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The vision underpinning Future Earth is one in which the scientific community provides knowledge through open and collaborative processes for society to define pathways towards sustainability and respond effectively to the risks and opportunities of global environmental change.

Future Earth will provide a global knowledge and collaboration platform and deliver a step-change in the way science for sustainability is produced and used. The need for knowledge to achieve global sustainability is twofold:

  • Firstly, we need to pursue longstanding efforts to understand how the Earth system works and how its many natural and social components interact. This calls for increased collaboration between disciplines and knowledge domains to integrate disciplinary strengths, and to develop research themes and processes that are better suited to addressing interconnected and multi-faceted problems.
  • Secondly, the scale and magnitude of global environmental change and the risk posed to ecosystems and societies requires a bridging of the gap between science, policy and practice, to deliver knowledge that will effectively support decisions and actions towards sustainability. This will be achieved through effective cooperation with funders and research users, including decision makers and the private sector, to identify research priorities and deliver knowledge for solutions.

Recognising that human activities have already transformed the Earth system, the Future Earth initiative emphasises research that supports deliberate transitions and transformations towards global sustainability. To this end, the research will be focused on addressing fundamental questions, such as:

What risks is humanity facing? What are the natural and social tipping points beyond which we may be confronted with abrupt changes? Can we adapt to a 3°C or 4 °C warmer world? How can the remaining natural capital, ecosystem services, and environmental processes on Earth be conserved and shared to benefit all citizens in the world? How does global environmental change affect poverty and development, and how can the world eradicate poverty while achieving global sustainability? What lifestyles, ethics and approaches to human wellbeing in the world are compatible with a transition to global sustainability?

During the first 10 years of implementation, Future Earth will deliver cutting-edge research in an integrated and collaborative manner. This includes:

  • Monitoring and forecasting changes in the Earth system including climate, carbon, biodiversity and ecosystem services and human activities, building on current high quality research partnerships and activities;
  • Filling knowledge gaps and providing early warnings on the limits and tipping points of the Earth’s life-carrying capacity, and how global environmental change may affect our ability to fulfil human needs for food, water, health, energy, etc.
  • Connecting scientific knowledge effectively with policies and practices through for example research into the potential impacts of policy, behavioural and technology options;
  • Providing major contributions to existing scientific assessments on global change, such as IPCC, IPBES, etc. and emerging ones;
  • Supporting the assessment of progress made towards achieving goals for sustainable development;
  • Fostering innovative approaches to integrate knowledge systems (data, observation, modelling, etc.);
  • Supporting the development of new generations of researchers and fostering enthusiasm and skills to work across disciplines to promote a holistic approach towards sustainability.

Future Earth will build on the critical knowledge, scientific and warning capabilities that global change research programmes [1] have developed over the past decades, and enhance them further.

Future Earth will develop as a globally-distributed network of knowledge nodes in order to be responsive to needs and priorities of decision-makers at regional and national level, encourage broader participation of users in the research, coordinate global environmental change research agendas and activities, and disseminate knowledge and capacity on science for sustainability across the globe.


Key documents


[1] DIVERSITAS - an international programme of biodiversity science, International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), International Human Dimensions Programme (IHDP), and World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) and the Earth Science System Partnership (ESSP).

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