An exciting new development in the world’s research landscape is “Future Earth”. This is a ten year initiative to provide a new global platform for global change research. The ambition of Future Earth is to reshape the architecture of global change research to make it more efficient and responsive to society. To ensure a closer connection to policy, UNEP, UNESCO, and UNU were invited to be part of the main organizing team of Future Earth, along with ICSU, ISSC and Belmont Forum.
One of the core ideas of Future Earth is a new “science-policy partnership” in which scientists and stakeholders would “co-design” the sustainability research agenda. The governance structure of Future Earth is set up to encourage this close cooperation between scientists and non-scientists.
Research will be organized under three broad and integrated themes:
- Dynamic planet – Here knowledge will be generated to understand observed and projected trends in the Earth system. This research theme will provide the science base for assessments of the state of the planet, and early warnings of extreme events and vulnerabilities.
- Global development – Research under this theme will provide the knowledge needed to address the most pressing needs of humanity including that for sustainable food, water, biodiversity and energy. The emphasis here will be on the interactions between global environmental change and development.
- Transformations towards sustainability – The aim of this research will be to generate the knowledge needed for transforming society in the direction of a more sustainable future. This includes a better understanding of transformation processes and options, and assessing how they relate to human values, emerging technologies and economic development pathways.
Future Earth is now (2014) taking practical steps to set up its structure and programme, e.g. by establishing offices, hiring staff, and organizing the committees where its research programme will be formulated.
From 2011 to 2013 the Chief Scientist represented UNEP as a member of the Executive Group of the high-level organizational committee of Future Earth and helped design its structure and programme. On several occasions the Chief Scientist has presented the idea of Future Earth at public fora.