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  • by Karma Loveday

Defra takes "systems thinking" approach to pressing environmental issues

Defra has set up a new Systems Research Programme to look at some of the UK’s most pressing environmental issues to inform and shape key future policy decisions.

The department has appointed six senior academic fellows to focus on five key areas: rural land use, food, air quality, marine, and resources and waste. Each will take a so-called ‘systems mapping’ approach to identify how a policy change in one area might affect another, and make sure the connections between environmental issues are properly considered. A sixth fellow, the ‘design authority’, will look at broader methodology and make sure that cross-cutting themes are identified.

The programme will be led by Professor Ian Boyd, DEFRA’s chief scientific adviser, and will be delivered in close partnership with the research community.

The newly appointed fellows are:

Design authority– Professor Tom Oliver, University of Reading (School of Biological Sciences);

Air quality system – Dr Sarah Moller, University of York (National Centre for Atmospheric Science)

Food system – Professor Bob Doherty, University of York (York Management School)

Marine system – Dr Abigail McQuatters-Gollop, University of Plymouth (Marine Conservation);

Rural land use system – Dr Pam Berry, University of Oxford (Environmental Change Institute);

Waste and resources system – Professor Frank Boons, University of Manchester (Sustainable Consumption Institute).

The programme has Defra taking a leading role in steering the UK science research agenda to inform policy decisions that maximise environmental and social benefits. Examples of a ‘systems mapping’ approach might include factoring in marine, waste management, landscape and other issues when looking at future policies on plastic, or considering the impact of food waste policies on waste and landscape management as well as water and air quality.

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