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Home ยป Ohio State University researchers develop framework to quantify ecologically sustainable provision of food, energy, and water by countries

Ohio State University researchers develop framework to quantify ecologically sustainable provision of food, energy, and water by countries

by News Staff
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A team of researchers from The Ohio State University has developed a novel framework for measuring the extent to which countries worldwide are able to provide their populations with sufficient food, energy, and water without exceeding the limits of nature’s capacity to meet those needs. The study examined 178 countries and found that only 6% of them provide ecologically sustainable solutions for both carbon sequestration and water consumption.

While 67% of countries were deemed to be operating sustainably with regards to water use, just 9% were found to be operating sustainably in terms of carbon sequestration, or reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The United States was found to be capable of providing its citizens with safe and just access to water resources, but it is not doing so sustainably with respect to carbon use.

Lead study author, Bhavik Bakshi, emphasized the importance of developing a sustainable framework for societies that is also socially just. He noted that while resources such as food, water, and energy can only be obtained from the surrounding ecosystem, human activities can have unintended and negative consequences on the environment, including global warming and ozone depletion.

The framework used in this study drew from the framework of planetary boundaries and the idea of a “safe and just operating space” to identify a country’s ecological ceiling. This ceiling represents the limit within which human activities must work to avoid irreparable damage to the Earth, while the social foundation represents the minimum resources necessary to prevent critical human deprivation of food, water, or energy. By operating within the limits of these two boundaries, countries can achieve sustainable development that is both socially just and ecologically sound.

Researchers from The Ohio State University have developed a framework to assess how well countries worldwide are providing adequate food, energy, and water to their citizens while maintaining nature’s capacity. According to the study, only 6% of the 178 countries analyzed can meet the needs of their citizens in an ecologically sustainable way in terms of carbon sequestration and water consumption. The research revealed that only 9% of nations operate sustainably with regard to carbon sequestration, while 67% do so for water use. The US was found to be providing for its citizens in terms of water use, but not in an ecologically sustainable way for carbon use.

The study’s framework uses a system called the framework of planetary boundaries, which identifies the ecological ceiling, or the limit that human activities should work within to prevent irreparable damage to the Earth. The research suggests that human activities should exist between the limits of a society’s ecological ceiling and its social foundation, a boundary that describes the resources necessary to avoid critical human deprivation of food, water, or energy.

The team analyzed recent data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and other international agencies to compare the needs of 178 nations to their regions’ ecosystems. The research showed that most countries emit more carbon than their ecosystems can handle, but operate close to their water supply limits. The study also found that 37% of countries cannot provide for their citizens in a safe and just way in terms of carbon sequestration, and 10% cannot do so for water.

The socioeconomic status of countries does not always correspond to how well they can provide for their citizens sustainably. The researchers identified rich countries, like Canada, that are doing well because they have abundant natural capital, and poor countries, such as Gabon, with enough natural capital to support more activities that improve human well-being. Other countries, like those in the Middle East, North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa, struggle to meet safe and just requirements for carbon because they lack vegetation for carbon sequestration.

The researchers suggested that many nations could meet their needs at much lower demand levels than current ones if they adopt more renewable energy resources, introduce more plant-based diets, and transition to a sustainable circular economy. The framework could be used to guide technology, policy, and trade decisions to better assist nations to meet their needs safely and justly. The researchers hope that their work provides opportunities for engineers and other professionals to innovate and develop a more sustainable and just world.

Source: The Ohio State University

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