Category Archives: [SDG15]

Buying time for coral reefs by reducing local threats

Coral reefs provide ecosystem services, such as coastal protection, fisheries and tourism that are vital to the livelihoods of millions of people. These services are dependent upon healthy living corals and the structure they create. Corals generate skeletons of calcium carbonate (limestone) as they grow which provide a natural breakwater and the complex three dimensional habitat that is essential to
support the high biodiversity of coral reefs. Other processes (e.g., cementation by coralline algae) also add to the growth of reef structure, while bioerosion helps further create complexity and is essential in determining the balance between reef growth and disintegration.

Climate change is expected to reduce the ability of corals to form reef structure. Rising ocean temperatures are projected to disrupt growth rates for many corals and increase the frequency of coral bleaching. Ocean acidification will also slow coral growth and weaken reefs, at the same time as increasing the rate of bioerosion. In the face of such impacts, local efforts to improve reef health
might seem hopeless. However, recent research has shown that local management of reefs is vital to maintain the continued net production of reef structure, and therefore the provision of the important ecosystem services that reefs provide.

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Contributions from Future of Reefs in a Changing Environment (FORCE) project towards ecological and social research on coral reef ecosystems

Most of the functions of reefs, such as the provision of productive fisheries, tourism appeal, and coastal protection from storms, are founded on having a complex reef structure that keeps accreting (growing). A structurally complex reef provides habitat (and hiding places) to support high levels of biodiversity (Gratwicke and Speight 2005). If a reef is to continue functioning then it must at least have net growth – i.e., that the deposition of a carbonate skeleton by corals and calcareous algae must exceed the rate at which the skeleton is removed by physical damage and the erosion caused by a host of taxa including burrowing algae, sponges, and worms. The balance of reef construction and erosion is known as a carbonate budget (Stearn et al. 1977). Perhaps that greatest threat to coral reef biodiversity is the long-term loss of reef habitat that could occur if carbonate budgets become persistently negative (erosive).

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The UNU-FLORES Nexus Observatory and the Post- 2015 Monitoring Agenda

Recent debates within the UN system, which are also reflected in the Prototype Sustainable Development Report, have called for policy-making that is supported by a strong evidence-base. Making research relevant, timely, accessible and instructive, thus, strengthening science-policy interfaces is one of the key challenges of the 21st century. As much as humans must adapt to a changing world and build resilience (in economic, political, social and environmental terms), transformation and innovation of methods and approaches that are suited to address current and future challenges need to form an integral part if sustainable outcomes are to be achieved. Scientists who have made important contributions towards articulating an analytical framework for sustainable management of environmental resources
have emphasized the role of property rights for resources, such as forests, rivers and livestock pasture (Ostrom, 1990). The literature on institutions has highlighted the challenge of fragmented decisionmaking processes and structures that lead to the creation of silos across disciplines, regions, government departments and ministries. This in turn hinders inclusive and comprehensive approaches
founded on improved understanding of trade-offs and synergies that is necessary for integrated management of environmental resources to occur.

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Towards diverse and sustainable governance ? Assessment of biocultural diversity (BCD) in European cities

Today more than half of the global population lives in urban regions and by 2030 the proportion is expected to have increased to 60 % (Elmqvist et al., 2013). To meet the needs of future generation, to support social cohesion within and among different socio-cultural groups, and to enable healthy living environments, cities are the main arena where sustainable solutions have to be developed. Especially urban green spaces (e.g. parks, forests, gardens, meadows, seashores) can support to meet these challenges. Urban green areas have been found to support citizen’s physical and mental wellbeing and social cohesion (Peters et al., 2010; Tzoulas and Green, 2011).

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Weak Sustainability versus Strong Sustainability

The fundamental debate regarding sustainable development is whether we choose to adopt a strong or a weak conception of sustainability. Weak sustainability postulates the full substitutability of natural capital whereas the strong conception demonstrates that this substitutability should be severely seriously limited due to the existence of critical elements that natural capital provides for human existence and well-being. The following science digest provides an overview of scientific findings to support informed debate among decision-makers regarding the need to adopt a strong sustainability position for the discussion and implementation of the post-2015 sustainable development policies.

