Sustainability Science

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					     Sustainability Science
              Presentation for the

            SDRN/RICS Lectures on
Sustainable Development and the Quality of Life

     William C. Clark, Harvard University
                July 25, 2005
        Sustainability Science
How can science and technology contribute
  more effectively to achieving society’s goals
  of sustainable development?
• Perspectives from an international dialog…
  – What kind of knowledge is needed?
  – What kinds of institutions can produce it?
  – What should be the next steps?
Sustainable Development emerges
      as a Global Challenge
•   IUCN‟s World Conservation Strategy (1980)
•   Brundtland Commission‟s Our Common Future (1987)
•   UN Conference on Environment and Development (1992)
•   Kofi Annan‟s Millennium Report to the UN GA (2000)
     – “Freedom from want, freedom from fear, and the
       freedom of future generations to sustain their lives on
       this planet” as the grand global challenges facing the
       international community at the dawn of the 21st Century
Rapidly expanding post-Rio discourse on
how science can help meet the challenge
• S&T initiatives from South (from mid-90s)
   – TWNSO, COMSATS, South Center, …
• Earth System Analysis : Integrating Science for
  Sustainability (Schellnhuber & Wenzel, 1998)
• EU 5th Framework Programme (1998)
• Special Issue on “Sustainability Science” (1999)
  International Journal of Sustainable Development
• Our common journey: a transition toward
  sustainability (US NAS, 1999)
   …continuing into the new Millennium
• World Academies of Science Conference
   – TWAS, Africa, Brazil, UK, USA, others…
• Global Science Assessments
   – IPCC, Millennium Ecosystem, ...
• International ICSU/Earth System Science Partnership studies
   – Food Security, Carbon Management, Water, Health…
• Regional S&T for Sustainability workshops
   – Friibergh, Abuja, Bonn, Chiang-Mai, Ottawa, Santiago, Trieste,
     Cambridge, Dubai, Mexico City,  Johannesburg Summit
• National and local roundtables / dialogues
   – UK/SDRN, most of the civilized world, even US/NAS…
Reveal profound differences in
 problems and perspectives…
              old rich millions
              “global people”
 Global      resource surpluses
          causes of climate change
          technological knowledge
           theory driven research
                                        poor, young billions
                                           “local people”
                                         resource shortages
                                     impacts of climate change
                                       traditional knowledge
                                      action driven research
But also broad agreement on the need for
more science dedicated to sustainability..
• What kind of science would „sustainability
  science‟ be?
• Consider analogies to other use-inspired
  – Agricultural science?
  – Health science?
  – Military science?
        Stokes‟ Quadrant Model of
            Scientific Research

                       Considerations of use?
  Research               No                    Yes
                      Exploratory        Pure applied
              No    Probing/Poking         research
Quest for                (All)            (Edison)
understanding         Pure basic         Use-inspired
?             Yes
                       research         basic research
                        (Bohr)            (Pasteur)

                                     (redrawn from Stokes, 1997)
         Sustainability Science:
„Use-inspired‟ research for what purpose?
What‟s to be sustained?         What‟s to be developed?
• Nature                        • People
   – Earth, biodiversity,          – Child survival, life
     ecosystems                      expectancy, education,
                                     equity, opportunity
• Life support
   – Ecosystem services,        • Economy
     resources, environment        – Wealth, productive sectors,
• Community
                                • Society
   – Cultures, groups, places
                                   – Institutions, social capital,
                                     states, regions
  Sustainability Science for Whom?
• Sustainability science is about creating knowledge
  that will change peoples‟ behaviours…
• Those people therefore become stakeholders in
  sustainability science
• Relative to conventional science, sustainability
  science therefore needs less emphasis on elite
  researchers discovering answers for users…
• And more on empowering stakeholders to increase
  their options, make informed choices among them
Science for stakeholders: The „ASB Matrix‟
How land use options perform against criteria
    of different stakeholders in Sumatra

