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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)


Sustainability Horizons is CISL’s monthly scan of issues and evidence coming into view, but which may not yet feature in the mainstream sustainability debate. This is not a prediction of the future, but a way of helping practitioners and policymakers to get early notice of new ideas, trends or evidence, to inform their own view of what might or should happen as a result.

Find out more about our own work in developing new ideas and approaches that have the potential to deliver transformational change and rewire the economy.


Latest review

Horizon Scanning Report – October/December 2021

16 December 2021

Artificial Intelligence’s contribution to food security Summary To tackle food security challenges and feed a growing global population, research on AI contributions to food security is gaining traction. Nano-enabled agriculture might contribute to more sustainable agricultural systems by enabling...

New estimates of carbon emissions from the UK’s finance sector

25 June 2021

May 2021: A recent report from WWF and Greenpeace finds that the investments held by the UK’s biggest banks and investors emit 805 million tonnes of carbon per year, almost double the UK’s domestic emissions. Despite UK financial institutions having committed to aligning their lending and investment portfolios with net-zero emissions by 2050, campaigners are calling for the UK government to introduce regulating legislation. Such legislation could include mandatory reporting mechanisms and would allow the UK finance sector to lead the net zero transitions as global business shifts towards more sustainable investments.

The domino effect of the retreating Antarctic ice sheet

25 June 2021

May 2021: Rising temperatures are accelerating the loss of the Antarctic ice sheet. This could lead to more melt water reaching the sea and lead to ripple effects that change weather patterns across the world. It highlights the non-linear impacts of climate change and underlines the need to consider the Earth system as a whole when accelerating measure to mitigate climate change.

Coral reefs are natural infrastructure barriers that protect from flood related risks and damages

25 June 2021

May 2021: Coral reefs act as natural barriers and offer protection from storm surges and coastal erosion. In the US alone, this ecosystem service is preventing $5.3 billion annually in potential flood damages for property owners and protects critical infrastructure such as hospitals, roads, or power plants. To ensure the continuation of this service, hazard managers, disaster recovery managers, and insurance funds should increase investments into coral reef protection and restoration measures.

A collaborative approach to protecting free-flowing rivers and safeguarding these valuable ecosystems

25 June 2021

May 2021: Rivers and other freshwater systems sustain vital ecosystem services and livelihoods around the world. However, only 17% of rivers are both, free-flowing and in protected areas, with many rivers being at risk of further decline due to overfishing, pollution, flow alterations, and excessive water extraction. To reverse this decline, policy makers should elevate river protection to similar priority levels to marine and terrestrial protection, and explore new tools to support this.

Positive impact on people’s mental and physical health when accessing nature in the city

25 June 2021

May 2021: Urban green spaces ranging from parks to lakes and trees can contribute significantly to people’s mental and physical health. Exposure to nature can be an effective and often cost-efficient tool to lower health risks associated with lack of physical activity and mitigate mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. Urban green spaces should be a priority for urban planners and policy makers when considering designs for future and sustainable cities.

Nature-based solutions for coastal defence

25 June 2021

May 2021: Climate change induced extreme weather events are increasing the risk of flooding and costal erosion along shorelines. To protect critical infrastructure such as ports and to build resilience in coastal communities, researchers are recommending combining conventional flood protection measures such as dikes with managed grazing on salt marshes. Salt marshes can reduce the intensity of oncoming waves while grazing small herbivores can prevent erosion by increasing the amount of vegetation that binds the soil together.

Food systems increasing impact on biodiversity

19 May 2021

April 2021: Conventional food production systems can have severe impacts on biodiversity through the degradation of local habitats. To transition to more sustainable farming systems, a new report from Chatham House is calling for food production systems to be diversified and made more resilient. This includes a global approach to embedding sustainability in international policy processes that govern food production systems.

The influence of behaviour change on climate change mitigation

19 May 2021

April 2021: Mechanisms such as individual and collective behaviour change could be effective measures to mitigate climate change if they sit alongside wider change efforts at system level such as technological improvements. To incentivise behaviour changes, policies such as targeted regulations, nudges, or financial incentives could be implemented to encourage the uptake of e-mobility, a reduction of flight frequency, and better insulations for large homes, for example.

Ocean trawling releases more carbon from seabeds than previously thought

19 May 2021

April 2021: A new model estimates that ocean trawling could release more carbon annually from seabeds than the global aviation industry. Released carbon poses a significant threat to marine habitats and the ocean’s ability to act as a carbon sink. To avoid negative impacts on marine ocean habitats, increased ocean temperatures, and contributions to ocean acidification, the findings support the idea of establishing Marine Protected Areas in 30% of the ocean by 2030.


Adele Wiliams

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The views expressed in these external research papers are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.