Future Earth Initiative on Global Environmental Change Research Launched

Future Earth is a new global research initiative on environmental change and sustainability. It aims to coordinate scientific research related to global environmental change and sustainability in order to align research agendas, understand and anticipate environmental change, and develop innovative solutions to effectively address the risks and opportunities of global environmental change.

“We need a new approach to address the critical challenges of global environmental change and sustainable development which is more interdisciplinary, more international, more collaborative and more responsive to the users of research”, said Prof. Diana Liverman, co-Director of the Institute of the Environment at the University of Arizona and co-Chair of the Future Earth design team.

Delegates at a UCT panel discussion to tackle emerging sustainability issues in Africa, which is part of the ISCU (International Council for Science), “Future Earth” Conference at the University of Cape Town. Photo: Rodger Bosch


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.

Initial regional consultations in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Middle East are taking place. The African regional workshop was held Cape Town, South Africa, at the end of 2012 and brought together researchers, policy makers and practitioners from across the continent.

The overall aim of the workshop was to look at the early design features of Future Earth proposed by the Transition Team and determine priorities and pathways for developing Future Earth in the regions. The Cape Town workshop featured a number of highlights, including discussion of how to build a new culture of transdisciplinarity among scientists and stakeholders. Early career scientists were identified as a key stakeholder group for Future Earth in Africa, and the creation of an African Network for Widening Earth-system research by Emerging Researchers (ANSWER) was proposed at the workshop.

Future Earth workshop in Cape Town 2012

Delegates at the ICSU (International Council for Science), “Future Earth” Conference in Seapoint. Photo: Rodger Bosch


South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology Derek Hanekom presided over a successful outreach event at the University of Cape Town for students and researchers, which featured a presentation of Future Earth and a lively panel discussion on the key challenges Future Earth faces in Africa. An interim steering group was established, including participants on a voluntary basis to formalise the next steps for the development of Future Earth in the region.

“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.

Tanya Abrahamse, CEO of SANBI, and Saliou Niassy, Post-Doctoral Fellow. Photo by Rodger Bosch.


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).

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