Frontiers of Development | 15-18 July 2018 | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Frontiers of Development | 15-18 July 2018 | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


Frontiers of Development | Challenging the now, developing the future

by Shona Paterson, Future Earth Coasts IPO Science Officer

Provide a challenge-led presentation for a symposium focused on Inclusivity and Wellbeing: Coastal Communities in a 3° World, specifically for a session on the management and protection of marine ecosystems”. This was the brief that was handed down by the RAEng Frontiers of Development GCRF Programme Officers. There are many important words in that sentence and several avenues to explore obviously, but the key direction that really started the intellectual juices flowing was “challenge-led”.

As a generalisation, the science community has become very adept at identifying and describing problems. While this approach no doubt has its merits, this planet and the species on it – especially humans – are in desperate need of solutions, particularly in the face of climate change. Imagining the potential impacts that a 3° increase in global temperature will have on coastal communities worldwide has a galvanising effect on the mentality of those of us obsessed with sustainability and well-being. This sort of temperature rise would lead to more dramatic sea level rise, increased frequency and intensity of extreme events and cascading risks, all of which would have impacts on managed and natural ecosystems, water resources, agriculture and food security, human health, and critical infrastructure.

FoD participants discussing the role governance plays in helping to achieve increased resilience and sustainability in the coastal zone

So…how do we even start thinking about shifting the problem defining talk into solution generating dialogue?

The Frontiers of Development (FoD) programme provides just such an enabling environment. FoD brings together participants from engineering, medical, social and natural science backgrounds across industry and academia to encourage interdisciplinary collaborations on global challenges with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the heart. Each FoD symposium deliberately fosters a collaborative, inclusive atmosphere aimed at generating discussion and knowledge transfer. The event held from the 15th to the 18th of July, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil was no different. Bringing together a truly international group of experts from multiple disciplines with a massive variety of cultural and professional backgrounds was an inspired backdrop to conversations and discussions around four main themes:

  • Climate Induced Disaster Mitigation and Resilience
  • Management and Protection of Marine Ecosystems
  • Sustainable Blue Economy
  • Critical Emerging Topics: Marine Plastics

So back to the idea of challenge-led.

Coastal and marine systems are constantly changing as a result of biophysical and socio‐economic activities. Over three billion people depend on marine ecosystems and their resources: thirteen of the world’s 20 megacities are coastal, a testament to their importance for national and global socioeconomic well-being and growth. Today, management encompasses decisions of what to regulate, what enterprises and initiatives to promote, and which ecosystem services are most important to citizens and businesses. Protection and management of these systems, and the services they provide, has become a complex challenge of trade-offs and compromise.

Effective co-design, that bring together societal partners to build a common understanding about the coast and of future prospects, is key to finding sustainability solutions to the interconnected and increasing pressures that come together at the coast. However, we need to go beyond just bringing people together. It is only by challenging our own assumptions, practices, methods, approaches, mind-sets, values, and behaviours that we will start to first identify solution spaces and then take advantage of our collective learning and knowledge to enact those solutions.

The professional and experiential diversity of participants meant that perceptions and assumptions were constantly challenged in rewarding ways

The Brazil FoD symposium provided the opportunity for the participants to do just that, and we at FEC can’t wait to help facilitate increasing cooperation between the participants as well as build on the important foundation laid during this event. If you want to get involved with our efforts watch this space for exciting new opportunities laid out in our new Strategy for Research as well as visit the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Global Challenges Research Fund websites for possible funding collaborations such as the Global Challenges Research Fund Networking Grants administered by the Academy of Medical Sciences.


To see some of the ouputs (video’s/photo’s) and conversations that happened during the event visit their padlet site