Now the question is science stepping up to this challenge? Because I would argue and many colleagues with me that the policy domain is making enormous advancement based to a very significant extent on the knowledge provided by science, but that’s been largely diagnostics. Is science now prepared to also step up in contributing solutions? And the exciting answer is yes.
There’s a lot happening in science to now step into much more interdisciplinary approaches where natural science and social sciences work together for solutions, and to engage much more in what we call co-design and co-development of knowledge, together with businesses, together with community stakeholders, together with policymakers.
Now where does this arise from? Well it arises from science reacting on the nervousness of its own evidence. The diagnostic is now so dire that we can truly talk of a planetary crisis. And science is getting nervous sitting on this enormous amount of evidence that humanity is putting its own future at risk.
This has led to very significant movements towards engaging more from science in exploring solutions. There’s also a deep emerging recognition that the science, policy, business, particularly partnership, is beneficial also for academic research, what we call co-design and co-development. So this is quite interesting and these are key features of the moving and advancements in what I call sustainability science; the emerging field of an integrated research for sustainable development.
Out of this comes, for example, a new initiative, the world’s largest initiative on global sustainability research where Earth system science is moving towards solutions for global sustainability. It’s called Future Earth, it is an integration and a merger of the large global environmental change programs that have been around for 30 years and that actually are the source of the bulk of insights that, for example, led us to the conclusion that we are now in the Anthropocene.
In a very important large conference a few years back called Planet Under Pressure the scientific community came together and launched the idea of Future Earth, which is now becoming a reality in 2014-2015.
So this is a large endeavor of thousands of scientists working together across social and natural sciences to not only focus increasingly on solutions, but also to learn more about the risks we’re facing, of how the Earth system operates, improve the definitions of planetary boundaries, and work much, much more together with different stakeholders in society.
Now what will then Future Earth do? And what is science increasingly excited about doing in general? And in a very simple way to illustrate that we can say that of course this is not true for all science, but you know, the large, large thrust after all has been that the science on global environmental change has largely focused in the past on understanding how the Earth system works as a self-regulating complex system, so we’re starting to understand more and more how climate interacts with the biosphere, that tipping points occur, etc., and also how we humans impact the system, which has been tremendously important to understand the pressures we’re posing. Future Earth is about adding two social dimensions.
One is how does it impact on our own well being and what are the implications for livelihoods and development? And of course, perhaps the most exciting, what’s the response? How can we as scientists engage in finding the pathways towards a transformation to global sustainability?
Another very important advancement that we all are so well aware of is the bridge between science and let’s say the most accessible form of knowledge for decision making, namely assessments.
So we have a very, very long engagement in climate with United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which has recently released its fifth assessment, the basis upon which decisions are made on climate change. But I’d just like to remind us all that we also have the sister of the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, IPBES, which is now in place to do the same type of knowledge synthesis on ecosystems and biodiversity as a support for decision making.
And Finding Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which is a broad global platform of knowledge for change. So these are very profound large examples of how science is stepping up to the challenges in the Anthropocene.
So to conclude, initiatives like Future Earth and alliances such as the Earth League, which is another coalition of top, top knowledge institutions gathering together to serve society with better risk analysis, better understanding and solutions, is in my mind a very, very strong signal that science sees not only the risks in the trajectory and the paths we’re following today but also enormous opportunities in a transformation to a world within a safe operating space.