The Program for Early-stage Grants Advancing Sustainability Science (PEGASuS) seeks to increase knowledge, promote innovation, and establish evidence-based solutions to the world’s most difficult sustainability challenges. PEGASuS brings together researchers from across borders and the natural and social sciences to take creative approaches to exploring the relationships between people and the planet. Our goal is to generate self-sustaining research projects that will have real impacts on the health and wellbeing of human societies.

PEGASuS is funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Science Program and the NOMIS Foundation. PEGASuS is jointly administered by Future Earth and Colorado State University’s Global Biodiversity Center. It seeks to bring together researchers from different scientific disciplines to explore areas critical to the health of humans and the planet.


Judit Ungvari

Research & Innovation Officer

PEGASuS 3: SUGI-NEXUS “Take it Further”

The Belmont Forum’s and JPI Urban Europe’s Sustainable Urbanisation Global Initiative Food-Water-Energy Nexus (SUGI/NEXUS) provides a unique collaboration framework for technical and social scientists, small and large businesses, cities and non-governmental organizations, to tackle the urban challenges of food, energy and water nexus. The 15 existing SUGI/Nexus projects are currently developing new knowledge, innovative and integrated solutions and tools to address food, water and energy challenges in urban areas.

Future Earth, with funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Science Program, is partnering with the Belmont Forum to make available a new grant opportunity to the existing SUGI/Nexus teams and new partners. This opportunity “PEGASuS: SUGI-NEXUS Take it Further” grants, focuses on enhancing and accelerating the existing Belmont-funded projects as well as fostering new cross-project collaborations and facilitate the involvement of new partners. Particular consideration was given to projects that focus on the Global South.

Nine proposals were received in mid-July 2020. Each proposal was reviewed by at least three anonymous reviewers and scored against the evaluation criteria given. Reviewers were selected from the Future Earth Member Portal community of experts. Four proposals were selected for funding based on reviewer recommendations and available funding.

Research teams come from 14 countries. Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, Jordan, Madagascar, South Africa, Sweden, USA, UK.

Study locations cover 12 countries: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, India, Jordan, Madagascar, USA, South Africa, Sweden, USA, UK.

The Global Food Water Energy Nexus (GOFWEN) Project

GOFWEN is an action-research project based on further and deeper engagement with six case study cities (already involved under GLOCULL or IFWEN projects) and the public in the global south to drive knowledge sharing, learning and capacity building about FWEN innovation. It will bring global south cities and their citizens together to increase our knowledge of decision-making and sustainability, promote innovation, and build capacity for evidence-based solutions that establish best-practice sustainable FWEN system innovations in global south cities. PI countries: Brazil, Canada, India, South Africa, Madagascar, and the ICLEI Global Network. Study countries: Brazil, South Africa, India, Madagascar.

Resource Recovery in the Food-Water-Energy Nexus: Assessing Point-source Recovery of Phosphorus in the Context of the Circular Economy

Rock phosphate, a cornerstone of modern agriculture, is being exploited at a highly unsustainable pace with global reserves expected to be depleted within the 21st century. Ensuring a future supply of this critical fertilizer is the “phosphorus challenge”, requiring diverse and innovative approaches to enhance the resilience and sustainability of global systems. A critical paradigm shift towards approaching this challenge has been to embody recovery strategies over purely impact mitigation. Within the concept of a circular food economy, aquaponics has a high potential for phosphorus recovery using systems which simultaneously contribute to sustainable, local, urban, food production by reducing carbon footprints associated with food production, transportation, water-use, energy, and nutrient demands. Simultaneously a pollutant and an essential nutrient, phosphorus exemplifies the dynamic context of the Food-Water-Energy Nexus framework. As scientific solutions to the phosphorus challenge alone cannot be successful without cultural, architectural, and political shifts, this proposal seeks to weave an interdisciplinary response to the phosphorus challenge through innovative strategies to transform waste streams into economically viable nutrient recovery and reutilization processes within a circular bio-economy. PI and study countries: USA, Sweden, UK, Australia. Note: One industry partner is a Colorado-based company.

NexusFootprints – Combining Indicators for Urban Food-Water-Energy Nexus Comparison

The NexusFootprints project aims to estimate urban food-water-energy (FWE) footprint indicators (food consumed, water used, GHG emissions) in order to quantify and visualize urban nexus patterns and facilitate their objective comparison. Based on earth observation satellite high-resolution imagery, population and urban land-use will be mapped using artificial intelligence. Characteristic urban FWE nexus patterns will be identified for three cities from different world regions that represent archetypes of urban regions experiencing distinct FWE challenges – Amman (Jordan), Pune (India) and Vienna (Austria). The scope, practicality and validity of the concept will be tested using these case studies and then discussed with stakeholders during workshops associated with the FUSE and IN-SOURCE projects. The project will evaluate how the nexus-footprint approach can best be readily transferred to other cities and used as a blueprint for including additional case studies from other SUGI- NEXUS projects. Researchers’ countries: Germany, Austria, Jordan, India, USA (Stanford). Study countries: Jordan, India, Austria.

