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Towards Transformative Sustainability Science – Future Earth’s 2019-2020 Annual Report

Check out the interactive web version of the 2019-2020 Annual Report.

Over the last year, environmental issues regularly made headlines around the world – from the vast Australian bushfires to the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Bahamas, as well as unprecedented deforestation in the Amazon the outbreak of the worst pandemic of the last century. These events underscored the urgency of sustainability transformations as the interconnectedness of environmental and human health, as well as the destabilization of vital planetary systems, became increasingly clear for wide swathes of scientists, policy makers, and the general public.

We are now at a pivotal moment as the world strains to recover from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 crisis. In the Anthropocene era, in which humans are now the dominant force of planetary change, do we continue down the dangerous path of widespread environmental degradation, or will we harness the latent potential of our institutions of science, and connect that potential with the world of businesses, and the power of coordinated civil society to drive deep and systemic change?

Future Earth, in step with a growing number of strategic partners, is committed to accelerating science that informs and supports social transformations to global sustainability. The 2019-2020 Annual report highlights some of the important efforts of Future Earth’s global research networks in the pursuit of a more resilient, equitable, and sustainable future for people and our planet. 

Future Earth’s nineteen Global Research Projects have helped define Earth system science, producing critical knowledge at the forefront of the field of global change. In 2019, for example, members from Future Earth’s Global Carbon Project presented the Global Carbon Budget for 2019 at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) climate summit COP25; oneHealth’s work addressing the COVID-19 pandemic was featured in the New York Times in early 2020; and bioDISCOVERY organized the inaugural World Biodiversity Forum to establish biodiversity as a focal point for the next decade.

In addition to the work of the Global Research Projects, Future Earth’s nine Knowledge-Action Networks bring together innovators from across sectors under a collaborative framework, facilitating integrative and solutions-oriented sustainability research across topics like finance and economics to the water-food-energy nexus. The Health KAN, for example, officially launched in May 2019, in time to make important action-oriented contributions to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, while the Systems of Sustainable Consumption and Production KAN along with Future Earth’s Asia Regional Center organized an international symposium in February 2020 entitled ‘Why Systems of Sustainable Consumption and Production is essential to achieving the SDGs.’ Together, our Global Research Projects and Knowledge-Action Networks produced hundreds of scientific publications and held dozens of international events over the last year.

The Annual Report also features new initiatives recently launched by Future Earth that aim to help build the field of sustainability science. The beginning of 2020 saw the relaunch of the prestigious Leopold Leadership Program, the strongest academic network of environmental leaders in North America, as the Earth Leadership Program – a new venture that aims to scale the impact of academic researchers globally to solve sustainability challenges by co-designing and internationalizing leadership training. The Earth Commission, convened in September 2019 and composed of leading natural and social scientists, also began work preparing a major synthesis to underpin the development of science-based targets for a safe and just planet.

While quality research is a critical component in driving societal change, important scientific findings must also strive to create resonance within wider policy and public circles. Future Earth continues to shape the narrative surrounding sustainability science and foster public discourse rooted in research. Two years after its inception, Future Earth’s flagship independent magazine Anthropocene now receives 50,000 digital visitors per month from over 200 countries, and has won three journalistic awards for excellence. The 2019 version of 10 New Insights in Climate Science, a series that aims to synthesize and communicate the latest scientific findings on climate change, was launched at a press conference with UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa, while the Our Future On Earth 2020 release was covered by more than 200 international media outlets across 60 countries.

To learn more about Future Earth’s global efforts in sustainability research and innovation, view the 2019-2020 Annual Report interactive website or download the PDF below:

Download Future Earth's 2019-2020 Annual Report (PDF, 6.7 MB)