Global Sustainable Development

Photo: Eleanor Church/CAFOD
Providing knowledge to address the most pressing needs of humanity including sustainable, secure and fair stewardship of food, water, biodiversity, energy, materials, and other ecosystem functions and services.

Research under the Global Sustainable Development theme provides the knowledge needed to understand the links between global environmental change and human well-being and development. Future Earth recognises a new ‘social contract’ between science and society that focuses global environmental change knowledge on the most pressing problems of human development – providing safe and adequate food, water, energy, health, settlements and other ecosystem services for all without degrading the environment, losing biodiversity or destabilizing the earth system.  

Global Sustainable Development focuses on the immediate challenges of sustainable development and meeting basic needs - the intersection of human development with global and regional environmental change and the ways in which environmental research can help address development goals.

Human development in the Anthropocene is closely linked to the management of land, water, energy, materials, and natural resources including ecosystems, the atmosphere and the ocean. This theme incorporates research that shows how global environmental changes (e.g. in climate, air quality, biodiversity, oceans or soils) are linked to and underpin social and economic development. Research also considers how development efforts can in turn add to global environmental problems, and how global environmental change relates to issues of human security, gender equity, indigenous cultures and justice. 

Research under the Global Sustainable Development theme will advance understanding of the following questions, and many related ones:

  • What insights and innovations in basic earth, biological and social sciences are most important to the environmental bases of sustainable development?
  • What are the patterns, trade-offs and options for the equitable and sustainable use of resources and land, and how can we ensure sustainable access to food, water, clean air, land, energy, genetic resources and materials for current and future populations?
  • What are the implications of global environmental change, including climate change, for food, water, health, human settlements, biodiversity and ecosystems? How can climate services, ecosystem management and disaster risk assessment reduce these impacts and build resilience?
  • What are the links between biodiversity, ecosystems, human well-being and sustainable development?
  • How socially and environmentally effective, efficient and equitable are alternative approaches for conceiving, measuring and implementing development projects and initiatives?  
  • How should the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals be defined in order to enable the twin goals of world development and global sustainability?
  • What options are available to provide energy for all with reduced environmental impacts, and what are the social implications of these energy choices?
  • How can the business and industrial sector contribute to development, prosperity and environmental stewardship through the management of their production and supply chains?
  • How does global environmental change affect distinct groups in society such as indigenous people, women, children, subsistence farmers, business, the poor or the elderly? How does their environmental knowledge contribute to solutions for sustainable development?
  • What options are available in terms of ecosystem restoration to restore the environmental bases of sustainable development?

Research Projects