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Broadening the Application of the Sustainability Science Approach

Policy guidelines on research and education

The shift towards a sustainable society is one of the central challenges of our times.
Science has a significant role to play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) defined by the recently adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Science must focus on problem solving through interdisciplinary research that integrates social dimensions to make concrete contributions to sustainable development. Through research and education, transdisciplinary sustainability science is a fundamental component of this approach. It faces the challenge of not only analysing and supporting the indispensable transformative processes, but also dynamically modelling them. To that end, sustainability science is required within transdisciplinary research and education to support sustainable development with wide-ranging expertise and to educate sustainability experts.

As emphasized in the Guidelines: “Sustainability Science is research and education that results in new knowledge, technology, innovation and holistic understanding which will allow societies to better address global and local sustainability challenges”. This field includes disciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary science. It is also geared towards the generation of basic knowledge, applied technology, sociocultural innovation as well as towards new governance or social and economic models. Sustainability Science is an expression of both academic freedom and responsibility towards societal issues.

Transdisciplinary research

Achieving the goal of sustainability requires understanding and managing unprecedented and interconnected challenges. Prominent research programmes pertaining to economics, environmental sciences and transition theory are explored through diverse case studies, revealing challenges and advancements for transdisciplinary research. A transdisciplinary approach is a key component of sustainability science. Transdisciplinary research acts as a driver for sustainable innovations in society. The solution to global problems requires radical transformations of the society. In order to be able to meet these new types of challenges, some of which concern the survival of humankind, we need new information about how the problems arise, what kind of solutions are appropriate, and how they should be implemented.

Transdisciplinary education

Sustainability research and education should draw from the three pillars of sustainable development: environmental, economic, and social. To address the current paradox between economic and sustainable development, we must find a way to balance the two and allow them to coexist. This balance may be possible not only by developing alternative approaches to issues specific to conventional economic sectors of society, based on conventional disciplines, but also by pursuing transdisciplinary research and education. New practice based on science-society-research partnerships, experiential learning in higher education and interactive and participatory modelling has become manifest.

UNESCO Guidelines on Sustainability Science in Research and Education 

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