Topic A: Sustainable planet for a dignified human future

Reconciling human development needs and the needs of nature requires a deep understanding of complex interactions between human and natural systems in a constantly changing world, and the capacity to translate this knowledge into action for the wellbeing of all.

It also requires a range of options and an understanding of their potentials, limits, application and unintended consequences. There is a need to urgently strengthen the type of science that takes complex and interconnected processes between human and natural systems into account, that deals with multidimensional understanding of existential risks and which considers different geographical, socio-economic and cultural contexts and is globally inclusive and relevant. To build this knowledge, the following research focus areas are proposed:

Improved understanding of the integrated Earth system with human wellbeing

Areas for scientific inquiry include:

  • Understanding the dynamic integration of natural and human systems at a planetary scale;
  • Revisioning the agenda for human development: identifying ways to enable more just, inclusive and peaceful human development within planetary boundaries;
  • Designing coherent visions of potential futures and transition pathways that will allow reducing the risk of a systemic collapse of the natural, human and economic systems;
  • Defining and monitoring of planetary boundaries connected to systemic tipping points that may cause irreversible consequences for humanity if exceeded;
  • Determining whether humanity is currently on a collapse trajectory and whether or to what extent it is reversible; and
  • Engaging and investing in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary systems science for human and environmental systems health.

Understanding the synergies and trade-offs between the SDGs in different contexts

 Areas for scientific inquiry include:

  • Building a systems view of SDG synergies and trade-offs across different contexts;
  • Developing integrated SDG models at an appropriate resolution as a basis for scenarios of possible future trajectories to influence policy making; and
  • Developing integrated SDG planning and decision-making tools and solutions.

Improved ecosystems protection

Areas for scientific inquiry include:

  • Building an integrated understanding of how to protect biodiversity and ecosystems from collapse, from the soil ecosystem to the social part of the human communities that live in those ecosystems;
  • Developing contextual pathways and approaches for achieving biodiversity objectives within local socio-economic contexts;
  • Assessing the value of ecosystem goods and services for human wellbeing (e.g. the benefits of ‘Green Care’ and spiritual values of biodiversity);
  • Improving understanding of the potential of a bioeconomy: what are the economic benefits from biodiversity, contribution of biodiversity to the ‘sustained productivity and stability’ of ecosystems and the impact of this on reducing hunger and poverty, and biodiversity as the ‘lifeblood of all businesses’; and
  • Identifying ways of biodiversity and extinction accounting, especially in business reporting and corporate ethics.

Go back: A priority action agenda for science

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