Development of natural product drugs in a sustainable manner

For approximately 85% of the world’s population, plant materials are a primary source of health care (Fabricant & Farnsworth 2001). This fact is not sufficiently accepted by pharmaceutical companies that are producing synthetic drugs for decades as solutions for incurable diseases. Knowledge of plants and their medicinal properties that were transmitted from generation to generation is in danger of disappearing. Developed countries in alliance with their large pharmaceutical companies, constantly in the struggle for new markets, do not permit the development of local pharmaceutical companies in developing countries.

Although it is generally known that nature provides right solutions in a form of medicinal plants corresponding exactly to the homeland of a particular human community, it often happens that we treat diseases with preparations originating from very distant countries. Even nowadays, we are facing a paradox with the same problem present for centuries: Outside parties frequently manipulate and interfere with local policy makers in order to gain access to local communities’ environmental resources. In addition, mainstream science and more developed society exploit environmental knowledge for locating and extracting natural resources, and making use of medicinal plants for commercial purposes. Developing communities or countries rarely benefit economically. At a time when we are facing global economic crisis, which most severely affects developing countries, assistance in raising their own capacities, including development of renewable natural products, would strengthen the economy of these countries, and economically unburden the rest of the world.

Humankind is not sufficiently aware that natural products drug discovery is important for new generations as a tool for their health care (Cordell & Colvard 2012). We know that for the major lethal diseases, there are no truly effective drug treatments. In addition, drug resistance to existing chemotherapeutic regimens for fungal and bacterial infections, AIDS, cancer, and malaria is increasing. Because of the challenges for health care in the future, this is the call for decision-makers, governments, international agencies, and pharmaceutical companies to commit to the sustainable development of natural products as medicinal
agents, particularly in developing countries.

Medicinal plants, both endemic and widespread, their resources and knowledge about their usage must be preserved since these plants could be renewable source for new drugs. It is known that chemicals and chemical reagents are typically non-renewable, and their use depletes our future resources. Consequently, all drug discovery programs, synthetic or natural, must be the concept of sustainability (Cordell 2011).

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Healthy oceans, healthy people, healthy economies: Integrating fisheries management and protected areas for environmental, economic, and social benefits

Ocean and coastal resources are increasingly recognized as critical to sustaining life and livelihoods across the globe. Seafood provide 4.3 billion people with 15-20% of their protein intake, and fisheries, aquaculture, recreation, tourism, and other coastal industries provide income that supports an estimated 660 to 820 million people (HLPE 2014). Many nations are seeing the ‘Blue Economy’ – or economic benefits derived from the ocean – as a viable pathway to economic development and poverty alleviation. Incorporating explicit environmental goals into this strategy, such as ending overfishing and restoring ecosystem health, enables economic progress by aligning short- and long-term outcomes, and reflects how an improved environment can also improve the economy. The current draft of the UN Sustainable
Development Goals considers Oceans and Coasts an economically and environmentally important area that can help to improve ecosystem health and socio-economic well-being of coastal communities, particularly in developing countries (Goal #14).

Over the past 15 years, new marine management schemes have emerged, supported by science and integrating physical, biological, and human dimensions of ecosystems (Pew Oceans Commission 2003, FAO 2003). This promising framework is known as a marine ecosystem approach to management and is increasingly considered to be
essential for sustainable marine development (e.g. Ruckelshaus et al. 2008, Curtin and Prellezo 2010). Here we will review the science behind an emerging marine ecosystem management approach – the implementation of paired secure-access fisheries and conservation areas – that integrates economic, social, and environmental health, the three pillars of sustainable development.

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Role of Modern Biotechnology in Sustainable Development; Addressing Social-Political Dispute of GMOs that Influences Decision-Making in Developing countries

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) technology has been widely used in agriculture in the last years in several regions, and has diverse potentials in addressing the challenges of sustainable development such as pest and diseases, drought, malnutrition and food insecurity, in developing countries. However, controversies surrounding the possible risks of GM technology have also spread on public concern. Despite potential risks, no reported case has been documented regarding negative impact from GMOs in the country since 1996 when GM crops were first commercialized (James, 2014). This is consistent with a recent study based on 15 years of intense research and risk assessment, that GM crops do not pose greater risks for human health or the environment than traditionally bred varieties (Fagerstrom et al., 2012). Moreover, analyses have shown substantial socio-economic and environmental
benefits of GM crops (Brookes and Barfoot, 2012; James, 2014).

