In WWF’s landmark new report on global biodiversity, Metabolic outlines how a systems approach is required to address the planet’s biggest challenges.
WWF’s biennial Living Planet Report (LPR) – published today – finds that populations of vertebrates have declined by almost 60 per cent in just over 40 years and are set for further dramatic decreases in the next few years.
The report details how the top threats to wildlife populations are directly linked to human activities, including habitat loss, degradation, and overexploitation of wildlife. It concludes that fundamental changes are needed to the ways that society is fed and fuelled.
WWF asked Metabolic to apply its systems expertise to identify how some of these issues can be addressed. As a result, Metabolic developed the ideas and content for Chapter 3 of the report, which is titled: Exploring Root Causes. The chapter highlights that a systems approach is essential if we are to steer the course of socio-economic development onto a pathway that does not conflict with the biosphere or long-term human welfare.
Systems thinking is a holistic approach to analysis and problem solving. Rather than trying to understand the world by reducing it to its individual elements, systems thinking focuses on the interrelationships between elements and how these lead to changes over time. Metabolic provides the example of the Rubik’s cube to show how this works – it is impossible to solve the puzzle by just focusing on the position of each colored square at a time. However, by understanding how the colored squares are positioned in relation to one another, you can develop a strategy for moving them back into position.
Eva Gladek, Founder and CEO of Metabolic, said: “It is clear that efforts directed at sustainability have been far from sufficient. We need to shift from short-term decision-making toward a long-term, comprehensive vision. We often turn to superficial solutions when trying to solve complex problems. However, finding genuine solutions requires a much deeper understanding of pressures, drivers, root causes, and the basic dynamics of systems.”
Food production is highlighted in the report as one of the primary causes of biodiversity loss through habitat degradation, overexploitation of species, pollution and soil loss. It is a primary force pushing against Planetary Boundaries for nitrogen phosphorous, climate change, biosphere integrity, land-system change and freshwater use. In the report, Metabolic outlines how a systems approach can help identify levers for change that address endemic unsustainable mechanisms currently ‘locked in’ to the food system. (see the report for full details).
Eva continued: “Many of the problems in the food system emerge from complex interactions between people, policies and the environment. New models are needed of both production and consumption to form a sustainable, resilient food system. In something as complex as the global food sector, only a whole systems approach can identify where changes can be made that will deliver the results the planet needs.
“We are very pleased to be part of the Living Planet Report and to have made an important contribution to our global understanding of how systems thinking can be used to address complex challenges. Our contribution builds on an already exciting and productive working partnership we have established with WWF and we look forward to growing this further.”
Metabolic will soon be announcing details of a comprehensive study into all aspects of sustainability in the global food system, which it also undertook with WWF.
The full Living Planet Report 2016 can be seen here.
Eva Gladek is available for interview and opinion articles on systems thinking and why it is essential to address complex problems. Contact us: [email protected] or call +31 203 69 09 77
Notes for editors
Data – LPR data is provided by the Living Planet Index, from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). From 1970 to 2012, there was a 58% overall decline in vertebrate population sizes. This figure is predicted to grow to 67% by 2020.
Planetary boundaries – Human activities affect the large-scale systems that maintain life on Earth. Research suggests we have already crossed four of the nine Planetary Boundaries – on climate change, biosphere integrity, land-use change and flows of phosphorus and nitrogen.
About the Living Planet Report
Living Planet Report 2016: Risk and resilience in a new era is the eleventh edition of WWF’s biennial flagship publication. It is a comprehensive study of trends in global biodiversity and the health of the planet. By providing an overview of the state of the natural world, human impacts and potential solutions, it aims to support governments, communities, businesses and organizations to make informed decisions on using and protecting the planet’s resources.