How science can help to create a sustainable world

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© Thampapon / Shutterstock.com
© Thampapon / Shutterstock.com

Science is critical to tackle complex challenges for humanity such as climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and poverty reduction, as it lays the foundation for new approaches and solutions. How can science best fulfill this commitment to society? How can we create dynamic connections between knowledge and action? These concerns have led to a new approach: sustainability science. UNESCO, with the generous support of the Government of Japan, is bringing together key stakeholders from academia, the policy-making community, specialized institutions and the United Nations in order to better define and broaden the sustainability science approach in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This 2-year project was launched during a symposium held at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris earlier in April.

The 2030 Agenda is transformative, and it requires a multidisciplinary approach to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and targets, while ensuring policy coherence across the different interventions” explained Nada Al-Nashif, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences. “This is a critical role for sustainability science - as it promotes cross-disciplinary approaches to advance the understanding of human-environment interactions and systems, and how these interactions affect the challenge of sustainability.”

The sustainability science approach is essential for effective decision-making with regard to global sustainability, since social, environmental and cultural systems are closely linked. UNESCO will continue, with its partners, to continue to support efforts to educate and advocate the development of this approach. This approach is a powerful reminder of the complexity of the challenges the world is facing, and the immense responsibilities this creates for international organizations like UNESCO.

Resilience and adaptation are essential conditions in our quest for sustainability, and these must be informed by science and other knowledge” said Flavia Schlegel, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for the Natural Sciences. “Sustainability science is an issue of a normative nature: it is an approach which will allow to capitalize on research as a tool to solve problems. It will assist in tackling complex problems related to sustainability, from disaster risk reduction to food, water and energy security, to societal decarbonized paths, by informing the design of integrated sectoral policies based on the best scientific knowledge available.”

H.E. Mrs Kuni Sato, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Permanent Delegate of Japan to UNESCO, confirmed that sustainability science in combination with education play a key role in sustainable development. She expressed her satisfaction at the fact that relevant UNESCO Programmes are working closely together to support this finding.

Any attempt to develop a shared global platform which aims to produce scientific evidence for policy-making on sustainability needs to take into account that Member States assess evidence in different manners, and employ different modes of reasoning in their decision-making processes. The support for sustainability science has a clear political dimension which requires the establishment of exchange platforms in UNESCO to facilitate a fluid conversation among all parties concerned.

Three Symposiums will be organized in the framework of the project, to bring together key experts and perspectives. The second symposium will take place in early 2017. The final outcome of the Project will be a set of policy guidelines defining sustainability science, setting the principles within which the approach should be undertaken, and providing guidance on its application at multiple levels.