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Concept: Natural capital


Overexploitation of renewable resources today has a high cost on the welfare of future generations. Unlike in other public goods games, however, future generations cannot reciprocate actions made today. What mechanisms can maintain cooperation with the future? To answer this question, we devise a new experimental paradigm, the ‘Intergenerational Goods Game’. A line-up of successive groups (generations) can each either extract a resource to exhaustion or leave something for the next group. Exhausting the resource maximizes the payoff for the present generation, but leaves all future generations empty-handed. Here we show that the resource is almost always destroyed if extraction decisions are made individually. This failure to cooperate with the future is driven primarily by a minority of individuals who extract far more than what is sustainable. In contrast, when extractions are democratically decided by vote, the resource is consistently sustained. Voting is effective for two reasons. First, it allows a majority of cooperators to restrain defectors. Second, it reassures conditional cooperators that their efforts are not futile. Voting, however, only promotes sustainability if it is binding for all involved. Our results have implications for policy interventions designed to sustain intergenerational public goods.

Concepts: Present, Time, Future, Natural resource, Sustainability, Voting, Democracy, Natural capital


The first total synthesis of the dimeric berberine alkaloid ilicifoline (ilicifoline B) is reported. Its carbon skeleton is constructed from ferulic acid, veratrole, and methanol. The synthesis reported herein employs starting materials solely derived from wood. The natural product is thus constructed entirely from renewable resources. The same strategy is applied to a formal total synthesis of morphinan alkaloids. The use of wood-derived building blocks (xylochemicals) instead of the conventional petrochemicals represents a sustainable alternative to classical synthetic approaches.

Concepts: Oxygen, Alcohol, Total synthesis, Natural resource, Paclitaxel, Alkaloid, Natural products, Natural capital


The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call for a comprehensive new approach to development rooted in planetary boundaries, equity, and inclusivity. The wide scope of the SDGs will necessitate unprecedented integration of siloed policy portfolios to work at international, regional, and national levels toward multiple goals and mitigate the conflicts that arise from competing resource demands. In this analysis, we adopt a comprehensive modeling approach to understand how coherent policy combinations can manage trade-offs among environmental conservation initiatives and food prices. Our scenario results indicate that SDG strategies constructed around Sustainable Consumption and Production policies can minimize problem-shifting, which has long placed global development and conservation agendas at odds. We conclude that Sustainable Consumption and Production policies (goal 12) are most effective at minimizing trade-offs and argue for their centrality to the formulation of coherent SDG strategies. We also find that alternative socioeconomic futures-mainly, population and economic growth pathways-generate smaller impacts on the eventual achievement of land resource-related SDGs than do resource-use and management policies. We expect that this and future systems analyses will allow policy-makers to negotiate trade-offs and exploit synergies as they assemble sustainable development strategies equal in scope to the ambition of the SDGs.

Concepts: Economics, Policy, Sustainability, United Nations, Economic growth, Millennium Development Goals, Sustainable development, Natural capital


The heavy dependence on petroleum-derived fuel has raised concerns about energy sustainability and climate change, which have prompted researchers to explore fuel production from renewable sources. 1-Butanol and isobutanol are promising biofuels that have favorable properties and can also serve as solvents or chemical feedstocks. Microbial production of these alcohols provides great opportunities to access a wide spectrum of renewable resources. In recent years, research has improved the native 1-butanol production and has engineered isobutanol production in various organisms to explore metabolic diversity and a broad range of substrates. This review focuses on progress in metabolic engineering for the production of these two compounds using various resources.

Concepts: Metabolism, Enzyme, Natural resource, Habitat conservation, Renewable energy, Alternative energy, Renewable resource, Natural capital


Developing efficient photoreversible color switching systems for constructing rewritable paper is of significant practical interest owing to the potential environmental benefits including forest conservation, pollution reduction, and resource sustainability. Here we report that the color change associated with the redox chemistry of nanoparticles of Prussian blue and its analogues could be integrated with the photocatalytic activity of TiO2 nanoparticles to construct a class of new photoreversible color switching systems, which can be conveniently utilized for fabricating ink-free, light printable rewritable paper with various working colors. The current system also addresses the phase separation issue of the previous organic dye-based color switching system so that it can be conveniently applied to the surface of conventional paper to produce an ink-free light printable rewritable paper that has the same feel and appearance as the conventional paper. With its additional advantages such as excellent scalability and outstanding rewriting performance (reversibility >80 times, legible time >5 days, and resolution >5 μm), this novel system can serve as an eco-friendly alternative to regular paper in meeting the increasing global needs for environment protection and resource sustainability.

