Systems-based research – University of Copenhagen

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Sustainability Science is systems-based

Human society is facing unprecedented societal and environmental challenges and, in the words of Guido Schmidt-Traub, if we are to achieve sustainable development in society “there are certain systems we have to get right”! By systems he was referring to the food system, the water system, the urban system, the Earth System, etc. In order to manage these systems effectively, we need research and new knowledge.

"Science is good at describing systems, but science is not good at providing answers to how to manage these systems. And that's what science needs to get better at.

Guido Schmidt-Traub, Executive Director of the UN SDSN, at the Sustainability Science Congress in Copenhagen, 2014

Sustainability science is systems based and therefore requires the input of many different academic disciplines. Dealing with sustainability issues through a single academic lens implies the risk of overlooking potentially crucial unintended outcomes. Sustainability science researchers are, therefore, building entirely new collaborations that transgress traditional academic borders as well as to industries and policy makers. These new opportunities are highly sought after by many students and early career researchers who are looking for ways to engage directly with society through their research.

Research aiming to inform sustainable development must, then, be systems-based. The themes outlined below are systems that require urgent attention from academia, and it is where the University of Copenhagen is well placed to make important research and educational contributions.

Industries and policy makers are looking to the universities not just for an understanding of current and future challenges, but also for possible solutions.