First Future Earth Forum: finding ways to accelerate sustainable development through solutions-oriented research

With leaders from the business, insurance and reinsurance, media, policy, and research communities in attendance, the 2014 Future Earth Forum took place on 24 September at The State University of New York Global Center in New York City on the heels of the UN Climate Summit. As the first of the Future Earth Forums, the 2014 event was designed to foster a dialogue in invited group of scientists and decision-makers to help co-design the Future Earth research agenda.

Future Earth is the global research platform providing the knowledge and support to accelerate our transformations to a sustainable world. Bringing together and in partnership with existing programmes on global environmental change, Future Earth will be an international hub to coordinate new, interdisciplinary approaches to research on three themes: Dynamic Planet, Global Sustainable Development and Transformations towards Sustainability. It will also be a platform for international engagement to ensure that knowledge is generated in partnership with society and users of science. It is open to scientists of all disciplines, natural and social, as well as engineering, the humanities and law.

Frans Berkhout, interim Director of Future Earth, said:

‘Future Earth aims to do more connected science on global change and sustainability challenges, and to work with societal partners in the co-production of actionable knowledge to address these challenges. The Future Earth Forum aims to build awareness of this new global initiative, to foster a dialogue between science, business, government and civil society, and to build relationships that can attract new resources to the table’

This inaugural Forum focused on systemic risk, with a focus on the financial sector. The expectations of business and the role of the media, especially social media, as potentially transforming social engagement with sustainability were also discussed..

The open layout of the SUNY Global classroom lent itself well to provocative discussions revolving around the interaction between science, business, policy, media, and civil society while addressing global environmental change issues. Discussion topics included to what extent and how Future Earth communicates co-designed, solutions-oriented research to business and civil society, the use of systemic risk as a “bridge” between science, business and civil society, and the role of Future Earth in providing and implementing solutions to global environmental change issues. Specific, immediate challenges for sustainability science to which Future Earth can contribute solutions-oriented knowledge in the coming years were identified.

"One of the principles of Future Earth is 'co-design'. This is a new paradigm in international collaborative research in the area of global change" declared Wendy Watson-Wright, Assistant Director-General and Executive Secretary, UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. "This new approach implies that research is designed in a dialogue with multiple stakeholders - youth, civil society, the private sector, and governments. While it is imperative that science remains independent, it is equally important that it be at the service of society and that it delivers societal benefits. The Forum has been a first encounter of stakeholders with different aspirations and expectations. Future Earth will take due stock of these different views in defining the next generation of global change research."

Future Earth is committed to building and connecting global knowledge to intensify the impact of research and find new ways to accelerate sustainable development. The Forum will convene each year to further this commitment by developing a network of partners that share Future Earth’s vision and mission, in order to build the support required to generate actionable research and implementable solutions, thus accelerating our transformations towards sustainability.

The Forum is an initiative of The Science & Technology Alliance for Global Sustainability (The Alliance), a high level international partnership including UNESCO, the Belmont Forum, the International Council for Science, the International Social Science Council, the United Nations Environment Programme and the United Nations University, as well as the World Meteorological Organization as an observer.

The Alliance is committed to making full use of science and technology to inform equitable, sustainable solutions to the most pressing issues currently confronting humankind. This is in line with UNESCO’s efforts to build international peace and sustainable development through scientific collaboration, by bringing together different disciplines, knowledge systems and constituencies inclusively to design shared solutions. The Alliance is currently co-chaired by the International Social Science Council and UNESCO.