Presenters' Abstracts

Thursday 21 October
Session: Scoping the challenge and opportunities for change in European food systems

Keynote 1: Characterisation of the GHG emissions in food systems - agriculture, the food value and logistics chain, and in food consumption.
Pete Smith, Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences, School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen, UK

Food production and distribution contribute up to a third of global greenhouse gases emitted by human activity. Livestock production is responsible for 58% of all emissions from agriculture and half of these emissions come from ruminants, such as cattle. Ruminant meat has a 10-100 times worse impact on the climate than plant-based foods as well as 10-100 times worse impact on land use, water use, air pollution, and water pollution. So the question is, do we need to stop eating meat and dairy in order to tackle climate change?

Keynote 2: The potential for carbon sequestration in the soil and by re-afforestation of land released from animal production.
Jean-Francois Soussana, National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment, FR

Given the severity of the climate change challenge and the urgent need to decarbonize the global economy, while also actively drawing down CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, all viable options are needed to help solve the problem. Soil organic carbon sequestration can contribute significant emission reductions and CO2 removal, as well as improve soil health. One of the more attractive features of using soils as a CO2 removal strategy is that additional C can be stored in the soil, without land use/land cover change. In contrast, land conversion is recognized as one of the major constraints against scaling up other CO2 removal approaches involving tree biomass sinks, including afforestation and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). Scaling out soil carbon sequestration and soil carbon conservation requires improved monitoring methods of organic carbon stock changes, technological and agro-ecological innovations and an enabling environment for farmers and other land managers. These issues will be addressed by an International Research Consortium on soil carbon that is being prepared with support of the European Commission and of international partners from several world regions.

Keynote 3: Resourceful with food contributing to climate neutrality: reduction of food waste and energy saving in the food value chain.
Toine Timmermans, Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, Wageningen University and Research, NL

Food systems are responsible for a third of global anthropogenic GHG emissions, if we include a full systems approach, include all agricultural biomass for food and non-food applications. With the biggest uncertainty is emissions from deforestation and land use change. According to project Drawdown, the 2 key solutions to achieve Carbon Neutrality in 2050 are (1) the total use of biomass and reduction of food waste and (2) a plant rich diet.

Wageningen University & Research (WUR) is active for many years in developing scientific insights, design of technological and organizational innovations to improve resource effectiveness and reduction of food waste. Within the EU projects FUSIONS and REFRESH a harmonized framework for monitoring and impact has been designed and is currently being implemented in EU. Within the REFRESH project a ‘Framework for Action’ model has been designed to systemically reduce food waste, based on strategic agreements across all stages of the supply chain, backed by Governments, delivered through collaborative working and supported by evidence-based tools to allow targeted, cost effective interventions. WUR is one of the founding fathers of the Dutch National coalition Food Waste Free United, with the ambition to make the Netherlands one of the first countries to cut food waste in half to realize Sustainable Development Goal 12.3.

EU has set ambitious targets, like reduction of GHG emissions with 55%, and reduction of food waste with 50% in 2030, only 98 months from now. The current implementation plan seems not fit for purpose. Globally only 11 countries mention food loss and waste reduction in their Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement. More action is needed by all stakeholders, including scientific institutions.

Keynote 4: Stimulating consumers to make dietary choices to eat sustainably in the diverse landscape of European culinary cultures.
Liesbet Vranken, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, KU Leuven, BE

Every day, millions of EU citizens decide what to put on their plate. Their food choices have major implications for “People and Planet”. The food system is a key contributor to environmental impacts (e.g. greenhouse gas, water abstraction, deforestation and eutrophication) and current consumption patterns also negatively affect human health (e.g. increased incidence of type II diabetes, cancer and coronary and heart diseases). Therefore, a global dietary transition is one of the great challenges facing humanity. To realize dietary shifts different food system actors can play a role and not the least consumers. Consumers are becoming more and more aware and knowledgeable of the challenges. They are increasingly interested to buy environmentally friendly, socially superior and more healthy food products. Shoppers are more and more taking control as they increasingly vote with their pocket for products that match their values. Nevertheless, not all consumers are aware of the environmental and human health impacts of their dietary choices and even among the more aware, there is still a gap between consumers’ attitude and their actual behaviours. This presentation zooms in on a set of interventions to (further) engage consumers in a change process towards more health and sustainable diets.

Keynote 5: EU vision and policies toward climate neutrality for the land sector and the role of the CAP policy in ensuring the viability of farmer’s income and food security
Nicola Di Virgilo, Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, EU Commission, Brussels, BE

With the EU Green Deal, the Commission mainstreamed sustainability in all initiatives, including policies linked to the land sector and its management. For example, the Farm to Fork and the Biodiversity strategies are proposing specific targets on nutrient management, organic farming, landscape features, use of pesticides and antimicrobials, having an effect on farm management and ways future policies will be designed, while posing the primary production in the context of the whole supply chain, including consumers and started few initiatives to help the land sector in its transition.

At the very heart of the Green Deal is the target of reaching climate neutrality in EU by 2050, meaning that EU emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are reduced and residual emissions are balanced by removals. This ambitious became a legal obligation, enshrined in the new European Climate Law. Moreover, the Climate Law binds EU to reducing emissions by at least 55% by 2030, more ambitious than as planned for the Paris agreement. To respond to these new challenges, the European Commission has adopted a new climate package on 14 July 2021, a set of inter-connected proposals in different policy areas and economic sectors, including emissions from agriculture, removals and emissions from land, including forestry. Agriculture represent around 10% of EU total GHG emissions. Emissions decreased significantly since 1990, while a stabilization is observed in the last years. The legislative proposals are backed by impact assessment analysis, which showed: that 55% by 2030 can be achieved in a responsible way; that economic growth can be decoupled from resource use; that agriculture has still potential to reduce emissions with use of technology and implementation of good land management practices; that the increase of the current carbon sinks is essential to reach climate neutrality, and then the essential role of the land use sectors, being unique in the ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere through the photosynthesis.

