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 by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Science Program and administered by Future Earth. It seeks to support transdisciplinary research teams working on the most pressing sustainability challenges globally.  

We are thankful for past support from the NOMIS Foundation and Colorado State University’s Global Biodiversity Center.


Judit Ungvari

Co-Lead, Research & Innovation

Open Calls

PEGASuS 5.1: Take it Further

Future Earth, with funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Science Program, is now offering a new grant opportunity to existing research teams and their new partners. This opportunity will support teams to engage in transdisciplinary research in one of two different thematic areas:

  1. Using Nature-Based Solutions to mitigate or adapt to climate change specific to the oceans and coastal systems and
  2. Science-informed decision-support tools for reducing risk and/or improving response to disaster scenarios.

This opportunity will focus on enhancing and accelerating the existing projects, fostering new cross-project collaborations, and facilitating the involvement of new partners. The supported projects should develop new knowledge, innovative and integrated solutions and tools. The collaborative proposal must be submitted by a project lead based at an institution in a country in the Global South or by an indigenous-led organization in any country. Applicants must have an established organizational bank account to receive funds.

Projects may request up to $50,000 USD and have to be completed by December 31, 2025. 

The application submission deadline is 29 February 2024 by 23:59 local time. 

PEGASuS 6 – Risk, Response, and Responsibility in Latin America and the Caribbean

Future Earth’s PEGASuS is launching its sixth thematic research call. The PEGASuS VI call solicits proposals from transdisciplinary teams in Latin America and the Caribbean addressing the theme of Risk, Response, and Responsibility. The goal of this call is to support approaches that advance decision making and planning capabilities through integration of multiple sciences with lived experience from stakeholder groups, including but not limited to community and government representatives, planning councils, disaster response and humanitarian aid organizations, insurance and reinsurance companies, and communications partners.

Because of the many human elements in both the management, recovery, and reduction of risk, all proposals must include a social scientist or public health expert. Other knowledge holders and experts may come from a breadth of other disciplines and professions depending on the risk being addressed. Other details and required elements of proposal submissions follow below.

Funding for this program is provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The program plans to award 2-4 successful proposals in this call. Projects may request up to $250,000 USD and have to be completed by December 31, 2025. 

Full proposals are due by 29 February 2024 at 20h00 EDT (UTC -5)

PEGASuS 5: Engineering the Design of Nature-Based Solutions for Sustainable Development

Traditional hard engineering coastal structures can be valuable in terms of mitigating coastal hazards. However, these hard solutions may not be aesthetically pleasing, can have deleterious effects on the environment, negative impacts on the cultural and socio-economic aspects of a community, may not always be able to be made adaptable to uncertain climate changes, are not self-sustaining, and require resources for maintenance throughout the design life of the structure. 

Natural ecosystems can serve as part of, or as the whole solution, for addressing these coastal problems in a sustainable manner while facilitating development works. Small Island Developing States (SIDS), such as those in the Caribbean can embrace nature-based solutions for coastal hazard mitigation not only to maintain aesthetic appeal of tourism-driven coastal infrastructure, but to provide climate-resilient solutions. Sustainable approaches must optimize solutions to minimize the impact on the environment and engage key stakeholders in decision making to maximize benefits to the wider society. Particularly, in the face of a changing climate with the potential increase in frequency and intensity of hazardous events, engineered designs must provide a given level of protection throughout the solution’s design life. These solutions must be appropriate, justifiable, cost-efficient, adaptable, yet effective. To achieve this goal successfully, a more universal approach to the design specification of nature-based solutions is critical to the development, design and uptake of these solutions in the wider Caribbean. To advance the knowledge and skill of designing these nature-based solutions, physical and numerical modelling, along with field work at various coastal sites, will enable the assessment of how the physical and natural environment is modified with the implementation of these various types of solutions. In addition, a concomitant emphasis on the impacts of the social environment should be included if sustainability is to be truly achieved. The critical views of stakeholders/partners will be solicited to ensure relevance and the improved adoption of recommendations at a regional scale which is of paramount importance if the output is expected to assist designers, planners and decision makers in determining optimal solutions.

