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The global population increased from 2.5 to 7.8 billion from 1950 to 2020 and is projected to grow by another 2.2 billion by 2050. Economic wealth has also been growing. These are driving rapid increase in global food demand with hundreds of millions of people still suffering from hunger or malnourishment. Every indicator of human activity, including natural resource extraction and waste production, has undergone a sharp increase since 1950. While growth and development of our society has improved many aspects of human wellbeing, it has also strained global ecosystems, exerting huge pressures on biodiversity, while contributing substantially to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

Consequently, Earth’s capacity to sustain life and support human wellbeing is threatened, raising concerns for food security, climate mitigation and safeguarding biodiversity. For example, the intensification of crop, livestock, and aquaculture production has transformed vast areas of natural habitats, while emitting waste that contributes to further climate change and other types of pollution. The more than 3-fold increase in global marine fisheries catch since the 1950s has led to the overexploitation of fish stocks and increased greenhouse gas emissions from seafood production. Human-induced pressures continue to push us closer to the limits of, and in some cases, beyond the ‘safe operating space’ of living within Earth’s capacity.

A key challenge the world is facing is to feed the future human population in a just and equitable way, while also achieving biodiversity conservation and climate mitigation goals. Overcoming this challenge requires exploring pathways that will lead us to ‘desirable’ futures in which such food-climatebiodiversity (FCB) goals will be met simultaneously. The scale and urgency of FCB challenges have been featured in recent high-level international and national assessments and reports, including those published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), Natural Resources Canada and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering & Medicine of USA.

To achieve ‘desirable’ FCB futures, transformative solutions for sustainable food production, climate mitigation and adaptation, and biodiversity conservation are urgently needed. These FCB ‘solutions’, if not designed and implemented well with consideration of the complex and diverse social and ecological contexts, could have negative consequences. For instance, conservation measures that do not consider stakeholder needs can have negative impacts on their food security, particularly for small-scale and Indigenous operations which often have a stronger sense of stewardship towards nature. Further, climate adaptation measures such as the construction of seawalls as a defense against sea-level rise may destroy natural coastal habitats that are important for supporting biodiversity, fisheries and culture of communities.