The current legislative set does not offer direct incentives to land managers for the increase of the sink. For this reason, the Commission is working on a Carbon farming initiative, to set rewarding systems for the mitigation effort of land managers. Particularly for the land sector, green transition may come at the cost of social and economic sustainability if not implemented appropriately. Together with a stronger environmental component, the new Common Agricultural Policy, which remains the main tool supporting land managers, will continue focusing on viable income, competitiveness, power in the food chain, employment, growth, social inclusion, local development in rural areas and generational renewal. It will be based on a need assessment and a higher level of flexibility to allow Member States setting tailored strategies adapted to local conditions. Its role, in the context of the new climatic objectives, would be to:

  • help improving inventories of GHG for the land sector;
  • promote practices and technologies to reduce emissions from livestock and soil management;
  • promote soil carbon protection (in grassland and peatlands);
  • promote practices for soil carbon increase in depleted soils;
  • promote afforestation and agroforestry;
  • promote production of biomass sustainably;
  • cover upfront investments and additional costs linked to the green transition.

The future CAP will also support innovation and knowledge transfer through the new AKIS (Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation System), until the advice to farmers, on the above challenges. There are opportunities for researchers to co-create with farmers innovation projects to demonstrate and disseminate climate-friendly solutions, helping filling knowledge gaps related to sustainability in the land sector, while guiding the local policy design with scientific observations.

Keynote 6: Helping farmers mitigate climate change - the multiple roles of agricultural inputs in managing the carbon footprint from production to application
Petra Laux, Head of Business Sustainability, Syngenta Crop Protection, Basel, Switzerland

Climate change is affecting both agriculture and the environment. As a leader in agriculture, we are committed to providing technologies, services and training to help farming become carbon neutral as well as reducing the climate footprint of our operations in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. We have long worked with farmers to increase soil health. Under our new Good Growth Plan, we are now extending our focus to measure the amount of carbon dioxide that is captured in the soil, helping farmers manage and reduce the greenhouse gases contributed by agriculture. We will also continue our long-standing work to enhance biodiversity on agricultural land and improve soil health. At the same time, we will reduce the emissions from our own operations and those of our entire supply chain, adding to our efforts towards carbon neutral agriculture. We have set 3 targets and will measure and publish our progress against them each year in our Sustainable Business Report. This presentation from Dr Petra Laux MPH, will describe how farmers can be helped to mitigate climate change and discuss the multiple roles of agricultural inputs in managing carbon footprint from production to application.

Friday 22 October
Session: Open Science and implications for Life Science Universities

Keynote 1: The grand challenge to deliver the European Open Science Cloud
Karel Luyben, Rector Magnificus Emeritus at the Delft University of Technology

This presentation will start with definitions of Open Science and Open/FAIR data. After this the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC), its background, principles and development will be described. EOSC can be seen as a Web of FAIR Data, linked in a yin/yang sort of way to the e-infrastructures. The e-infrastructures form the backbone for storing of data, computing with data and connections for transferring data, while EOSC forms the (research) data infrastructure for the re-use of data.

In the development of EOSC two grand challenges arise:
1. A as perfect as possible AAI (Authentication and Authorisation Infrastructure);
2. The development of interoperability of data and environment (technical, semantic, organisational and legal interoperability). Initially within disciplines next between related disciplines and in the very long run (20 years from now?) of basically all digital research results, based on the FAIR principles.

In the context of the FAIR principles, interoperability is seen in relation to the fact that “research data usually need to be integrated with other data; in addition, the data need to interoperate with applications or workflows for analysis, storage, and processing”. Interoperability does not only consider data but also the many other research artefacts that may be used in the context of research activity, such as software code, scientific workflows, laboratory protocols, open hardware designs, etc. It also considers the need to make services and e-infrastructures as interoperable as possible.

Research is most often done in a global context. Thus it is essential that we develop EOSC in conjunction with other regions in the world, leading to a global open science commons.

Keynite 2: Open Science to deliver on the grand challenges
Kostas Glinos, Head of Unit for Open Science at European Commission

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have witnessed a strong shift towards openness and collaboration in science. The urgency of the pandemic prompted research communities to share data and other outputs in an open and rapid way, for instance via the posting of preprints, sharing of genome sequences and other data, or providing open access to publications. The COVID-19 vaccines are the fastest vaccines ever created in history. This is a powerful example of the benefits of open science, since the first sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was deposited in a public open access database, kicking off the development of vaccines and therapeutics. In this talk, I will discuss how we can make Open Science “the new normal” to address not only pandemics but all grand challenges.

Keynote 3: The experience of my university in addressing the introduction of an Open Science strategy and its implementation.
Anna Lundhagen, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Collaboration and Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU)

The pandemic has illustrated the value of open data and open publications for societal development. Open access has, as mentioned in the EUA report, evolved from a “nice to have” to a “must have”, but there is still a gap in full support for the process between the strategic level and researchers.

At the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) we are actively engaged in the large and complex movement towards open science, involving improvement of hardware, software, expertize, routines but also cultural transitions. We have identified SLU’s experience in environmental monitoring and assessment (EMA) as one starting point in this process. Through EMA, SLU has a long tradition of sharing high quality data for all to use, as we provide the government and other authorities with data, results from statistical analyses and simulations to support decision making.

In my presentation, I will describe the system we have, the steps we need to take to reach the goals of open access to research data and publications as well as the opportunities and challenges we are facing.