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About UNEP
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United Nations Environment Programme
Division of Technology, Industry and Economics
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Freshwater Management Series No. 7

Phytotechnologies

A Technical Approach in Environmental Management

V. KEY ISSUES AND FUTURE ACTIONS

Issues and concerns about the application and use of phytotechnologies range from effects on the environment and human health to impacts on social and economic conditions. Some of these issues arise specifically from the nature of technology, while others, such as resource exploitation, are part of the ongoing dilemma of population growth and the impact of human activities in relation to sustainable development.

Some key questions related to the environmental, health and safety aspects of phytotechnology applications are:

How can natural systems be used effectively to improve environmental quality?
How can more ecologically sound technologies such as phytotechnologies be used incomplementary ways to enhance the functioning and effectiveness of natural systems?
How can biodiversity be protected?
Will genetically altered plants upset the balance of natural ecosystems?
Are current regulations adequate?

With respect to socio-economic issues key questions are:

How can ecologically sound engineering and related ecotechnologies, such as phytotechnologies, be further developed, promoted and applied in beneficial ways?
How can the cost effectiveness of phytotechnology applications be improved?
How can “natural capital” and the benefits of ecosystem services be better quantified to help justify environmentally sound practices?
What needs to be done to ensure that developing countries realize the benefits of biodiversity (including plant biodiversity) and the responsible stewardship of their genetic resources?
How can stakeholders be engaged more effectively in the process of addressing issues and concerns and developing appropriate solutions?
How can information on phytotechnologies be managed and made more accessible?

Flowerbed

The effectiveness of phytotechnology applications depends on having both broad-based and expert input into their development, adoption and ongoing monitoring. Governments, the private sector and citizens must all be involved, and systems for collecting, synthesizing and feeding back information and knowledge on phytotechnologies must be established and maintained. Issues and concerns must be addressed in a transparent, credible manner, and proactive strategies are required to ensure responsible action.

An ecological approach to development is often difficult to achieve because the task of synthesis is usually inadequately understood or cultivated in the practice of contemporary science, politics or public administration, and the science of ecology (potentially the most complex of all sciences) is itself underdeveloped. In promoting the adoption and use of environmentally sound technologies such as phytotechnology, two strategies for change are required – a short term, intermediate and adaptive strategy to cope with basic realities and conditions as they are; and a long term, reconstructive strategy to establish comprehensive goals for sustainable development and plans for their attainment. The thesis behind this is the need to prevent the foreclosure of future possibilities that might otherwise occur because of present, high risk, irreversible decisions. Better policies and procedures are urgently required to reduce the extent of damage to the biosphere until more adequate ecologically sound approaches can be provided. Proactive strategies involving stakeholders are therefore required in four crucial areas:

Awareness raising
Transparency and accountability
Effective regulations
Science and technology.

A. Awareness Raising

A group of villagers in a meeting

It is important to facilitate access to information and to develop and apply environmentally sound technologies, such as phytotechnology, in an appropriate manner. Actions to educate stakeholders and establish integrated databases and information networks should be targeted. Emphasis should be given to establishing ecosystem objectives and protecting ecosystem integrity, implementing appropriate management options. Two-way information flow is essential, recognising the particular needs of developed and developing countries and the contributions each can make to achieving environmentally sustainable objectives by protecting biodiversity and promoting the appropriate use of phytotechnologies.

B. Transparency and Accountability

Policy-makers should ensure development and implementation of resource-conserving practices and environmentally sound technologies, such as phytotechnologies, which support biodiversity and ecosystem integrity. Decision-making and policy processes should be transparent, taking into account basic requirements, as well as the value of “natural capital”. Strategies for self-reliance and debt avoidance should be encouraged. Emphasis should be given to full disclosure and transparent reporting of options and progress in meeting sustainable development objectives.

C. Effective Regulations

Governments are responsible for enforcement and compliance with environmental standards and regulations. Their challenge includes implementing interdisciplinary approaches for measuring exposure risks, ranking sources of environmental contamination and ecosystems degradation, assessing impacts, modelling cause-and-effect relationships, analysing costs and benefits of risk reduction, and implementing appropriate prevention and control measures. Policy actions should support full accounting of economic and environmental costs, as well as the consistent and fair application of environmental regulations within a framework that supports the development of innovative, ecosystem -based solutions, such as those which can be achieved through the appropriate use of phytotechnologies.

D. Integrating Science and Technology

When policy-makers look to science and technology, it is important that they recognize how complicated it is to acquire and sustainable, environmentally sound technologies. Research should be directed towards the development of sustainable solutions which take into account ecosystem needs. Technology decisions should consider overall life-cycle costs, benefits and risks, the mix of human and capital resources required, and the conditions where environmentally sound technologies such as phytotechnologies may be applied.

If the determination of priorities is to reflect sound judgement, a precondition must be the identification of crit ical ecological factors. Better means of measuring and forecasting ecological changes are certainly needed, as are ecological monitoring and observation techniques to identify what should not be done. Avoiding unnecessary foreclosure of future opportunity and avoiding unwanted irreversible effects is often a more appropriate outcome than the formulation of comprehensive ecologically oriented programs that may not be operationally viable.

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