The collective journey toward sustainability is complex. Starting points are diverse, peaks and valleys are ubiquitous, and trajectories are multiple. Pathways serve as the long-lasting testaments to the peregrinations of those who have marked the way toward sustainability and of those who have yet to travel these roads. In their temporal unfolding, pathways are the antithesis of short-sighted expeditions.

Science-based Pathways for Sustainability is a Future Earth initiative, which aims to be an inclusive and integrative response to the pressing need to produce knowledge and understanding in systemic interactions, competing development agendas, and transformations in concrete contexts. The initiative aims to serve as an ‘incubator for engagement’ to build understanding of:

  1. How interactions at various scales in complex human-environment systems produce trade-offs or synergies within a context of competing development agendas and claims on resources,
  2. How transformations can be mobilized to enable expansion of integrated pathways to sustainability in diverse concrete contexts,
  3. How pathways and processes of transformation, which are likely to differ between places given differences in histories, contexts and values, interact across locations and scales, creating both tensions and synergies, and ‘add up’ to outcomes at the regional and global levels.

Learn More

This initiative is co-designed with the Future Earth community and anyone interested in joining the Pathways community of practice. If you are interested in learning more about the Pathways initiative and/or in participating in its development, please contact:

Gilles Marciniak

Senior Science Officer

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Rationale behind the Pathways Initiative

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in 2015, aim to provide a common, integrated global framework for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. Although the 2030 Agenda presents SDGs independently, it highlights that they are indivisible and emphasizes the importance of understanding and acting upon the complex spatial and temporal interactions that exist between SDGs and the need to ensure that progress made in some sectors or countries does not hinder progress in others.
In 2019, the Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) reviewed progress on Agenda 2030 and further articulated the fundamental role of science in advancing knowledge-based transformations to sustainable development. Emphasizing that dominant research modes are not enough to guide the societal transformations needed to achieve the 2030 Agenda, the GSDR laid out a framework for researchers, practitioners, decisionmakers, funders and civil society to work together to achieve “universally acceptable and mutually beneficial sustainability science,” and identified the urgent need to produce knowledge and understanding in three key areas: systemic interactions, competing development agendas, and transformations in concrete contexts (Messerli et al., 2019).

Pathways’ Community of Practice

The initiative supports the development of an open Community of Practice (CoP), convening researchers from diverse disciplines who engage with societal actors (e.g. civil society, governments, private sector) in processes of adaptive learning to design, implement and evaluate pathways to sustainability. Such processes are key to meeting the pressing challenges of advancing Agenda 2030 and better understand the diversity of values that shape visions for desirable futures in different places, the processes that lead to transformations, as well as the uncertainties, trade-offs and co-benefits that can emerge from the interconnections between sustainable development goals at various scales. The development of the CoP relies on a series of collaborative activities (networking, capacity building, reflective practice, synthesis events and tools) targeted at fostering and supporting these learning processes. The initiative also promotes the CoP’s work and outcomes with the goal to showcase the ways science engages with societal actors to contribute to transformations, from shaping our understanding of the problems to the design, implementation and evaluation of pathways to sustainability.

Activities & Projects within the Pathways’ Initiative

Future Earth and Belmont Forum partnership on Transdisciplinary Research for Pathways to Sustainability
The Belmont Forum has announced 13 new awardees, funded under the multilateral, transdisciplinary Collaborative Research Action (CRA) focusing on Transdisciplinary Research for Pathways to Sustainability. The call supports the establishment of transdisciplinary networks to develop innovative solutions for sustainable development pathways. Funders have committed approximately 2.5M€ of monetary and in-kind resources to support 13 research networks involving 136 personnel from 37 countries over the next 1-2 years. Reaching a new milestone, 28% of personnel supported by this call are from African Nations due to the generous support and partnership from Future Earth, AllEnvi, GEO, NIMR, and NRF. Find more here.

Future Earth is a partner of this CRA by (1) providing research funds from the PEGASuS program to support research synthesis by African research consortia; (2) organising a virtual capacity building workshop for early career researchers from Africa interested in joining Belmont Forum consortium proposals; and (3) 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.

Just Transitions in Biodiversity Governance
This one-year project is co-developed by the Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS) and funded by the British Academy. It explores just transitions in biodiversity governance through three case studies in Japan, the UK and South Africa. This research aims to understand the effects for both scholarly theory and policy/practice of (1) governing biodiversity conservation and restoration through a just transitions lens; (2) considering how biodiversity governance in a locality may yield deeper insight into competing or contested visions of what a just transition is; and (3) helping to co-create pathways to achieve biodiversity and climate objectives in a just and equitable manner.

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 (1) assess trends in biodiversity and ecosystem services and human wellbeing in mountains under the IPBES framework, and (2) 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 conceptualising and addressing the roles of cross-scale and cross-national interactions (telecouplings) in science-based pathways. The project has the following two objectives: (1) to identify candidate frameworks, theories, methods and tools that would support detection and evaluation of telecouplings; and (2) 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.

Series of national workshops in France, in the Philippines and in Canada
The Future Earth French hub organized three Pathways workshops within France on biodiversity, freshwater and land between 2019 and 2020. The workshops involved different stakeholders and were based on a participatory approach to build normative and qualitative scenarios for France (with 2030 horizon), taking into account interactions among different SDGs. The workshops resulted in the publication of numerous outputs, including a literature review of “The Main Challenges and Drivers of Biodiversity Loss in France” (English), and a report on “Biodiversity and the 2030 Agenda: What Pathways for Zero Net Loss of Biodiversity in Metropolitan France?” (English, French).

The Future Earth Philippines Programme 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 scenarios have been shared back with the participants of the regional workshops the following year via online conferences to explore and share problem-solving initiatives that can be undertaken at the national and local levels.

A virtual, invitation-only Biodiversity Pathways for Sustainability in Canada (BPSC) Workshop (BPSC) is to be held in late May 2021, hosted by the Canada Hub of Future Earth and the Sustainability in the Digital Age initiative. The goal of this workshop is to co-develop biodiversity-centered pathways for sustainable development in Canada with shared targets and vision. Approximately 20 participants from different stakeholder groups engaged in biodiversity conservation in Canada will join. Attendees will be invited to propose concrete recommendations to inform a biodiversity pathway for Canada, and facilitate the realization of Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and our vision of ‘Living in harmony with nature’ by 2050. The final report of the policy recommendations is planned to be launched in the lead up to CBD COP15 to inform the development of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

Core Scientific Team

Dr. Ariane de Bremond
Chadia Wannous
Chinwe Ifejika Speranza
Claudia Pahl-Wostl
Dr. Cornelia Krug
David Griggs
Davnah Urbach
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

Ria Lambino
Sandrine Paillard
Cosma Cazé
Gilles Marciniak
Judit Ungvari
Thabo Dikgale
Mi Lin