Global platform for research in sustainability is launched at RIO+20

By Elton Alisson

Agência FAPESP – A global research platform in sustainability was launched during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (RIO+20) by an alliance made up of the leading international science institutions, research foundations and organizations linked to the United Nations.

“Future Earth” is a 10-year initiative to support research that will result in the knowledge needed to effectively respond to the impacts of global environmental changes. Future Earth members launched the new initiative during the “Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development” held at Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro (PUC-RJ) in June.

The goal of the initiative is to provide a basis for the transformation toward global sustainability in the coming decade. Thousands of scientists around the globe will be mobilized by the initiative, while Future Earth will establish agreements with governments, organizations and institutions responsible for adopting public policies that can offer options and sustainability solutions after RIO+20.

Among the targets of the new global platform is the production of research focused on solutions that integrate challenges in environmental changes with sustainable development as a means of satisfying human needs for food, water, energy and health.

Inter- and transdisciplinary collaboration among researchers in the most diverse areas of scientific and technological knowledge will be undertaken to find the best solutions to the key questions on the future of the planet.

Another goal of the platform is to increase research capacity in science, technology and innovation, especially in developing countries, and to engage a new generation of scientists.

The Future Earth platform is a joint initiative of the International Council for Science (ICSU); the International Social Science Council (ISSC); the Belmont Forum; the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP); the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); and the United Nations University (UNU). The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) will participate as an observer. Research foundations around the world will be part of the initiative’s efforts.

“We need a new approach to address the critical challenges of global environmental change and sustainable development that is more interdisciplinary, international and collaborative and more responsive to the users of research,” said Diana Liverman, co-director of the Institute of the Environment at the University of Arizona and co-chair of the Future Earth design team.

Planning for the initiative has been underway for the past three years. Future Earth will help answer fundamental questions such as why the global environment is changing. In addition, Future Earth will envisage future challenges and their implications for the well-being and survival of humans and other species.

A series of consultations to determine these main research challenges will be conducted in the second half of 2012 through an online questionnaire and workshops that will be conducted in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.

Some of these meetings, such as the workshop on food security and energy use, will be conducted in the second half of this year.

As a member of the Belmont Forum – a consortium that brings together the funding agencies of 13 countries, in addition to those of the European Community – FAPESP will participate in the initiative by aiding in the selection of research topics, preparing the calls for proposals and analysis and the selection and co-financing of projects. Each project will have the participation of researchers from at least three countries.

“One of the strong points of this alliance is that it brings together scientists, research data users and funding agencies that will decide on the financing for projects. Some of these foundations are members of the Belmont Forum, four of which are from emerging economies,” says Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, FAPESP scientific director and a member of the Belmont Forum.

During the launch of Future Earth in Rio de Janeiro, Brito Cruz highlighted that one of the objectives of the initiative is to create opportunities for young researchers to get involved in developing research. He also noted that many research foundations that are participants in the project and can subsidize the initiative, like FAPESP, already have programs that focus on supporting projects conducted by young researchers.

Yuan Tseh Lee, president of ICSU and 1986 winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was also present at the ceremony. In his assessment, Future Earth, through solid and broad partnerships, will connect scientific research and the development of policies and actions, broadening the interface between science and policies that support sustainability.

“We are very happy to launch this initiative during RIO+20, which after all, is about the path to a sustainable future, and Future Earth represents a concrete step in this direction,” he said.

Some of the next steps that will be taken for cementing the initiative will be the creation of a governance council and a scientific committee, which should be established in 2013.

More information about Future Earth is available at

Source and Photo: FAPESP, July 4th, 2012

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