Concepts: Iron, Redox, Electrochemistry, Color, Sustainability, Photocatalysis, Environmental movement, Natural capital


The signature and almost unique characteristic of microbial technology is the exceptional diversity of applications it can address, and the exceptional range of human activities and needs to which it is and can be applied. Precisely because sustainability goals have very diverse and complex components and requirements, microbial technology has the ability to contribute substantively on many levels in many arenas to global efforts to achieve sustainability. Indeed, microbial technology could be viewed as a unifying element in our progress towards sustainability.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Species, Sustainability, United Nations, Millennium Development Goals, Ecological economics, Sustainable development, Natural capital


Successful delivery of the United Nations sustainable development goals and implementation of the Paris Agreement requires technologies that utilize a wide range of minerals in vast quantities. Metal recycling and technological change will contribute to sustaining supply, but mining must continue and grow for the foreseeable future to ensure that such minerals remain available to industry. New links are needed between existing institutional frameworks to oversee responsible sourcing of minerals, trajectories for mineral exploration, environmental practices, and consumer awareness of the effects of consumption. Here we present, through analysis of a comprehensive set of data and demand forecasts, an interdisciplinary perspective on how best to ensure ecologically viable continuity of global mineral supply over the coming decades.

Concepts: Future, Sustainability, United Nations, Mining, Millennium Development Goals, Sustainable development, Ore, Natural capital


There is increasing concern about the conservation status of sharks. However, the presence of numerous different (and potentially mutually exclusive) policies complicates management implementation and public understanding of the process. Here we present the results of a survey that was distributed to members of the largest professional shark and ray research societies to assess member preferences for different conservation policies. Questions covered society member opinions towards available conservation and management policies, personal histories of getting involved in advocacy and management, and perceptions of the environmental conservation non-governmental organization (NGO) approach to shark conservation. Members of the shark and ray research community consider themselves to be knowledgeable about and actively involved in conservation and management policy. They are generally supportive of a variety of conservation policy tools that differ greatly in approach. Society members were generally less supportive of newer limit-based conservation policy tools, such as Shark Sanctuaries and shark fin bans, than of target-based fisheries management tools like fishing quotas that focus on species-specific sustainable exploitation. However, they provided few current examples of sustainable shark fisheries. Society members were generally supportive of environmental NGO efforts to conserve sharks, but raised concerns about some NGOs which are perceived as using incorrect information and focusing on the wrong problems. These results show that the ongoing debate in environmental policymaking circles between target-based natural resources management tools and limit-based conservation biology tools can also be found with respect to shark conservation and management. They also suggest that closer communication between the scientific and environmental NGO communities may be needed to recognize and reconcile differing values and objectives between these groups. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Conservation biology, Policy, Non-governmental organization, Oxfam, Civil society, Shark, Natural capital, Sharks


Global sustainability strategies require assessing whether countries' development trajectories are sustainable over time. However, sustainability assessments are limited because losses of natural capital and its ecosystem services through deforestation have not been comprehensively incorporated into national accounts. We update the national accounts of 80 nations that underwent tropical deforestation from 2000 to 2012 and evaluate their development trajectories using weak and strong sustainability criteria. Weak sustainability requires that countries do not decrease their aggregate capital over time. We adopt a strong sustainability criterion that countries do not decrease the value of their forest ecosystem services with respect to the year 2000. We identify several groups of countries: countries, such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and India, that present sustainable development trajectories under both weak and strong sustainability criteria; countries, such as Brazil, Peru, and Indonesia, that present weak sustainable development but fail the strong sustainability criterion as a result of rapid losses of ecosystem services; countries, such as Madagascar, Laos, and Papua New Guinea, that present unsustainable development pathways as a result of deforestation; and countries, such as Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone, in which deforestation aggravates already unsustainable pathways. Our results reveal a large number of countries where tropical deforestation is both damaging to nature and not compensated by development in other sectors, thus compromising the well-being of their future generations.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Southeast Asia, Ecology, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sustainability, Rainforest, Ecological economics, Natural capital


Developing countries often have rich natural resources but poor infrastructure to capitalize on them, which leads to significant challenges in terms of balancing poverty alleviation with conservation. The underlying premise in development strategies is to increase the socio-economic welfare of the people while simultaneously ensuring environmental sustainability, however these objectives are often in direct conflict. National progress is dependent on developing infrastructure such as effective transportation networks, however roads can be ecologically catastrophic in terms of disrupting habitat connectivity and facilitating illegal activity. How can national development and conservation be balanced? The proposed Serengeti road epitomizes the conflict between poverty alleviation on one hand, and the conservation of a critical ecosystem on the other. We use the Serengeti as an exemplar case-study in which the relative economic and social benefits of a road can be assessed against the ecological impacts. Specifically, we compare three possible transportation routes and ask which route maximizes the socio-economic returns for the people while minimizing the ecological costs. The findings suggest that one route in particular that circumnavigates the Serengeti links the greatest number of small and medium sized entrepreneurial businesses to the largest labour force in the region. Furthermore, this route connects the most children to schools, provisions the greatest access to hospitals, and opens the most fertile crop and livestock production areas, and does not compromise the ecology and tourism revenue of the Serengeti. This route would improve Tanzania’s food security and self-reliance and would facilitate future infrastructure development which would not be possible if the road were to pass through the Serengeti. This case study provides a compelling example of how a detailed spatial analysis can balance the national objectives of poverty alleviation while maintaining ecological integrity.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Agriculture, Poverty, Ecology, Sustainability, Road, Infrastructure, Natural capital