The Science-Based Pathways for Sustainability initiative aims to promote integrated and forward-looking approaches to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) using the four environmental SGDs (SDG 6 – Freshwater; SDG 13 – Climate; SDG 14 Oceans; SDG 15 – Biodiversity) as entry points.

The initiative is designed to mobilise the broad range of expertise needed to build scenarios and pathways for attaining the “environmental” SDGs by exploring their interactions (synergies and trade-offs) with the other SDGs on different spatial and temporal scales. The essential purpose of this initiative, based on a series of workshops organized at local, national, and international levels, is to identify new questions and research practices to further our understanding of socio-ecological systems.

A second ambition is to inform public debate and policy. The workshops provide an opportunity to discuss and analyse different options for advancing towards the environmental goals of the 2030 Agenda and to inform public debate and the policy arena. Moreover, the workshops would contribute to identify the main uncertainties surrounding these options, their potential synergies and trade-offs with the other SDGs and the social transformations that they would entail.

Learn More

Find the most recent concept note here. This initiative is currently being co-designed with the Future Earth community, if you are interested in participating and/or participating in shaping its framework, please contact:

Cristian Passarello

Science Officer

Rationale behind the Pathways Initiative

Today’s environmental and social challenges occur at multiple geographical scales and are inter-related in complex and often unseen ways. Decision makers no longer have the luxury of tackling individual economic or social issues without accounting for environmental concerns and vice versa.

In response, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015. It provides a common global framework for peace and prosperity, for people and the planet, now and into the future. At the core of the 2030 Agenda are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the most ambitious set of global objectives ever – developed as an urgent call to action for all countries.

While governments, civil society and businesses around the world are making progress towards the goals, recent analyses have concluded that no country is currently on track to achieve all SDGs and there is still much to do to attain Agenda 2030 over the next decade. In particular, there is an urgent need for knowledge-based guidance on how to achieve all SDGs as a cohesive unit, particularly in light of the potential synergies and trade-offs that exist between the different goals.

The Pathways’ Approach

The Pathways initiative is based on 3 sets of studies: participatory & interdisciplinary scenario development; SDG interaction assessment; and transformation analysis. The Pathways initiative adopts a cross-sectoral approach: Scenario development is coupled with an assessment of interactions between SDGs to identify pathways that take into account synergies and trade-offs between SDGs in a particular context.

For example, the biodiversity workshop organized in France aimed to build a scenario and a pathway1 for attaining the central objective of “no net loss of (terrestrial) biodiversity in metropolitan France by 2030”. The construction of the scenario and its pathway took into account the potential synergies and trade-offs between this “central” objective associated with the SDG on biodiversity, and other SDGs (see figure below).

Prior to the workshop, a scientific committee selected two sets of SDGs in addition to SDG 15. The first includes the SDGs with the strongest potential impact on the evolution of direct drivers of biodiversity loss2 in metropolitan France by 2030, while the second set includes the SDGs most impacted by the achievement of the central objective.


1A scenario describes a plausible future in all its biophysical and societal dimensions and the pathway for attaining it. A pathway consists of the transformations, steps and actions required to realize the scenario.
2We use the distinction made by IPBES between direct and indirect drivers of biodiversity loss. “The direct drivers of change in nature with the largest global impact have been (starting with those with most impact): changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of organisms; climate change; pollution; and invasion of alien species. Those five direct drivers result from an array of underlying causes – the indirect drivers of change – which are in turn underpinned by societal values and behaviours that include production and consumption patterns, human population dynamics and trends, trade, technological innovations and local through global governanceé (IPBES, 2019).

Central objective of the scenario, direct drivers of biodiversity loss and studied SDGs.

Activities & Projects within the Pathways’ Initiative

Future Earth and Belmont Forum partnership on Transdisciplinary Research for Pathways to Sustainability
In 2020 the Belmont Forum launched a Collaborative Research Action (CRA) funding call on Transdisciplinary Research for Pathways to Sustainability. The call focuses on supporting transdisciplinary networks to innovate solutions and/or synthesise positive and negative inter-linkages across the SDGs, which will contribute to the co-design of sustainable development pathways.

Future Earth is a partner of this CRA by i) providing research funds from the PEGASuS program to support research synthesis by African research consortia; ii) organising a virtual capacity building workshop for early career researchers from Africa interested in joining Belmont Forum consortium proposals; and iii) supporting global coordination and facilitation of the Collaborative Research Action with the goal of creating synergies among the funded projects in line with the Future Earth Pathways initiative.

Futures-Informed Knowledge-into-Action Innovations
A project developed by the Future Earth Philippines Programme, which produced SDG-oriented problem tree analysis frameworks through regional multi-stakeholder workshops in 2019. Knowledge-into-action scenarios and roadmaps were subsequently formulated by national scientists in a national workshop in February 2020. These will be shared back with the participants of the regional workshops this year via online conferences to explore and share problem-solving initiatives that can be undertaken at the national and local levels.

Mountain Biodiversity and the SDGs: knowledge for synergistic action
A project undertaken by the Global Mountain Biodiversity Assessment in collaboration with research partners from Tanzania, Nepal and Bolivia. The project investigates the role of biodiversity conservation for achieving the Sustainable Development Agenda in mountains, using key informant and household interviews and existing databases. Overall, the project aims to i) assess trends in biodiversity and ecosystem services and human wellbeing in mountains under the IPBES framework, and ii) look at interactions between SDGs using the SDG 15 (life on land) as an entry point.

Cross-scale interactions (telecouplings) workshop
A project developed between Future Earth and the Global Land Programme focused on organising a workshop aimed at conceptualise and address the roles of cross-scale and cross-national interactions (telecouplings) in science-based pathways. The project has the following two objectives: i) to identify candidate frameworks, theories, methods and tools that would support detection and evaluation of telecouplings; and b) to prototype an approach/process for working with delimited stakeholder groups in contextualised settings to evaluate and negotiate trade-offs and synergies towards governing telecouplings across scales. The workshop was supposed to occur in June 2020 but due to COVID-19, it has been postponed to late 2020. 

Series of workshops in France
In 2019, the Future Earth through its French hub organised the first two Pathways workshops within France on biodiversity and freshwater which were each attended by around 25 participants. Each workshop had two major objectives: i) to co-design scenarios and pathways for France (with 2030 horizon) and ii) to test and improve the methodology that was previously developed with the support of the scientific team. The workshops involved different stakeholders and were based on a participatory approach to build normative and qualitative scenarios, taking into account interactions among different SDGs. Other workshops on the topics of land, ocean, and cross-scale interactions are scheduled for the next months.

Core Scientific Team

Dr. Ariane de Bremond
Chadia Wannous
Chinwe Ifejika Speranza
Claudia Pahl-Wostl
Dr. Cornelia Krug
David Griggs
Dr. Davnah Payne
Erle Ellis
Jiaguo Qi
John Claydon
Manfred A. Lange
Marja Spierenburg
Mark Stafford Smith
Markus Reichstein
Roger Cremades
Dr. SC Candice Lung
Wolfgang Cramer

Secretariat Staff

Marcin Jarzebski
Ria Lambino
Hannah Moersberger
Sandrine Paillard
Cosma Cazé
Fanny Boudet
Erik Pihl
Cristian Passarello