The science behind our sustainable future

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  • 2011•11•25     Tokyo

    Sustainability science has recently emerged in response to some of the most pressing and challenging problems affecting people around the globe: climate change, deforestation, ecological destruction and other environmental crises that threaten the future of humanity. Yet, what exactly does this expanding field of study encompass? And how can it help us build sustainable futures?

    On 14 November 2011, United Nations University (UNU) Press hosted an Interactive Seminar to explore these questions and present the recently-published UNU Press series on Sustainability Science.

    The UNU Press innovative Sustainability Science series includes the titles:

    During the seminar, contributors to these titles responded to questions from the audience on this exciting new field and explored the challenges of building urban–rural partnerships, strengthening global–local links, mitigating against climate change and harnessing renewable energies.

    UNU Vice-Rector Kazuhiko Takeuchi explained that sustainability science is a “new” disciplinary approach that is attracting increasing attention around the world. By examining the relationship between human society and nature, and by encompassing global, social and community dimensions, sustainability science offers a multi-disciplinary and “holistic approach to global knowledge generation”, Prof. Takeuchi said.

    An important challenge for sustainability science is the need to develop an integrated and innovative knowledge system: “In order to build sustainability science on a global level, a global meta-network is required”, Prof. Takeuchi explained.

    Keisuke Hanaki, Adjunct Professor, Integrated Research System for Sustainability Science, at the University of Tokyo, expanded on this analysis, exploring the implications for sustainability science of establishing a “resource-circulating society in Asia”. This was a great challenge for Asia and other regions that necessitated new paradigms for economic growth.

    “Most countries take the path of growth first, green later. But we need to focus more on the circulation of resources,” Prof. Hanaki explained. As an example, he discussed biomass utilization and the potential to reduce food insecurity by converting biomass to food.

    Prof Mitsuro Osaki, Director of the Sustainability Governance Programme at Japan’s Hokkaido University, discussed the title Designing Our Future: Local Perspectives on Bioproduction, Ecosystems and Humanity. In this work, Osaki and co-contributors highlight the importance of developing a society in harmony with nature, with a focus on local and regional levels. According to Osaki, such an approach is needed to respond to current crisis of climate, energy and food security.

    Prof. Akimasa Sumi, Executive Director of the Transdisciplinary Initiative for Global Sustainability, University of Tokyo, gave the final presentation, in which he outlined the strong links between sustainability science and the need to address climate change. For this task, new knowledge structures, social and economic systems, and policies are required. However, “it is generally very difficult to reach a consensus of how to change society. This strongly relates to the value systems of each person, which raises different questions”, Prof. Sumi explained.

    The seminar was followed by an interactive discussion and a reception.