The initiative will embody an inter- and trans-disciplinary approach to provide early warning signals of environmental risk and change, and stimulate new research to support the transition of societies towards sustainability. At the simplest level Future Earth must answer fundamental questions about how and why the global environment is changing, what are likely future changes, what the implications are for the wellbeing of humans and other species, what choices can be made to enhance resilience, create positive futures, and to reduce harmful risks and vulnerabilities, and how this knowledge can support decisions and sustainable development. Future Earth will have a new global governance body and secretariat, building on the strengths of the existing core global environmental change programme, which are co-sponsored by ICSU and other members of the Alliance.
A series of consultations on how to frame the research questions will engage researchers, policy makers and practitioners, starting in the coming months. These initial consultations will involve an online survey and regional workshops in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Middle East, beginning in the second half of 2012. “We are very excited that Future Earth has made regional consultations a priority of its initial design phase”, said Tanya Abrahamse, CEO of the South African Biodiversity Research Institute and member of the Transition Team.
“Future Earth will make the vital link between the global and regional levels by scaling up international collaboration on research to inform solutions and transformations towards sustainability” added Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, Scientific Director of the Sao Paulo Research Foundation and Brazilian representative of the Belmont Forum of environmental research funding agencies, which is a member of the alliance establishing Future Earth. “One of the keys to the success of Future Earth will be transnational funding to support international research projects. For example, the funding agencies of the Belmont Forum have established joint calls that will bring together new international partnerships of social and natural scientists working on specific themes, such as freshwater security and coastal vulnerability.”
This interdisciplinary initiative is jointly established and scientifically sponsored by an alliance that includes the International Council for Science (ICSU), the International Social Science Council (ISSC), the Belmont Forum, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations University (UNU), and strongly supported by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
“Through its broad and strong partnership, Future Earth will connect scientific research, policy development and action, and enhance the interface between science and policy to support sustainability”, said Prof. Yuan T Lee, winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and ICSU President. Lee added that “we are delighted to launch the initiative here, as Rio+20 is all about pathways for a sustainable future, and Future Earth will represent one concrete step towards it.”