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ELI Identifies “Novel Entities” and Their Relevance to the Global Environment Facility

August 2018

(Washington, D.C.): We inhabit a world characterized by rapid transformation in the shape of technological advance, globalization, and environmental change. In this era, it is critical that institutions and individuals alike are vigilant of “novel entities”—broadly defined in a new report by the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) commissioned by the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP) of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) as “things created and introduced into the environment by human beings that could have disruptive effects on the earth system.” Novel Entities and the GEF presents an in-depth analysis of some of the products, processes, and technologies that are likely to have significant impacts—positive or negative—on global communities and their environments over the next 15 years.

While novel entities may have negative impacts, it should not be overlooked that they can also present benefits to people and places. David Rejeski, Director of ELI’s Technology, Innovation, and the Environment Program, emphasizes that “novelty cuts both ways, it can present scientists and policy makers with new risks, but also open up new opportunities to solve environmental challenges.  These opportunities exist not only in the design of products, but the processes that produce them, an area where large transformations are possible that can reduce energy and resource use and create a more circular and sustainable economy.”

Novel entities highlighted in the report include, among others, cellular agriculture, gene editing, blockchain, and nano-enabled energy. It considers in particular the consequences or opportunities they present to developing regions of the world and provides suggestions on how to respond.

The report includes a toolkit of responses to the entities and other novel phenomena, which could include monitoring for ongoing impact and emerging entities, convening diverse stakeholders to creatively strategize responses that leverage benefits and mitigate challenges, supporting open source technologies that democratize response, and working to remove bottlenecks to technological adaptation in developing regions.

Novel Entities and the GEF is available at https://www.eli.org/sites/default/files/eli-pubs/stap-gef-novel-entities-report-2018.pdf.

David Rejeski is available for interview.