Protecting plants in the era of global change
Globalisation poses many challenges to plant health. The most obvious threat comes from the ever-widening circulation of goods and services and the associated growth of trade and movement of people. Global trade is well recognised as one of the main drivers of biological invasions, which in turn are threats to biodiversity and plant health. Biological invasions often consist of organisms having parasitic or competitive relationships with cultivated plants or autochthonous plant communities. The impact of biological invasions can be exacerbated by climate change, which is altering the distribution and life cycle of plant pests and diseases. The recent examples of Xylella fastidiosa, the pine wood nematode or the stink bug show the severe economic, environmental and social damage that invasive pests can cause. These cases demonstrate the importance of pest and commodity risk assessment, pest prioritisation, horizon scanning, early detection and surveillance. In this session, we will explore how threats associated with global change can be managed within a policy context framed by the EU Green Deal and SDGs. Specifically, we will look at how scientific, technological and social progress can support this epochal challenge, and the importance of international and scientific cooperation in finding common, collaborative solutions to current and emerging plant health threats.
The vision of this session is to discuss how to develop the EU’s plant health system to ensure it is better prepared for the challenges posed by global change i.e. planetary-scale changes to the Earth’s life systems and cycles such as through increased international trade, tourism and climate change. We will also consider to what extent the EU’s plant health system is aligned with the objectives of the EU’s Green Deal, and in particular the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies. From experience gained in recent years, increased preparedness and greater international cooperation have been shown to be instrumental in tackling emerging plant health challenges. Scientific and technological innovation will also play an essential role in the prevention of plant health crises and the effective management of plant pest outbreaks in the future.
Background – Challenges and opportunities
Humans have always altered their environments but there are milestones in human evolution that brought wide reaching changes to their habitats. The agricultural revolution that took place 10,000 years ago and the industrial revolution in the 18th century are some examples of this, but the pace of global change has increased most dramatically since the end of the Second World War.
In 2002 the Amsterdam Declaration  stated that "In addition to the threat of significant climate change, there is growing concern over the ever-increasing human modification of other aspects of the global environment and the consequent implications for human well-being. Basic goods and services supplied by the planetary life support system, such as food, water, clean air and an environment conducive to human health, are being affected increasingly by global change.”
Plants are the basis of life on Earth. They are essential for basic human needs such as our food, medicines and the air we breathe, and their health can be strongly affected by so-called global change i.e. planetary-scale changes to the Earth’s life systems and cycles.
Three main processes are affecting plant health worldwide:
- Biological invasions of new species.
- The influence of climate change on plant pests and diseases.
- The influence of global change on land use and crop patterns.
The rise in biological invasions of new species is being driven by an increasingly interconnected world and by the increase in the human population. Climate change is another key component in this process, and among the most studied. It not only affects the distribution patterns of living organisms on the planet, but could shrink the areas suitable for hosting plants and animals. The most obvious example of one of these processes is the introduction of alien pests to new territories, for which we have learnt tragic lessons from the past (e.g. potato blight in Ireland), but also with more recent examples (Xylella fastidiosa, Spodoptera frugiperda). Other important drivers for plant health risks include population dynamics, transport, global trade, changes in land use, the use of resources, pollution, all of which will have an influence on plant health.
This challenging scenario nevertheless offers us opportunities for strengthening biosecurity in the EU and worldwide, for developing more sustainable approaches in our agriculture and forestry, and for protecting our natural ecosystems. We may also benefit from the development of advanced tools for the detection and diagnosis of plant pests and diseases, greater availability of biological agents for pest control, improved genetic tools to tackle pests or enhance biological control agents. The development of such technologies and the promotion of a broader scientific and operational scientific cooperation could increase overall efficiency in our biosecurity approach. The most promising and concrete results will however derive from a more holistic approach to our agriculture.
Scope and objectives
The session on plant health will bring together leading scientists from different disciplines to analyse possible effects of global change on plant health and biodiversity as well as ecosystems more generally. What will be the main threats and drivers? And what solutions can fast evolving science offer? Climate change and the pressures of an increasing global population will be among the most significant drivers that define a new scenario for plant health and this in turn will affect the capability of ecosystems (agroecosystems mainly, but not only) to ensure the provision of ecosystem services.
The objective of the session will be to analyse the status of plant health in the EU and beyond, and to envision the future in terms of threats, drivers, and solutions. More specifically:
- Setting the Global Change scenario: how climate change, a fast growing human population and change in lifestyles will shape the future of our planet.
- How climate change will affect the movement and the spread of plant pest and diseases directly and indirectly.
- How globalisation and its increasing displacement of goods and people will affect the rate of biological invasions.
- What innovative tools will scientific progress, technological innovation and changes in society provide that will help in tackling plant health challenges.
Part I - The future of plant health: drivers, threats and impacts
Predicting the future risk of biological invasions to plant health
Helen Elizabeth Roy, UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH)
Fungal plant diseases and food security from a cereal rust's perspective
Anna Berlin, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU)
Tackling transboundary plant health threats: fall armyworm case study
Maruthi Prasanna Boddupalli, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)
Q&A and poll
Claude Bragard, Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL)
Part II - The future of plant health: solutions
Welcome to Part 2
Ana Cristina Cardoso, Joint Research Centre (JRC)
Can remote sensing help us understand forest health in Europe?
Pieter Beck, Joint Research Centre (JRC)
Tackling the protection of plants at the source: placing people at the center
Sarah Brunel, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
Young researcher pitch #1 | HoPPI: hotspots for plant pests introduction
Lorenzo Marini, University of Padova
Young research pitch #2 | The Youth Declaration on Plant Health
Victoria Isabella Valenzi, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
Q&A and poll
Part III - Moderated panel discussion
Wrap up and concluding remarks
Claude Bragard, Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL)