'Future Earth' platform outlines global change strategy

By Mark Kinver
Environment reporter, BBC News

Image source, AP
Image caption,
Future Earth plans to focus on what are considered to be the most pressing issues facing the planet

A global initiative bringing together scientists across different disciplines has launched its strategy to identify key priorities for sustainability.

The document outlines what Future Earth, launched at the 2012 Rio +20 Summit, hopes to contribute towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

It has identified eight global challenges, including "water, energy and food for all" and decarbonisation.

The strategy also focuses on the roles of policymakers and funding bodies.

"Future Earth is a global research platform aimed at connecting the world's scientists across the regions and across disciplines to work on the problems of sustainable development and the solutions to move us towards sustainable development," explained Future Earth science committee vice-chairwoman Belinda Reyers.

"It really is an unprecedented attempt to consult with scientists across the world as well as with important stakeholders and policymakers," she told BBC News.

"It will consider what kind of science is needed in the medium-term to really move us towards more desirable futures."

Dr Reyers - chief scientist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Stellenbosch, South Africa - said the strategy had been distilled down to eight "sustainability challenges":

  • Deliver water, energy and food for all
  • Decarbonise socio-economic systems
  • Safeguard the terrestrial, freshwater and marine natural assets
  • Building healthy, resilient and productive cities
  • Promote sustainable rural futures
  • Improve human health
  • Encourage sustainable consumption and production patterns
  • Increase social resilience to future threats

"Within each of the eight challenges, we have developed what we see as fundable research programmes that scientists and funding agencies can use as a starting point for building their programmes and strategies," she explained.

Dr Reyers explained the strategy aimed to build on the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) process within the United Nations framework.

The SDGs are the successor to the UN Millennium Development Goals, which come to end in 2015.

The concept of sustainable development - defined as "development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" - has been on the international policy scene since the late 1980s and the publication of the Our Common Report report by the Brundtland Commission.

However, Dr Reyers said that the time was now right for a global science platform to work alongside the established policy framework.

"Future Earth builds on the legacy of the past 20 years of investment in sustainability science, but that investment was very fragmented.

"We are also much more aware of the future, thinking about challenges such as nine to eleven billion people on the planet in the coming decades and how we can feed them in a warmer and less predictable world.

"If you look at news headlines, the scale and complexity of sustainability challenges that we are facing are very evident, but also very different from those outlined in the Brundtland Commission documents. Now we have things like the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the widespread droughts in California.

"Using sustainability challenges, societal needs and policy priorities to direct our science makes it both more relevant and accessible," she observed.

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