GM technology has yet to make any visible impact on food security almost two decades after the first GMO products were released, partly due to lack of consensus as to how to regulate GMO products and controversy surrounding the adoption of GMOs (Adenle et al., 2013). For example, the genetically modified rice called ‘Golden’ rice, developed 20 years ago, aimed to address the problem of vitamin A deficiency in developing countries including countries in Africa, has suffered another huge setback due to a recent destruction of rice field trials in the Philippines as vandals claimed that the GMOs represent a threat to health and biodiversity.

Social-political dispute between developed nations (e.g., the US and Europe) has influenced the regulation and decision-making on GMO issues in many developing countries. This dispute has spilled over to international regulation of GMOs, with the US aligning its GMO policy with the World Trade Organization (WTO) whilst the EU strictly applies precautionary principle of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) (Dibden et al., 2013).

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Wetlands in Drylands: ?Hotspots? of Ecosystem Services in Marginal Environments

Many of the world’s extensive drylands host permanent and temporary wetlands, including features as diverse as floodplains, marshes, swamps, pans and oases. Their presence in climatically variable, moisture stressed environments means that these wetlands are key providers (‘hotspots’) of ecosystem services, including water and food supply. Land use, population and climate change threatens the functioning of many wetlands in drylands, however, and interdisciplinary scientific studies of the implications for ecosystem services are
urgently needed to support sustainable development planning. This brief provides an overview of the state of scientific understanding of wetlands in drylands and their ecosystem services, and identifies key knowledge gaps and data requirements. This will provide the basis for informed discussion among policy makers as part of their preparations for the 2015 Global Sustainable Development Report.

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Anthropogenic Drivers of Emerging Infectious Diseases

The Ebola crisis in West Africa highlighted critical deficiencies in global health infrastructure, as well as the impact of disease outbreaks to developing economies. The recent emergence of other diseases, including SARS, H7N9 and Marburg virus, has been linked to human practices, many which also correlate with the leading drivers of biodiversity loss. The following science brief provides an overview of findings to support a more proactive, integrated and preventive approaches to disease emergence, which emphasize the need for a more coherent set of sustainable development goals and targets that better reflect the interconnected nature of the tripartite health, conservation and development challenges that we face.

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Sustainable development and ecosystem services

The key to sustainable development is achieving a balance between the exploitation of natural resources for socio-economic development, and conserving ecosystem services that are critical to everyone’s wellbeing and livelihoods (Falkenmark et al., 2007). There is no blueprint for obtaining this balance. However, an understanding of how ecosystem services contribute to livelihoods, and who benefits and who loses from changes arising from development interventions, is essential…

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Strategically engaging women in clean energy solutions for sustainable development and health

There are three billion people, or 40% of the world, that still relies on biomass for cooking, lighting, and heating (WHO, 2014). This has led to a significant burden for the planet and for those living on it. Unsustainable biomass collection depletes forests, contributes to soil erosion and loss of watersheds, placing additional pressure on agricultural productivity and food security. Searching for and using solid biomass fuels places women and children’s safety at risk and jeopardizes human health and household and community air quality through toxic smoke emissions. In regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, where the lack of access to clean energy solutions and electrification is particularly significant, nearly a third of the urban population and the majority of the rural poor are using biomass for cooking and heating in traditional open fires (GACC, 2014).

Like nearly all global environmental problems, the consequences of reliance on biomass for cooking and lighting impacts women significantly more than men (ICRW 2010). Women and children, usually girls, spend several hours per day gathering fuel, increasing their daily drudgery and increasing their vulnerability to sexual violence. As forests are degraded, the energy burden increases and women are forced to walk even further to collect fuel or use more toxic fuels, such as dung or trash. Risks for displaced and refugee women are even more alarming as 75% – 90% of the rapes reported occur when women leave camps for cooking fuel (WRC, 2011). The health risks of household air pollution are substantial. As the primary managers of household energy, women are disproportionately at risk for harmful emissions exposure every day. Recent global health estimates show that household air pollution leads to over 4 million deaths annually, while millions more suffer from cancer, pneumonia, heart and lung disease, blindness, and burns (Lancet 2013). Approximately 300,000 of the deaths, 88% of which are women, are attributed to burns resulting from traditional cooking fires (Lancet, 2013).