                             After CGIAR/ Tomich et al., 2001
           What sources of
  sustainability science knowledge?
• Conventional disciplinary research, applied
  engineering and health sciences…
• But also learning-by-doing (participatory research /
  adaptive management)
• And various forms of „tacit‟ knowledge
   – Of practice (eg. Running an oil refinery, farm)
   – Embedded in technologies, institutions, culture
• The essence is integration of multiple forms of
  knowing… But where to learn? Who to teach?
          What core questions?
• Processes and causation
   – Driving forces for sustainability transitions (eg.
     Consumption, dematerialization, urbanization)
   – Impact questions relating to vulnerability and resilience
     of coupled human-environment systems
   – Guidance questions relating to institutions and
     incentives (perverse incentives, managing the
     commons, effective assessments; value/behaviour gaps)
        Core questions (cont.)
• Methods and models
  – Connecting the ecological, economic, political
    (eg. Valuing ecosystem services; greening
    income accounts, participatory approaches)
  – Integrative methods for place-based analysis
    (eg. Tyndall „syndromes‟; landscape scale
    models; cross-scale embedding)
  – Complex adaptive systems (eg. Agent-based
    approaches, facilitating social learning, etc.)
        Core questions (concl.)
• Observations
  – Indicators and monitoring (sustainability indicators and
    their scaling; monitoring methods for global public
  – Case comparisons: generating comparable cases; role of
    „success stories‟; meta-analysis
  – Large data sets: generating and making usable for
    stakeholders, eg. remote sensing, endemic biotic wealth
    inventories, GIS+…
• And so on…
       Sustainability Science
• What kind of knowledge is needed to
  advance sustainability?
• What kinds of institutions can produce such
• What should be the next steps
           The Institutional Challenge:
Closing the persistent gap between knowledge and action
•       Dialogues reveal that a gap persists between what
        decision makers, development workers want from
        S&T and what S&T is producing for them;
        Moreover, available knowledge is often not put to
        use, resulting in loss of political support for research
    •     Egs: Persistence of morbidity due to indoor air pollution
          from cook stoves, of high waste production rates from
          pharmaceutical production
•        Need to understand why this gap persists and
        what changes in institutions, procedures, and
        program design can help to close it… from both sides
•        Need institutional designs of „knowledge
        systems‟ for sustainability
          Knowledge Systems?
• There exist substantial bodies of work bearing on
  the knowledge-action “gap”:
   – R&D policy; Innovation systems
   – Technology transfer
   – Use of indigenous knowledge
• Lacking has been a system perspective spanning
  R&D agenda setting through innovation and
  application, including resource mobilization,
  learning-by-doing, etc…
• Dialogue suggests which kinds of knowledge
  systems might serve as models on which to build
  institutional foundations for sustainability science
        What kind of Systems?
    Project management orientation
• Successful efforts to link knowledge and action
   – generally adopt a “project” orientation (eg. “We need a widget of
     <5kg for <$10…”)… rather than searching for general
   – require dynamic leaders accountable for achieving such use-driven
     goals and targets;
   – avoid pitfall of letting “study of the problem” displace “creation of
     solutions” as program goal.
   – Egs. Disease campaigns, high yield crops, acoustic torpedoes…
• This finding tends to pose serious challenges for the
  traditional homes of „curiosity driven basic research‟, eg.
  academia, Research Councils, GPG parts of World Bank…
            What kind of Systems?
End-to-end systems linking knowledge & action
• Successful projects, though anchored in use
  (rather than general understanding), foster end-to-
  end, integrated systems connecting use back to
  basic scientific predictions or observations.
 Need “supply chain” perspectives on the design
  of decision support systems that assure no
  missing or mismatched links, avoiding pernicious
  „basic‟ vs. „applied‟ distinctions
• Eg: International Agricultural Research System
  lessons in need to foster national research
  capacity; not NASA…
             What kind of systems?
Ones recognizing the value – and vulnerability – of
  bridging or boundary-spanning organizations
  • User-producer dialogues can be strained along the
    supply chain from basic research to decision
  • Dialogues within science-based organizations
    often do not mesh with dialogues within operations
    or policy contexts
   Need for boundary-spanning organizations and
    individuals to promote effective dialogues, with
    recognition of their value and vulnerability
   Eg: the best of the GCIAR system-wide programs;
    the International Research Institute’s ENSO-apps
          What kind of Systems?
      Ones providing appropriate goals,
         outcomes, targets, metrics
1.   Successfully targeting and sustaining programs linking
     knowledge to action for sustainability generally require a
     clear and readily understood statement of the beneficial
     outcomes that successful completion of the project would
2.    Need a methodology that specifies goals, outcomes,
     deliverables and metrics, while encouraging – rather than
     suppressing -- the sort of innovative, experimental, high risk
     work that is central to mobilizing S&T for sustainability.
3.   Eg: Problems of US Federal Government GRPA and PART
     Evaluations when applied to interagency progs.; Similar
     difficulties in World Bank development programs; UK
     Research Councils? Solved in Industry?
     Do Exemplar Institutions for
     Sustainability Science Exist?
• Best CGIAR system wide programs?
• UK‟s Tyndall Centre, Arizona State Univ.?
• International Institute for Applied Systems
  Analysis (which the UK helped found, but
  then dismissed – temporarily? – as too
  much Pasteur and too little Bohr…)
• Need for comparative analysis and nurture
              Next steps?
• Many, including much of what is going on
  at SDRN, my own NAS Roundtable on
  S&T for Sustainability…
• International Dialogue on Science and
  Practice in Sustainable Development:
  Linking Knowledge with Action (Chiang
  Mai, January 2007)
• Suggestions from this group?
          Additional Information
• International Dialogue on Science and Practice in
  Sustainable Development: Linking Knowledge with
• International Initiative on Science and Technology for
  Sustainability (ISTS)
• Science, Environment and Development Group (SED) at
• Me …