for cross-agency collaboration is further complicated due to the different mission responsibilities of the agencies supporting these programs.2 Sustainability issues also cross traditional agency and disciplinary boundaries, demanding contributions from various elements of the research and development continuum. In addition, sustainability presents fundamental challenges in translating the results of research and development programs to actions by natural resource managers, policy makers, and other “customers.” Based on discussions at a scoping session held in March 2007, the Forum steering committee determined that ecosystem services and biofuels would be the major subjects of discussion with more limited discussion of ocean and coastal resources, drawing from the recently released the National Science and Technology Council’s Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology (JSOST) Ocean Research Priorities Plan.3 Prior to the Forum, federal agency representatives were invited to prepare a description of their agency’s priorities for work on ecosystem services and biofuels, as well as short descriptions of specific R&D programs on ecosystems services and biofuels supported by their agency. These were shared with the speakers and organizers prior to the Forum, and they provide additional background on programs highlighted during the Forum. Descriptions on the projects presented at the Forum, with minimal edits, are included in Appendixes C & D. ORGANIZATION OF THE REPORT This report is limited in scope to the presentations, roundtable discussions, and background documents produced in preparation for the Forum. Chapter 2 2 Several agencies have recently published strategies focused on sustainability including EPA’s Sustainability Research Strategy (http://www.epa.gov/sustainability/pdfs/EPA-12057_SRS_R4-1.pdf, accessed on: 3/19/08) and the USGS’s Facing Tomorrow’s Challenges—U.S. Geological Survey Science in the Decade 2007-2017 (http://www.usgs.gov/science%5Fstrategy/, accessed on: 3/19/08). 3 Accessed on: 4/2/08, http://ocean.ceq.gov/about/jsost.html
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Transitioning to Sustainability Through Research and Development on Ecosystem Services and Biofuels: Workshop Summary summarizes the presentations and discussions during the ecosystem services part of the Forum, while Chapter 3 summarizes the presentations and discussions during the biofuels session of the meeting. Chapter 4 draws on the presentations made by members of the Roundtable and others describing some of the important cross-cutting, common themes highlighted during the Forum and some of the suggestions for followup activities by the agencies and organizations participating in the Forum as well as by the National Academies. The appendices to the report include: the Forum agenda; a list of workshop participants; biographical information on the speakers, panelists, organizers of the Forum and members of the Science and Technology for Sustainability Roundtable; a description of federal agency priorities for work on ecosystem services and biofuels; and short descriptions of R&D activities on ecosystems services and biofuels supported by federal agencies. THE CONTEXT The Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability was established by The National Academies in 2002 to provide a forum for sharing views, information, and analyses related to sustainability. The Roundtable is co-chaired by Emmy Simmons, Former Assistant Administrator for Economic Growth, Agriculture, and Trade, US Agency for International Development (USAID) and Pamela Matson, Dean of the School of Earth Sciences and Goldman Professor of Environmental Studies, Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, Stanford University. Members of the Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability include senior decision makers from the U.S. government, industry, academia, and non-profit organizations who are in a position to play a strong role in promoting sustainability. Through its activities, the Roundtable identifies new ways in which science and technology can contribute to sustainability. A list of Roundtable Members is included in the front matter of this workshop summary. Pamela Matson, Co-chair of the Science and Technology for Sustainability Roundtable, opened the Forum by providing a perspective on sustainability science and technology (Box 1). She explained that sustainability science incorporates a range of science and technology (S&T) (or research and development —R&D) focused on critical challenges: meeting the needs of a still growing population for food and water, energy and shelter while at the same time sustaining and protecting the planet’s life support systems—the atmosphere and climate system, water, species, and ecosystems. In particular, she noted that the R&D community can increase public understanding of these challenges, creating new knowledge, tools and approaches to managing these challenges, examining how decisions are made, learning from experience and strengthening mechanisms to promote the use of new knowledge essential to sustainability. For example, what is the nature of limits—as in carrying capacities and
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Transitioning to Sustainability Through Research and Development on Ecosystem Services and Biofuels: Workshop Summary BOX 1 CHARACTERISTICS AND CORE ISSUES IN SUSTAINABILITY SCIENCE Characteristics of Sustainability Science and Technology include: Use or user-inspired research that contributes to the solution of practical challenges; Human-technology-environment interactions; Focus on place-based research. In addition, sustainability R&D often addresses a set of core issues: Driving forces, e.g., production-consumption relationships; Impacts and limits, such as tipping points; Vulnerability and resilience of human-environment systems; Incentives for innovation; Institutions for governing human-environment systems; Valuation of outcomes; Designing effective knowledge to action systems. NOTE: Adapted from Pamela Matson’s presentation, Transitioning to Sustainability through Research and Development on Ecosystem Services and Biofuels: The National Academies’ First Federal Sustainability Research and Development Forum, October 17, 2007. tipping points—and the need to recognize the vulnerability and resilience of ecosystems subject to complex and multiple stressors? The importance of scale, both temporal and geographic, was highlighted. Recognizing a time dimension is a critical aspect of sustainability and sustainability R&D. While there is much that is not known about the characteristics of human and natural systems, it is critical to begin taking steps to protect and manage essential ecosystems and to make more sustainable investment decisions. For example, infrastructure being built today will affect energy supplies, biodiversity, water resources, and countless other assets for years to come. Participants noted that steps need to be taken today to more effectively manage natural systems and thus prevent irreversible harm. Generally, research on human-environment interactions is conducted in specific ecosystems or geographic regions. However, the challenges to sustain-
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Transitioning to Sustainability Through Research and Development on Ecosystem Services and Biofuels: Workshop Summary ability in China or Africa, or even in diverse regions of the United States, are often different and require different solutions. Nonetheless, there often are some commonalities. For example, driving forces, such as global climate change, may create water scarcity in many areas. Places are connected—what happens in one region can influence what happens in other regions.