While women and girls bear the brunt of clean energy poverty, their central and pivotal role in sustainable development is becoming increasingly clear (WB, 2014; UN Women 2014). The strategic engagement of women in the clean energy sector is directly in line with the landmark 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development which states, “sustainable development is economic, social and environmental development that ensures human well-being and dignity, ecological integrity, gender equality and social justice, now and in the future.” Building upon the synergies between gender equality, environment, economics and health are critical as we move forward on the path towards sustainable development.

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An Application of NASA MODIS Remote Sensing Images to A Comprehensive Estimation of Ecological Impacts of Urban Development

United Nations (2014) predicts that the share of global urban population will increase from 50 % today to approximately 70 % by 2050. Alongside with this rapid urbanization of the human society, it is estimated that, by 2030, cities will physically expand by 1.2 million km2, which is almost same size as the Republic of South Africa (Seto, Güneralp, and Hutyra 2012). While this outstanding growth of cities can contribute to more economic growth as well as mitigation of
global warming by promoting law-carbon, sustainable, and climate-resilient city development (Grimm et al 2008; Rosenzweig et al 2010; Hodson & Marvin 2010; Ho et al 2013), rapid physical expansions of cities at the expense of vegetation will not only decrease CO2 absorption capacity of the planet but also vitiate global ecosystem services (Seto, Güneralp, and Hutyra 2012).

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Sacred natural sites provide ecological libraries for landscape restoration and institutional models for biodiversity conservation

In spite of expanding formal protected areas and numerous global agreements to reduce the impacts of human activities on the environment, clearing of the world’s natural forests and the resultant loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services continues at an alarming pace (Watson et al., 2014). The causes of deforestation are diverse and complex, including economic and institutional factors, compounded by climate change. The Strategic Plan for Biodiversity agreed upon at the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity emphasized the need for investment in institutions for the protection and management of biodiversity and ecosystems (CBD, 2010), with Rio+20 discussions noting “these institutions must be able to cope with changes in ecosystems, steer away from abrupt change in ecosystem function, and provide a buffer from the most detrimental consequences of unavoidable changes” (Díaz et al., 2012).

But creating institutions for conservation and biodiversity management can be both difficult and costly (McCarthy, 2012). Conservation can be especially challenging in vast human-modified landscapes such as farmland and pasture which comprise much of the 84.6% of the Earth’s land area which remains outside formal protected areas (UNEPWCMC, 2014). One alternative to building new institutions from scratch is supporting and learning from conservation institutions that exist. Sacred natural sites – such as the thousands of Ethiopian Orthodox church forests scattered across Ethiopia’s Northern Highlands (Figure 1) – represent ecologically and institutionally diverse libraries of biodiversity, whose full ecological and institutional values have only begun to be appreciated.

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重庆市武隆县自然生态资产价值评估研究 (The evaluation of ecological assets in the Wulong County, Chongqing)

This brief is submitted in the Chinese language. The full brief could be accessed through the below link. Your comments could be in either English or Chinese.

摘 要
生态资产是区域生命支持系统对人类生产生活贡献的总体度量,是容易被人忽视的隐性资产,也是经济资产存在的前 提。因此,核算清楚区域的生态资产对区域发展政策制定有重要参考意义。得天独厚的自然条件赋予了武隆县丰厚的生态资产,是武 隆实现绿色崛起的重要物资基础。经测算,2011 年武隆全县的生态资产达到 57.26 亿元,相当于同时期全县生产总值(GDP)的 66.14%。本研究共了核算 9 大类型生态资产,其中气候调节、气体调节、水源涵养、土壤形成与保护以及生物多样性保护的功能价值 数量较大,但整体上各种类型生态服务功能都比较充裕,没有明显短板。从土地利用类型来看,森林生态系统对武隆全县的生态资产 贡献量最大,占到总量的 84.74%;农田生态系统次之,占到总量 9.45%,其余土地利用类型贡献均不明显。总之,武隆县的生态资产 总量是较为丰富的,为全县发展绿色经济提供了优良的物质基础,但是也提出了如何准确处理开发与保护关系的难题。另外,本文使 用的核算方法和数据仍存在一定的问题,需要进一步改进。

Austrocedrus forests of South America are pivotal ecosystems at risk due to the emergence of an exotic tree disease: can a joint effort of research and policy save them?

