By ADRIAN ELY, STEPS Centre member

From the role of ‘ancient wisdom’ in responding to climate change to the challenges of planning a sustainable Beijing to 2050, a recognition of the complementary importance of tradition and innovation permeated many of the talks on very busy and diverse day.

At 8.30am sharp I went straight to the first symposium – ‘Ecosystem Services in China and the USA’, where we heard from both Chinese and American scholars about ongoing work into valuing the benefits than human beings derive from functioning ecosystems. Delegates discussed the differences in the values emerging from studies across space and time, and explored opportunities for future collaboration. Amongst the interesting topics discussed was the challenge of incorporating the perspectives of those benefiting from the various services (such as rural people deriving cultural and spiritual benefits from ecosystems) as well as those of expert analysts.

it was to Japan and South Korea next as I paid a visit to the session on ‘Land Use Policy with Ecological Sustainability: Cases from the Perspective of Socio-Environmental Integration’, about studies from those two countries. Finally, Rusong Wang gave a presentation on ecological land use and sustainability in China, focussing especially on planning for the city of Beijing. He drew, as he had done in his presentation on day 1, on ancient Chinese notions of fēng shŭi and on balancing the five “elements” of water, wood, metal, soil and fire. The discussion at the end of the session reiterated that many ancient East Asian cities had been designed around principles such as these, and that the adoption of modern technological infrastructure should not mean that they are necessarily abandoned.

After a delicious lunch – somewhat unadventurous in comparison to those on previous days – I went to the session on ‘Inclusive Ecological Perspectives: Ancient Wisdom, Modern Science, and Decentralized Planning in the Face of Global Climate Change’. In the introduction to this session, the chair Betty Faust outlined the role of grounded, indigenous knowledge, which had co-evolved over millennia to suit local environments, in adapting to and coping with the uncertainties associated with environmental change. The session went on to hear about several empirical studies from Mexico.

My final session of the day was entitled ‘Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) and Biodiversity Conservation’. Again, this session focussed on agricultural practices that had arisen within specific ecological, socio-economic and cultural contexts, and the need to recognise and support them. There was a strong focus on traditional Chinese agricultural principles and practices, with at least four speakers referring to integrated rice-fish farming systems, which in addition to their food security benefits (with carbohydrates supplemented by valuable protein content from the fish) also claim to reduce malaria (through the predation of mosquito larvae).

Although I inevitably had to miss some interesting talks, I was more than satisfied with the broad selection that I’d managed to fit into the day. Tomorrow I’ll be faced with another morning of difficult decisions – which sessions to attend on the last day of the EcoSummit?

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