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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 five themes outlined below are systems that require urgent attention from academia and where the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) 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.
- Increasing urbanisation puts our urban systems under pressure from a wide range of challenges ranging from infrastructure and health issues to social stratification and political institutions.
- Technological solutions are crucial for transforming our societies to low-emission systems, and the utilisation of renewable energy sources is highly context specific.
Global, national and local governance for sustainability affects and is influenced by norms, values and cultures and needs to consider opportunities and risks related to other societal issues e.g. public health.
The Earth system
The Arctic systemRising temperatures and melting ice is changing the Arctic. New transport routes and potential for resource exploitation has vast implications for the societies of the region.