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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

Two-thirds of global agricultural land are at risk of pesticide pollution

19 May 2021

April 2021: Global population growth is increasing the need for food at a global scale. The increased food demand has led to higher uses of pesticides in intensive agricultural systems. Evidence suggests that two-thirds of global agricultural land are now at risk of pesticide pollution. Many at risk areas are considered part of ‘food bowl’ nations who feed large portions of the global population. It highlights the need for an accelerated transition to sustainable agricultural systems that provide sufficient food without high levels of pesticide use.

Climate change heightens risk for global flood-induced displacement for vulnerable groups

19 May 2021

April 2021: With each degree of global warming, the risk of flood-induced displacement increases by 50%. Assuming a two-degree warming scenario and population growth, the average risk could increase by up to 110% by the end of the century and displace more than 1 billion people. Risk reduction measures include improved spatial and urban planning to prevent flooding and rapid action on climate change mitigation and adaptation.

News estimates of the economic value of pollinators in the US

19 May 2021

April 2021: The economic value of bees in the US is estimated at $34 billion (2012 data), which is higher than previously anticipated. Key agricultural areas that produce economically and nutritionally valuable crops are dependent on pollinators such as honeybees but often provide poor habitat and foraging conditions for pollinators. To mitigate declining numbers of wild pollinators, farmers should consider improving pollinator habitat and foraging quality alongside transitioning to more sustainable agricultural systems.

Accelerated rates of biodiversity loss

8 March 2021

February 2021: Human population growth and overconsumption of resources are accelerating biodiversity decline and climate disruption. These trends can lead to climate induced mass migrations, pandemics, and resource conflicts which are threatening employment, healthcare, economic growth, and political stability. Scientists are calling for systems level changes and accelerated action on biodiversity loss and climate change mitigation.

Soil degradation costs farmers a half billion dollars every year

8 March 2021

February 2021: One third of fertilizer to grow corn in the US is absorbed by the soil to bring nutrient levels back to pre-farmed levels instead of increasing yields. Considering the costs of fertilizer, the cost of nutrient loss due to high yield farming, and the impact of fertilizer on ecosystems, soil degradations costs farmers a half billion dollars every year. It highlights the needs to accelerate the transition to regenerative agricultural practices.

Belief that firewood is better for well-being could slow India’s cooking fuel transitions

8 March 2021

February 2021: Scientific evidence has demonstrated that clean cooking fuels provide better health outcomes than traditional fuels such as firewood. Nonetheless, the transition to clean cooking fuels in many rural areas in India is slow. New evidence highlights how social and cultural factors are major drivers of the fuel transition and that women’s beliefs often drive family behaviour.

Considering people’s needs when designing environmental policies

8 March 2021

February 2021: New policies or investment decisions aiming to protect natural resources and ecosystems could be more effective and find higher acceptance if they consider people’s diverse benefits from ecosystems. A more holistic approach to policy designs could equip policies better to meet societal needs, increase equity and protect vital resources.

Financial transparency in extractive industries leads to reduced carbon emissions

8 March 2021

February 2021: The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative aims to increase publicly available data about environmental payments and to highlight needs for environmental policies that promote better natural resource and environmental management practices. Increased financial transparency in the extractive industries can be linked to significant reductions in carbon emissions.

Connecting health prevention measures and conservation efforts reduces illegal logging activities in Indonesia

8 March 2021

February 2021: Designing, implementing, and evaluating planetary health interventions by engaging local communities can significantly strengthen conservation efforts in global biodiversity hotspots. Such programmes include access to affordable healthcare systems and incentives to decrease logging activities.

Biodiversity and technology

8 September 2020

August 2020: Pairing artificial reefs with AI monitoring technology may support the restoration and protection of marine habitats. It could increase fish abundance and strengthen coastal protection in degraded ecosystems. Such approaches could be expanded to shipwrecks, wind turbine cables, or decommissioned oil and gas rigs.


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.