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17 Ways to Change the World: IAEA Promotes the Role of Nuclear Technologies in Sustainable Development at European Development Days

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The IAEA hosted an exhibition on nuclear sciences and applications for sustainable development at the 2016 European Development Days in Brussels. The exhibition featured panels explaining how nuclear techniques can help countries tackle global challenges. Brussels, Belgium, 16 June 2016. (Photo: B. Benzinger/IAEA)

What do food and water insecurity, limited access to healthcare, climate change and land degradation have in common? Nuclear techniques can help address all these priority areas for international action under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The connection between global challenges, sustainable development and nuclear technologies was the focus of an IAEA panel discussion yesterday at the 2016 European Development Days (EDD), marking the first time the IAEA held an event at the forum.

The IAEA's participation at the tenth EDD, one of the first major conferences to address the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, also included an exhibition explaining the use of nuclear techniques in food and agriculture and their development impact (See box).

Making informed decisions

"If we are to preserve global biodiversity and halt further losses we need to understand the dynamics - down to the level of the atom - of environmental systems and the interplay between them," said Martin Nesirky, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Vienna and the moderator of the "Interactive Lab Debate". Watch panel discussion here (approx. 75 minutes).

Mohammed Yassin, Head of the Forestry Research Centre of Morocco's High Commission of Forest and Water and Combatting Desertification, spoke of the role of isotopic techniques in tackling the effects of climate change, particularly drought leading to a reduction of up to 75% in grain yields.  "Using isotopic techniques, we were able to accurately assess soil erosion and the effectiveness of soil conservation practices and make concrete recommendations to policy makers," he said. "These all delivered real change for people who rely on the land for their livelihoods." 

The scientific community has an important role to play in support of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly with respect to strengthening the role of data to improve our understanding of climate change and to support effective policy responses, said Andreas Richter, Director of the University of Vienna's Austrian Polar Research Institute. "With regard to sustainable development, one of the main tasks of the scientific community is to provide independent, evidence-based data to allow politicians and societies at large to make informed decisions to reach their development goals."

David Osborn, Director of the IAEA's Environment Laboratories spoke of the role of isotopic techniques in the understanding of environmental systems, including biodiversity and sustainable management of natural resources. "If we are to have confidence that our use of natural resources, such as soil, food and water, is truly sustainable, we must pursue a better understanding of how the natural environment works and how we are impacting it," Osborn said. "Nuclear science equals precision science which equals better environmental management."

In his remarks, Osborn highlighted the potentially wide-ranging consequences which small changes in our environment might incur. To prevent, adapt or better understand these changes, the IAEA uses nuclear and isotopic tools to fingerprint pollution sources and track their processes, to model and assess the possible effects of climate change, and to measure the flux of carbon to the ocean floor and evaluate its sensitivity to climate change.

The IAEA is offering support to Member States in the use of nuclear techniques to help them achieve the SDGs or to track their progress towards the achievement of the targets, said Ana Raffo-Caiado, Director of Division and Programme Support and Coordination at the IAEA's Technical Cooperation Department. "Member States have called on the UN and the international community to support the production of statistics and data to strengthen monitoring and measuring of results," she said. "Nuclear techniques allow rapid, accurate data-gathering which can be used to support policymakers and deliver change fast to people on the ground.  But it is clear that we cannot do this alone.  We must work in partnership with others to deliver sustainable development solutions that respond to member states' needs."

Nuclear techniques allow rapid, accurate data-gathering which can be used to support policymakers and deliver change fast to people on the ground.
- Ana Raffo-Caiado, Director, Division of Programme Support and Coordination, Technical Cooperation Department, IAEA

IAEA Team at 2016 European Development Days, 16 June 2016

Last update: 08 Jan 2018

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