The Syngenta Photography Award is an international competition that seeks to stimulate dialogue around key global challenges through powerful photography.

 

This year’s theme is Grow-Conserve. As the world’s population continues to increase, so does the tension between our growing demand for more food, energy and resources, and the protection of our planet. How can we manage economic, social and technological growth in a way that supports the needs of today as well as for future generations? Bold and transformative action is needed1.

 

Scientists tell us we’re creating the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced. Yet for many of us, going about our everyday lives, it’s hard to see the problem – let alone the solutions. For the health of our planet and future generations, inaction is not an option.

 

The 20th century began with 1.6 billion people and ended with 6.1 billion2 and we’ve seen astonishing progress over the past century – medical, technological, industrial, commercial and economic – as a result of this growth. Furthermore, a rising affluence has lifted millions out of poverty as globalization has helped to double the world’s economy in less than 30 years3.

 

But relentless growth also has its challenges. Our growing population is putting an increased strain on what the planet has to offer – we’re already using natural resources 50 percent faster than the planet can replace them4. While advancing technology is helping us to use resources more efficiently to produce food, energy and goods, the benefits have been outweighed by enormous consumption in some economies. For example, the number of cars in the world reached one billion in 2010 and could hit two billion by 20355.

 

At the same time, communities, businesses and governments are demonstrating that it is possible to achieve a more sustainable future. We’ve seen an increase in initiatives to power cities – and even entire countries – from renewable energy sources, and moves to protect rainforests and conserve water are now at the top of global development agendas. Consumers are also driving a trend towards goods and services that conserve natural resources and reduce waste – including improved recycling and reusing of resources. But is this enough?

 

Our appetite for more is seeing land, water and other resources continue to disappear. The consequences are clear: we’re damaging the environment, squeezing biodiversity and changing the climate leading some to say that we must put the brakes on growth: conserve what we have, while we still have it. But environmental ‘bads’ do not have to be the price we must pay for economic ‘goods’ and growth6.

 

The Grow-Conserve tension is one of the world’s most pressing challenges.

 

How can we ensure continued growth and prosperity while lessening the impact on nature and our resources? Can we realistically do more with less and conserve what we have today? Can we grow economies and sustain our planet at the same time, or is this mutually exclusive? Will a more sustainable landscape impact overall global food security? Can we learn to conserve today, to enable tomorrow’s growth? Or do economic and population growth simply have to stop?

 

Photographers, whatever their approach, are invited to submit images that explore the theme of Grow-Conserve and tell stories about the relationship and trade-offs that exist between these two forces that are shaping the sustainability of our planet.

 

1 UN Sustainable Development goals
2 Population Reference Bureau http://www.prb.org/Publications/Lesson-Plans/HumanPopulation/PopulationGrowth.aspx
3 Oxfam analysis based on the World Bank, World Development Indicators (2015). http://databank.worldbank.org. Cited in Oxfam report An economy for the 1% at https://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/file_attachments/bp210-economy-one-percent-tax-havens-180116-en_0.pdf
4 Global Footprint Network http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/world_footprint/
5 Ward’s Auto: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/08/23/car-population_n_934291.html http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1093560_1-2-billion-vehicles-on-worlds-roads-now-2-billion-by-2035-report
6 Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environmental Programme