Our flagship report, the POSTnote, is a four-page briefing reviewing emerging areas of research.

Regulating Product Sustainability

Products can be designed to maximise life cycle energy- and resource-efficiency, from raw material extraction to end-of-life treatment. This POSTnote outlines key aspects of, and consumer attitudes towards, sustainable products. It considers challenges associated with their design, production, regulation and supporting business models as part of a circular economy. ‘End-of-life’ treatment and value recovery, through reuse, recycling and other methods, are discussed.

Regulating Product Sustainability

Low-carbon hydrogen supply

Hydrogen could play a significant role in tackling climate change. Using it does not produce carbon dioxide, so it could replace fossil fuels in a range of applications. It may also provide valuable energy storage. However, almost all hydrogen production currently results in greenhouse gas emissions. Methods of producing it that do not emit greenhouse gases would need to increase for it to contribute to climate change mitigation. Governments and industry in the UK and abroad are aiming to increase low-carbon hydrogen supply. The UK Government will publish a Hydrogen Strategy in 2021.

Low-carbon hydrogen supply

Effective Biodiversity Indicators

The UK is committed to targets under international biodiversity agreements to value, conserve and restore the variety of life on earth (biodiversity). Progress towards targets is tracked using indicators, which are designed to summarise complex monitoring data. This POSTnote reviews indicator use and development in the context of the post-2020 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Global Biodiversity Framework.

Effective Biodiversity Indicators
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    Developing essential digital skills

    Digital skills are increasingly important for day-to-day life, including for communication, accessing services and employment. However, around a fifth of the population do not have essential digital skills for life as defined by the UK Government. While research suggests the number of people with basic digital skills has increased in recent years, concerns remain about those who lack them. Experts have highlighted that digitally excluded people may experience various negative impacts, including poorer health outcomes and social isolation This POSTnote gives an overview of digital skills in the UK, the impact of a lack of digital skills on outcomes in areas such as employment and health, and initiatives in place to improve digital skills.

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    Sustainable cooling

    Cooling is a process used across many areas of society. It is important for buildings, industrial processes and the supply of food and medicines. It is also needed for sustainable development. Yet some cooling applications contribute to climate change and the demand for cooling is rising. This POSTnote looks at UK and global demand for cooling. It highlights ways of meeting this demand that are more sustainable than conventional practices. It also outlines technology and policy options to promote these.

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    Living organ donation

    This POSTnote describes the scale and nature of living donation in the UK, its regulatory framework and the ethical considerations around this highly regulated procedure. It also analyses challenges within living organ donation, and the strategies implemented to address them.

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    Childhood Obesity

    In 2019, the UK Government called childhood obesity “one of the biggest health challenges this country faces”. Childhood obesity contributes to a range of physical and mental health conditions. This POSTnote outlines current trends in childhood obesity, the impacts on children’s health and access to support. It also covers key risk factors for childhood obesity and evidence on the effectiveness of policies to address it.

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    Distance learning

    Distance learning is a way of studying without the learner being physically present in a classroom. It can be fully remote or ‘blended’ with in-person learning and is now usually underpinned by the use of digital technologies and resources. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a rapid switch to distance learning. This POSTnote provides an overview of current trends in distance learning, evidence on key challenges and opportunities and potential future developments.

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    Food and drink reformulation to reduce fat, sugar and salt

    What does it mean to reformulate food and drinks? How does it support healthier diets and lead to public health benefits? This POSTnote gives an overview of the most recent food and drink reformulation policies in the UK, the evidence on public health benefits and the effectiveness of different policies. It also explores challenges and opportunities for reformulation and describes some of the complementary approaches to improve public health.

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    AI and healthcare

    There are various applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in healthcare, such as helping clinicians to make decisions, monitoring patient health, and automating routine administrative tasks. This POSTnote gives an overview of these uses, and their potential impacts on the cost and quality of healthcare, and on the workforce. It summarises the challenges to wider adoption of AI in healthcare, including those relating to safety, privacy, data-sharing, trust, accountability and health inequalities. It also outlines some of the regulations relevant to AI, and how these may change. As healthcare is a devolved issue, policies on healthcare AI differ across the UK. This POSTnote focusses on regulations and policies relevant to England.

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    Woodland creation

    Large-scale woodland creation is being promoted internationally to mitigate climate change. It can also supply other benefits, such as improving biodiversity, air and water quality. This POSTnote summarises key factors influencing how much carbon is taken up by woodland, the different objectives of woodland creation, constraints to increasing UK tree cover and different finance options.

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    Screen use and health in young people

    Devices with screens include game consoles, laptops and televisions. Screen use refers to activities undertaken on such devices and the time spent on them. Children’s screen use has increased over the past decade. Policy-makers and parents have expressed concerns about possible effects of screen use on children/young people’s development and health. This POSTnote provides an overview of how children/young people use screens, the opportunities and risks of this use, evidence on the possible effects on health and development, and evidence on ways to support healthy screen use.

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    Mental health impacts of COVID-19 on NHS staff

    Media headlines have predicted an increase in mental ill health among NHS staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. This POSTnote gives an overview of the scale and quality of current evidence on the mental health and well-being of NHS staff before and during the pandemic. It also discusses how staff are supported and the options for introducing other effective interventions as the pandemic continues.

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    Interpretable machine learning

    Machine learning (ML, a type of artificial intelligence) is increasingly being used to support decision making in a variety of applications including recruitment and clinical diagnoses. While ML has many advantages, there are concerns that in some cases it may not be possible to explain completely how its outputs have been produced. This POSTnote gives an overview of ML and its role in decision-making. It examines the challenges of understanding how a complex ML system has reached its output, and some of the technical approaches to making ML easier to interpret. It also gives a brief overview of some of the proposed tools for making ML systems more accountable.

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    Heat networks

    A heat network provides heating and hot water to an apartment, commercial site or series of buildings close together. It can also provide cooling. There is interest in using them to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from UK buildings. This POSTnote looks at the technology of heat networks and their sources of heat. It looks at considerations when building new networks. It also outlines a potential future market framework.

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