Staying in tune with nature
Having populated most of the planet and evolved such complex lifestyles, humanity is arguably the most successful creature that has ever walked the Earth. Our power to harness the forces of nature is unprecedented.
However, with more power comes greater responsibility. Every time our youthful zeal encourages us to think that we are apart from nature, the Earth quickly turns around to remind us that we are very much a part of its natural order. If we are to continue to live comfortably off nature’s bounty, we need to go about our business in a sustainable manner so that we and future generations can survive and prosper.
Co-operation for sustainable solutions
Our influence on nature has become so powerful that humanity’s fingerprint can be found all over the planet: in the skies, on land and in the sea. We depend on natural resources, such as oil, that are finite in nature and our use of them pollutes the atmosphere. Renewable resources, such as forests, food crops and fisheries, are often exploited beyond their natural replacement capacity. That means we need to preserve them better and use them more wisely.
Humanity’s greatest gift is its creativity. We have the capacity to come up with an almost infinite number of possible solutions to the global challenges that face us. The European Union is doing its bit by funding INCO projects that further our quest for sustainable alternatives. These endeavours focus on enhancing our understanding of forests, other land ecosystems and coastal areas, so that we can appreciate the effects human activity have on these fragile systems and how we can mitigate them. Restoration becomes the target more and more.
Fishing for solutions
“There’s plenty more fish in the sea,” is a traditional way of talking about abundance, and the EU wishes it were so. However, faced with overfishing, pollution and changing climatic conditions, fish resources around the world are under enormous pressure. For that reason, the EU is funding research to find realistic ways of regenerating marine ecosystems and promoting sustainable fishing practices. On the heels of the successful web archive www.fishbase.org serving 500 000 users per month, the EU-backed INCOFISH project, with 35 partners in 22 countries, is making its research results available to citizens to help meet the goal of restoring marine ecosystems by 2015, set by the 2002 World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa.
For peat’s sake
Peat – which is partially decayed vegetation – covers 3% of the Earth’s land surface. About 7% of this total has been exploited for agriculture and forestry, with significant environmental repercussions. The EU-backed STRAPEAT project set out to get to the bottom of this problem. STRAPEAT formulated strategies for implementing improved sustainable management of tropical peatlands and helped to strengthen developing country research and institutional capacity to implement 'wise use' strategies. Its successor RESTORPEAT is coordinating the activities of 14 international partners in Europe and Southeast Asia to address related global and regional issues of carbon balance, water management, biodiversity and poverty alleviation in peatland areas.