Human expansion, global movement, and climate change have led to a number of emerging and re-emerging diseases. The decline of biodiversity due to emerging plants pathogens may cause habitat and wildlife loss and declines in ecosystem services. This, in turn, often results in lower human well-being. Reports
of emerging plant diseases are constantly on the rise, and often they appear to be linked to the commercial trade of plants and plant products. While there are several examples of decimation or extinction of plant hosts affected by invasive forest diseases, there are no known cases of invasive forest diseases successfully eradicated.

Austrocedrus chilensis covers today a total estimated area of 185,000 ha in South America. As a dominant forest species, its role in supporting biodiversity, generating shelter for wildlife, as well as preventing soil erosion and preserving water quality is well understood. Along with Araucaria araucana, it is the tree species that grows furthest into the ecotone zone within the Patagonia steppe, where it plays a key role preventing desertification. There are however additional functions this tree provides, including the production of valuable timber and the generation of an environment ideal for cattle grazing, recreational and touristic activities and for human settlement. As one moves South, this species becomes more and more important, and it is often one of only three dominant native tree species in forests. Due to its ecological importance and to its role in fostering human activities, A. chilensis can be regarded an essential element of the agro-forest society of both Chile and Argentina.

Starting in 1948, significant mortality of A. chilensis was reported in several areas.

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Thinking a Global Open Genome Sequence Data Framework for Sustainable Development

The cost of genome sequencing has fallen one-million fold in the past several years. The technology is widely accessible and it is now inexpensive to quickly produce genome sequence information for large numbers of individuals. A ‘genomics revolution’ is underway, which is transforming the life sciences, including biomedicine and animal and plant breeding.

The UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on post-2015 development goals has recently called for “a New Data Revolution” for sustainable development. However, genomic data does not squarely fit within the narrow statistical focus described by the Panel. Critical gaps concerning the governance of genomics data need to be filled for the promotion of science as a global public good. Main focus of the brief is on plant breeding, but similar cases can be made for animal breeding and (human) biomedicine.

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Long term sustainability of agro-silvo-pastoral ecosystems: the case of montado cultural landscape

The montado (dehesa in Spain) is recognized as a unique agro-silvo-pastoral ecosystem found only in the Mediterranean basin. These savannah-like landscapes are dominated by cork and holm oaks, shaped over millennia of traditional land use practices. These multi-use forests are a typical example of agroforestry systems facing environmental pressures (climate, land use or degradation), social changes (rural abandonment, ecotourism) and economic trends (e.g. EU policy changes). Today the traditional management practices are threatened, as are the benefits associated with the montado….

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Conserving traditional seed crops diversity

Over the last two decades, 75% of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been lost; 100 to 1000-fold decrease overtime. This phenomenon results in the decrease of ecosystem abilities to provide food for people and decrease the function of other ecosystem services. Crop varieties, as an integral part of genetic diversity, are the result of human selection and management as well as natural mechanisms of evolution. Evolution, based on mutation, natural hybridization, introgression and selection, adapts plant populations to the (agro-) environment. Plant breeding by farmers and specialists builds on these phenomena, makes them more efficient, and focuses them on farmers’ needs. Genetic diversity is the basis of all crop improvement.

Meanwhile the crop diversity has been decreasing, the World Bank estimates that about one billion of world’s population will still live in extreme poverty in 2015. 70% of world’s poor people are living in rural areas and they are relying on the agriculture sector, particularly on traditional agricultural systems. FAO suggests that efforts to eradicate hunger require an integrated approach especially to increase agricultural productivity and strengthen farmers’ resilience to environmental changes. In regard to FAO suggestion, it is important to restore crop diversity.

