Major new sustainability initiative put forward by Nottingham scientists

Monday, 09 September 2019

Minerals and metals used in touchscreen mobiles are becoming scarce yet these changes to the environment are currently underrepresented in global sustainability efforts. To address this challenge an international group of experts led by researchers at the University of Nottingham has launched a new initiative to better represent geodiversity in global monitoring, policy and planning.

In a paper published in PNAS  lead author Dr Franziska Schrodt, from the University’s School of Geography, and her co-authors, propose that the current global framework for collecting and analysing scientific data to inform global sustainability, known as ‘Essential Variables’, be extended to include geodiversity.

Currently, ‘Essential Variables’ have been developed only for biodiversity, the climate and oceans. These identify a set of variables that can be measured repeatedly and in a standardised way across the world to monitor changes to the planet. In their paper, the experts argue that a new ‘Essential Geodiversity Variables’ framework be introduced alongside these existing measurements and they contain key information for sustainably managing the world’s geodiversity - the variety of non-living nature, including rocks and soils, landforms and hydrological features such as springs, streams and lakes, as well as minerals.

Dr Schrodt said: “Geodiversity is overlooked, yet it has an impact on so many areas of our lives, including the sustainable use of natural resources, public health, tourism and recreation."

Geodiversity has been playing catch-up in terms of being included in sustainability initiatives. Our proposal of a new initiative, the Essential Geodiversity Variables, will enable more holistic and better-informed monitoring efforts, decision making and responses to global change.
Dr Franziska Schrodt, School of Geography at University of Nottingham

The authors, from seven countries and three continents, including Richard Field and Doreen Boyd from Nottingham University’s School of Geography and specialists from the British Geological Survey, illustrate the importance of understanding and monitoring geodiversity by looking at the impact of resource extraction. The 54 types of minerals and metals used in mobile devices with touch screens are among the globally rare natural resources being extracted without regulation. The authors of the paper say this not only risks their future availability and threatens geological or mineral diversity but often has negative impacts on local communities because of toxic extraction methods and conflicts with human rights.

“Whilst extracting minerals is essential for achieving the sustainable development goals, for example rare earth minerals are used in solar panels, trade-offs with biodiversity, conservation and human rights need to be explicitly addressed” added Dr Schrodt.

The paper recommends the introduction of an expert panel to further develop the Essential Geodiversity Variables framework and better communication with policymakers about the importance of considering geodiversity in international conventions and policy documents.

Dr Chris Williams, Geospatial Analysis Lead from the British Geological Survey said: “With more information available today such as through satellite imagery, it is easier to observe changes to the geo-environment than ever before. This is becoming increasingly important for future sustainability, be it addressing coastal retreat or the need for materials, whether it’s sand for building new homes or locating sources of rare metals for the development of new technologies. The development of EGVs is integral if we are to be able to develop in a sustainable way and offer a framework for policy makers, planners and researchers to work with in future.”

Dr Schrodt and her colleagues at Nottingham University are working with the British Geological Survey to launch a website which will act as the focal point for developing Essential Geodiversity Variables.


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The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage, consistently ranked among the world's top 100. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our 44,000 students - Nottingham was named both Sports and International University of the Year in the  2019 Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, was awarded gold in the TEF 2017 and features in the top 20 of all three major UK rankings. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer, proud of our Athena SWAN silver award, and a key industry partner- locally and globally.

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