3rd GEOSS Science and Technology Stakeholder Workshop
March 23-25, 2015, Norfolk, VA, USA

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Future Earth Research Challenges

Dennis Ojima, Colorado State University, US Global Hub of the Future Earth Executive Secretariat, School of Global Environmental Sustainability, Fort Collins, CO, USA

The primary mission of Future Earth is to align the global change research community with decision makers and innovators of change to co-develop pathways for sustainable development and transformation to sustainability. Future Earth provides a platform to analysis and development of strategies to enhance resilience and preparedness to global change in regions and ecosystems across the globe. Future Earth has enhanced trans-disciplinary research and engagement activities across a suite of issues (e.g., food security, energy, public health, water, biodiversity loss) and public and private sector partners related to development, risk reduction, and strategies to more sustainable use of ecosystem services and natural capital.

Regional to global research across multiple sectors will require greater integrated observations platforms and analysis tools. Inter-operability across and between earth system parameters and societal information will be needed to provide decision makers in the public and private sector the knowledge needed to make science based decisions on assets being managed. Current global tools provide aggregate analysis of certain aspects of the earth system, however greater granularity of integration and analysis will be necessary for management decisions by regional to local decisions makers.

Social-ecological systems which bring together observations and analysis of multiple capital ranging from natural capitals to social, physical, and institutional capitals will provide an integration platform of information and knowledge. Developing this information for decision making will need to provide the information at the scale and metrics used currently by decision makers. The translation of observations and analysis will need to be co-designed with various sectors and end-users. Further research and innovation will be needed to finalize the co-production of information useful to these end-users.

Future Earth will focus on the societal challenges identified in the 2015 Vision report and utilize these to aggregate the various SDG indicators across these 8 different domains of interest to Future Earth. The eight Challenges are to:

  1. Deliver water, energy, and food for all, and manage the synergies and trade-offs among them, by understanding how these interactions are shaped by environmental, economic, social and political changes.
  2. Decarbonise socio-economic systems to stabilise the climate by promoting the technological, economic, social, political and behavioural changes enabling transformations, while building knowledge about the impacts of climate change and adaptation responses for people and ecosystems.
  3. Safeguard the terrestrial, freshwater and marine natural assets underpinning human well-being by understanding relationships between biodiversity, ecosystem functioning and services, and developing effective valuation and governance approaches.
  4. Build healthy, resilient and productive cities by identifying and shaping innovations that combine better urban environments and lives with declining resource footprints, and provide efficient services and infrastructures that are robust to disasters.
  5. Promote sustainable rural futures to feed rising and more affluent populations amidst changes in biodiversity, resources and climate by analysing alternative land uses, food systems and ecosystem options, and identifying institutional and governance needs.
  6. Improve human health by elucidating, and finding responses to, the complex interactions among environmental change, pollution, pathogens, disease vectors, ecosystem services, and people’s livelihoods, nutrition and well-being.
  7. Encourage sustainable consumption and production patterns that are equitable by understanding the social and environmental impacts of consumption of all resources, opportunities for decoupling resource use from growth in well-being, and options for sustainable development pathways and related changes in human behaviour.
  8. Increase social resilience to future threats by building adaptive governance systems, developing early warning of global and connected thresholds and risks, and testing effective, accountable and transparent institutions that promote transformations to sustainability.