Earth System Science for Global Sustainability: the Grand Challenges


The International Council for Science (ICSU) proposes to mobilize the international global change scientific community around an unprecedented decade of research to support sustainable development in the context of global change. In doing so it seeks to work in close collaboration with the International Social Science Council (ISSC) and other partners. The pace and magnitude of human-induced global change is currently beyond human control and is manifest in increasingly dangerous threats to human societies and human well-being. There is an urgent need for the international scientific community to develop the knowledge that can inform and shape effective responses to these threats in ways that foster global justice and facilitate progress toward sustainable development goals.

The global change research community, which has played a central role in understanding the functioning of the Earth system and the human impacts on that system, holds the promise to meet this need. Realizing that promise requires a focus on new research priorities, and on new ways of doing and using research to address needs at global, regional, national, and local scales. This report is the product of an international consultative process led by ICSU and its partners that was designed to: (a) identify broadly-accepted grand challenges in Earth system science for global sustainability; (b) identify high priority research that must be carried out to address those challenges; and (c) mobilize scholars in the sciences (social, natural, health, and engineering) and humanities to pursue that research.

The five Grand Challenges
Forecasting—Improve the usefulness of forecasts of future environmental conditions and their consequences for people.
Observing—Develop, enhance and integrate the observation systems needed to manage global and regional environmental change.
Confining—Determine how to anticipate, recognize, avoid and manage disruptive global environmental change.
Responding—Determine what institutional, economic and behavioural changes can enable effective steps toward global sustainability.
Innovating—Encourage innovation (coupled with sound mechanisms for evaluation) in developing technological, policy and social responses to achieve global sustainability.

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