PI and study countries: Trinidad & Tobago, USA, Barbados, Jamaica and other selected Caribbean Island territories. 

Learn about the project outcomes.

Photos from the project:

PEGASuS 4: Transdisciplinary Research for Pathways to Sustainability

As a key partner in the Belmont Forum CRA on “Transdisciplinary Research for Pathways to Sustainability”, Future Earth supported 4 projects and their activities expected to address the following topics: 

  • Creation of networks and communities of practice through facilitating and supporting knowledge/experience sharing among on-going efforts on topical and methodological aspects. 
  • Synthesis of knowledge or methodologies among regions and among on-going projects. 

The collaboration with the Belmont Forum will help to provide a science base for achieving sustainability goals and focus on integrated qualitative and quantitative approaches to develop Earth-system-based transformation pathways for sustainable development. The funded projects must consider all important interactions among the sustainable development goals, and address cross-cutting issues among at a minimum three or more explicitly identified Sustainable Development Goals. 

By increasing the international profile of researchers supported both by the Belmont Forum collaborative research actions, as well as the facilitation of the development of research consortia with these awards, the program is the most diverse and has the highest global geographic coverage to date. The research consortia supported by the program are 25% from the African continent, increasing the impact of the research funds in the Global South.


Hydropower generation (HPG) represents the largest renewable electricity source with multiple purpose functions worldwide especially in West Africa (WA) where it contributes significantly to energy security. However, this source is sensitive to climate change and projected HPG are associated with uncertainties. The magnitude and the sign of projected change of HPG vary according to the river basin and country. Part of uncertainties in the future of HPG in WA is associated with the lack of observations data which limit the calibration of models and the simulation of hydrological dynamics and also, with uncertainties associated with climate projections used to force hydrological and water resources models. Land use changes associated with socioeconomic development are rarely taken into account while they are crucial, especially over multi-purpose dams. It becomes then difficult for dam managers and local authorities to make decisions or to plan under these uncertainties in the aim to engage in a climate resilient pathway. This project aims to build communities of practice with HPG stakeholders (dam managers, local policy makers, representative of civil society) to address the challenges, synergies and trade-off in the climate land energy water nexus in WA for a sustainable management and planning of HPG under a context of climate and land use changes. This will be achieved through two elicitation and participatory workshops with stakeholders, two training sessions to Early Career Researchers of the project on “Random Forest, use of downscaled climate data” (top-down methods) and “Decision Scaling” (bottom-up method) which will be implemented with local stakeholders in each of the 4 major dams in Ghana, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast. During the implementation, the project will foster sharing and common learning between the 4 case studies from results of comparative study of these 3 practices. The project targets the nexus between SDG 13 (climate), 6 (water) and 7 (energy) with positive effects on SDG 15 (land) and 17 (partnership)for sustainable HPG. 

Countries: Burkina Faso, France, Ghana, Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire), Senegal


Africa has a diversity of cities that possess both general and unique challenges. General challenges refer to the rapid population growth, pollution, land use change, poor planning and loss of biodiversity. Unique problems facing African cities relate to geographical location, cultural and religious influences, income disparities, colonial connotation, corruption and myopic leadership. Ignorant of the uniqueness of problems facing the African cities has resulted in quick-fix solutions that fail. The complex social, economic and ecological interconnections have to go beyond the disjointed disciplinary perspectives. Instead, a transdisciplinary approach is necessary to start a bottom-up conversation with the city residents. Such conversations are to change the narrative that portrays cities as enemies of sustainability due their huge contribution to greenhouse gases and waste, overexploitation of natural resources and loss of human life due to pollution. However, the opportunity is by; using the cultural and religious philosophy of environmental stewardship, promoting renewable energy and clean technologies, ensuring waste recycling and proper waste disposal methods, funding social enterprises in rural areas to slow rural-urban migration, and funding capacity building and renewable natural resources in rural areas. In order to start bottom-up conversations and to seize the opportunities, African researchers must form a network of transdisciplinary actors. Emphasis is on civil participation to understand perceptions, attitudes, behavior and actions of people against the noted challenges and opportunities. The challenges and opportunities are expected to differ among mainland, coastal and island cities. Further, cities are influenced by culture and religion that may define adaptation to global changes and persisting top-down social structures. Therefore, the project forms networks to work as a team in identifying and magnifying synergies in sustainable development goals (SDGs), and address the likely trade-offs in realization of the SDGs.