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Rare earth elements: from mineral to magnet

In recent years there has been an increasing focus on rare earth elements (REEs) as highly valuable ingredients for innovation, especially regarding the development of sustainable energy technologies. Rare earth elements, also commonly referred to as rare earth metals, are defined by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) as a group of seventeen elements, consisting of the fifteen lanthanoids, along with scandium and yttrium. Related to the chemical structure and purpose REE can be divided in Light REEs (LREEs) and Heavy REEs (HREEs). Their relative chemical similarity makes them hard to separate during the mining process, but their different physical properties make different REEs valuable for a range of various technological applications. Several of these technologies support sustainable development, for instance through increased energy efficiency and renewable energy production. Examples include – but are not limited to – permanent magnets, batteries for e-mobility and energy-efficient lighting (for further applications see appendix). World-wide demand is expected to grow by 8 to 11% each year. The increase in demand is intertwined with environmental implications of production and existing supply risks due to an intricate and complex market. This has led to the identification of REEs as critical raw materials, which this science digest focus on.

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Humanity’s growing ecological footprint: sustainable development implications

The recently proposed sustainable development goals (SDGs) include promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth as well as wellbeing for all. Economic activities ultimately depend on ecological assets and their capacity
for provisioning primary resources and lifesupporting ecological services (Costanza et al.,2014; Georgescu-Roegen, 1971); managing the latter is becoming a central issue for decision makers worldwide (CBD, 2010; UN et al., 2014).
Thus, living within the limits of the biosphere’s ecological assets is a necessary condition for global sustainability, which can be quantitatively measured and must be met to achieve SDGs. This brief highlights global and national ecological asset balances and discusses their implications for sustainable development.

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Advancing sustainable forest-related local development

Forests account for about one-third of the total land area of the world (FAO 2010). They are essential for human wellbeing and have an important role in mitigating and adapting to climate change and ensuring the provision of crucial ecosystem services. While considerable attention has been devoted to advancing sustainable forest management (SFM) and forest conservation, deforestation and forest degradation continue in many locations and pressures on forestlands increase threatening the provision of forest-based goods and services. The sustainable management of forests is vital for achieving sustainable development and it is a critical element in advancing forest-related local development and poverty reduction in rural areas. However, to date the general principles and recommendations for advancing SFM provided by numerous publications and various international processes and organisations have not led to sufficient changes at the local level. To address this crucial problem this research aimed at identifying conditions that foster or hinder progress towards SFM and forest-related local development, based on the analyses of 27 case
studies from different parts of the world.

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The scientific and socio-economic importance of karst and caves and their vulnerability

The karst landscape takes its name from a region comprised between northeast Italy and Slovenia, dominated by outcrops of carbonate rocks. Karst refers to an ensemble of morphological and hydrological features and the dominant process responsible for them: dissolution of soluble rocks (mostly carbonates and gypsum, but also halite and quartzite) (Gutierrez et al., 2014). In karst landscapes surface and subsurface rock dissolution largely overrules mechanical erosion, leading to a distinctive morphology and hydrology. Over 20% of the earth crust is characterized by epigean and/or hypogean karst phenomena (Ford and Williams, 2007).

Finally karst processes, along underground pathways, may give rise to the formation of three-dimensional systems of conduits, sometimes forming huge, long and extremely complex caves (White, 2002).

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The promise of synthetic biology for sustainable development

The field of synthetic biology opens up the possibility of finding solutions to pressing sustainable development challenges – water, energy, food, health – but at the same time raises novel questions about appropriate regulation of new technologies.

Synthetic biology builds on the achievements and uses the techniques of genetic engineering, which involves the alteration of an organism’s genetic material using biotechnology. Synthetic biology has been defined as “the design and construction of new biological parts, devices, and systems, and the re-design of existing, natural biological systems for useful purposes” (Nature). It has also been described as “the construction of customized biological systems to perform new and improved functions, through the application of principles from engineering and chemical synthesis” (ter Meulen, 2014). Synthetic biology represents the convergence of technologies from the life sciences, such as DNA recombination, with other fields like engineering, computational technology and nanotechnology (OECD, 2014).

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