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Emerging trends: What are the environmental impacts of artificial meat, delivery drones, blockchain and synthetic biology?

News Published 20 Nov 2020 Last modified 23 Nov 2020
1 min read
Photo: © sergio souza, Unsplash
Assessing the environment’s prospects in a fast-changing world requires the consideration of emerging trends. A series of joint European Environment Agency (EEA) and Eionet briefings, published today, explores the potential environmental and policy impacts from four emerging technological innovations.

The EEA has published four briefings on the implications of emerging trends for the environment and environmental policies in Europe:

The briefings present the results of a horizon-scanning exercise, which drew on a range of sources to identify emerging trends of special relevance for the environment. Although there are currently limited data available to characterise these societal developments, it is crucial to anticipate their potential implications as early as possible.

For example, it is unclear whether drone delivery will replace alternative delivery methods or simply lead to additional delivery trips. Synthetic biology may provide solutions to environmental challenges, such as climate change, but it can also create substantial risks for ecosystems and biodiversity. 

Use of blockchain consumes a lot of energy and potentially increases e-waste but it could also support environmental protection, for example, by making consumption and production processes more transparent. Artificial meat can become an environmentally friendly alternative to livestock farming but, as an emerging technology, its full effects remain uncertain.

To achieve its long-term sustainability objectives, Europe needs to innovate. Yet, in many cases, the full social and environmental consequences of innovations cannot be anticipated in advance. Horizon scanning and other foresight approaches can play an important role in shaping innovation processes and governance frameworks, helping ensure that new technologies are developed and applied in ways that promote environmentally and socially desirable outcomes.

The four briefings have been developed in collaboration with European Environment Information and Observation Network (Eionet) National Reference Centres on Forward-looking Information and Services (NRC FLIS) and the European Topic Centre on Waste Materials and the Green Economy. 

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