Countries: Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, United States of America (USA)


The Sustainable Agriculture Matrix (SAM) consortium is a transdisciplinary and transnational network to guide pathways for sustainable agriculture by co-developing an indicator system and associated products that 1) measure agriculture sustainability from environmental, social, and economic dimensions and improve the accountability of countries’ commitment to sustainable agriculture; 2) engage conversations and possible coordination among stakeholders and countries; 3) identify the inter-linkages among Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to agriculture and improve the understanding of the socioeconomic and ecological dynamics in agricultural systems and beyond; 4) identify strategies for advancing sustainable agriculture and informing policies. Expanding upon a three-year effort on developing an initial set of global SAM indicators on national scales, this project will establish novel transdisciplinary teams in each of six regions with diverse socioeconomic and environmental profiles. It cultivates cross-country partnerships to investigate the historical trajectories of agriculture sustainability and to analyze tradeoffs between SAM indicators and SDGs in each region and the globe. The transdisciplinary teams include natural scientists, social scientists, and stakeholders (e.g., civil society organizations and agribusiness), bringing together a wide range of expertise and experiences. A series of networking and co-learning activities are designed to maximize interactions and collaborations across the boundaries of disciplines, sectors, and nations. Outputs of this project include: peer-reviewed articles and policy briefs for country cases; a synthesis report of major trade-offs and synergies among agriculture-related SDGs and among countries; and multiple communication products (e.g., SAM report cards, and an interactive platform). By co-developing and analyzing quantitative SAM indicators, this project helps guide pathways to sustainability.

Countries: Austria, Brazil, Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire), Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Turkey, United States of America (USA)


African cities and urban agglomerations face significant challenges in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Urban developments in Sub Saharan Africa are often out of governmental control especially in informal settlements of major cities where growth is largely driven by informal social networks. Our transdisciplinary research project seeks to create new sustainability pathways for African cities and contribute to building partnerships for achieving the UN SDGs (SDG 17). DREAMS aims at developing an integrated approach for participatory scenario modeling, impact assessment and integrated strategic urban planning. Our proposal anticipates the future development of African cities with regard to key driving forces and their social-ecological influences, as reflected in six SDGs, namely #3 (Good Health and Well-Being), #5 (Gender equality); #6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), #11 (Sustainable Cities), #13 (Climate Action), and #15 (Life on Land). Our regional focus is in West-Africa (Ghana), East-Africa (Uganda) and Southern Africa (Republic of South Africa). We combine remotely sensed data on urban pattern development and participatory scenario development and planning into a mixed-methods approach to better understand why current city planning instruments, strategies and participation mechanisms fail to better coordinate informal settlements thereby undermining the resilience of urban social-ecological systems being exposed to climate change impacts (e.g. flooding), as well as social insecurity and poor health. By implementing a charrette approach as a theoretical framework, we transfer knowledge on successful participatory planning mechanisms to addressing informal settlements facing cities in the selected regions. In support of participatory planning, we adapt and implement the software GISCAME and match it with informal planning formats, such as focus group meetings or planning cells. DREAMS derives recommendations and syntheses at municipal level and for transfer to other cities.

Countries: Ghana, South Africa, Uganda

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.