Building policy tools for water- and waste-based urban soil remediation

Healthy urban and peri-urban soils are essential for the local production of food, to enhance short food chains and build food-resilient cities. Urbanization, however, is the cause of ongoing water pollution, soil degradation and loss of agricultural land, particularly around industrial sites or human settlements with poor waste management. In the context of growing populations, rising land prices, and the desire to increase the amount of food produced in a city region, innovative urban food businesses and existing peri-urban farmers can play an important role in the regeneration and remediation of these soils, particularly using existing natural and organic resources, such as urban waste water and food and green waste. However, policy barriers and lack of knowledge in the assessment of safety and quality of urban wastes often exist that prevent the uptake of these agroecological-based innovations in soil remediation. Building on the experience of three cities – Rosario in Argentina, Franschhoek in South Africa, and London in the UK, and through the promotion of ad-hoc data analysis and novel policy dialogues, this project aims to address the gap between practice and policy in the virtuous use of urban wastes for the remediation of urban soils. The outcomes will include a policy guide addressing the practical, legal, and planning obstacles to enhance understanding and uptake of soil remediation practices. PI countries: UK, Belgium, Argentina, South Africa, plus a network of 350 soil scholars from many countries. Study countries: Argentina, South Africa, UK.

PEGASuS 2: Ocean Sustainability, is a partnership between  Future Earth, National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), and Global Biodiversity Center at Colorado State University.

Our vision is to accelerate transformations to a more sustainable and equitable planet by drawing on collective knowledge. Recognizing that the research community on its own cannot adequately address these challenges, we are partnering to support two ocean sustainability working groups involving not only researchers, but also innovators in policy, business and civil society to generate research that meets society’s needs.

Project 1: Defining the observing system for the world’s oceans – from microbes to whales

A globally coordinated and sustained ocean observing system is urgently needed to systematically assess the status of the ocean’s biodiversity and ecosystems and how these are responding to increasing resource use, including coastal development under long-term climate change scenarios. Based on a set of measurable biological characteristics or “biological essential ocean variables” derived from the requirements of 24 multilateral environmental agreements, existing monitoring capabilities and scientific and societal impact, scientists at NCEAS will design a monitoring network to answer specific scientific questions on high priority global phenomena in response to calls for guidance from policy makers and managers. By mapping the current spatial extent of observations for these essential variables, from microbes to whales and coastal ecosystems to the deep sea, the scientists will identify how to capitalize on what is already being achieved and what remains to be done to develop a globally coordinated, fit for purpose, and sustained ocean observing system. Scientists will also develop a roadmap to ensure that products maximally support monitoring progress against the Convention on Biological Diversity 2050 Vision, Agenda 2030 and other critical international agreements including scientific platforms related to climate change, biodiversity, and ecosystem services as well as the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. The roadmap will include where current indicators can be updated to make better use of scientific information and impact the future development of scientific priorities.

Principal investigators: Nic Bax (University of Tasmania), Daniel Dunn (Duke University), Patricia Miloslavich (Simon Bolivar University)

Project 2: Managing Ocean Change and Food Security: Implementing Palau’s National Marine Sanctuary

One of the most acute challenges for ocean nations and coastal communities is food and nutritional security, including sustaining wild capture fisheries in a time of rapid and profound change in the oceans and in the global food sector. Palau’s commitment to protect ocean ecosystems and resources for its people, demonstrated in a policy to close 80% of its EEZ in 2020, provides an unprecedented opportunity to take a systems approach to tackling this complex and urgent challenge. The Government of Palau has asked us to convene a working group to synthesize existing research and create a portfolio of policy and management options supporting food security and marine resource sustainability in the context of the new closure. The proposed working group will be guided by a policy committee of ministers and other senior government policymakers from Palau and other Pacific Island nations to ensure that its work meets the needs and priorities of government decision-making, and develops avenues for impact at scale, within the broader western Pacific region.

Principal investigator: Fiorenza Micheli (Stanford University)

The first round of grants for the Program for Early-stage Grants Advancing Sustainability Science (PEGASuS) focused on biodiversity and natural assets.

In this phase, the programme supported five research projects, each of which examined critical questions around the relationships between humans and the environment. The winning projects covered a range of topics, including the impacts of the cocaine trade on natural areas in Mesoamerica and the sustainable farming of maize, pumpkins and other crops in Malawi. They were selected through a global search that attracted dozens of proposal from over 50 countries.