25 March 2015 12:06

In order to ensure food security for its sizeable population, China needs to find ways of overcoming pressing environmental challenges and developing a science to policy interface. 

That was the key message of the China-UK Summit for Environmental Science to Policy Roundtable held earlier this month in Beijing, featuring leading Chinese and UK scientists.

Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and China Agricultural University met with colleagues from the UK’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, James Hutton Institute and Lancaster University to share current experience and best practice from UK, Europe and China.

The event was opened by Zhang Laiming, vice-president (vice-minister) of the Development Research Centre (DRC) of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China. Barbara Woodward, British Ambassador to China, also highlighted the importance of research excellence and the need for sound evidence in support of policy.

The discussion focused on three aspects: engaging with stakeholders in environmental sustainability and food production in both the UK and China; developing a timetable for producing narratives on how to develop an integrated approach to environmental and food security policy, including constraints to achieving aims; and developing a framework for Sino-UK collaboration on developing a science-policy interface.

Professor Kevin Jones from the Lancaster University Environment Centre, said: “This roundtable brought UK scientists and some of China’s policymakers concerned with issues of environmental protection, food security and sustainable agriculture, and biodiversity protection together. We were anxious to learn from each other about problems and approaches. How can scientists ensure the work they are doing is relevant and taken up by relevant agencies? How can policy makers ensure that the complexities and multiple demands on our natural resources feed into sound management? I think this meeting signalled a genuine willingness to work closely between countries and areas of specialism, which could lead to exciting collaborations.”

Professor Shiji Gao, Director General of the DRC’s Institute for Resource and Environmental Policies, commented on the need to “work together to continue this dialogue, and to increase the cooperation between UK and Chinese scientists, policy analysts and decision makers in our united fight against environment pollution in China as well as in the world.”

Professor Bob Ferrier, Director of Research Impact at the James Hutton Institute and co-chair of a session on science to policy experiences during the Roundtable, said: “The best environmental policies are those supported with robust scientific understanding and that requires the policy and research communities to work closely together. We aim to share experiences between our countries to meet that challenge.”

Professor Alan Jenkins, from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, commented: “Many of the environmental problems faced in China have been addressed in the UK in the past. Sharing our experiences in environmental science and in making this available to policy makers is a clear opportunity. In return, we have much to learn from the current environmental ambition in China and the restoration and remediation techniques being employed on a vast scale.”

The paper “Addressing China’s grand challenge of achieving food security while ensuring environmental sustainability,” recently published by Science Advances and co-authored by UK and Chinese scientists, is the product of previous Sino-UK scientific interaction and focuses on four specific recommendations:

  • The definition of a science-based “ecological red line” to guarantee arable land for food production;
  • The need of coordinating environmental policy and agricultural policy to maintain natural capital for sustainable food supply and food safety;
  • The implementation of integrated research programs on environmental sustainability and food security;
  • The need of changing governance structures for better coordination and consistency of policy-making in food security and ecological preservation.