Secretariat of the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change

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  • The International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP) is an international, interdisciplinary science programme dedicated to promoting, catalysing, and coordinating research, capacity development and networking on the human dimensions of global environmental change. Its mandate is to provide international leadership in framing, developing and integrating social science research on global environmental change and to promote the application of its key findings. IHDP is a joint programme of the International Council for Science (ICSU), the International Social Science Council (ISSC), and UNU. The IHDP Secretariat (UNU-IHDP) facilitates the development of IHDP’s work plan and implements its strategic priorities. Its core functions include the coordination of research activities, capacity development, the organization of major events and dissemination of results.


    IHDP executes its work programme through regional projects with project offices located across the globe. Many of these projects have twin offices, one in a developing country with the other in a developed country. An example is the Integrated Risk Governance Project which has its International Project Offices in Beijing and Postdam respectively.

    Focal Point

    IHDP is a joint programme of International Social Science Council (ISSC), the International Council for Science (ICSU) and UNU, with UNU-IHDP as the central coordinating unit and with Dr. Anantha K. Duraiappah as Executive Director. The IHDP Secretariat facilitates the development of scientific activities on behalf of the programme’s sponsors guided by a Science Committee of internationally renowned scientists.


    The purpose of IHDP is to provide international leadership in framing, developing and integrating social science research on global environmental change and to promote the application of the key findings to help address environmental challenges.


    The UNU-IHDP approach fosters the development of cutting-edge research agendas on long-term and large-scale global change phenomena and their interlinkage and interaction with social systems. The approach also facilitates the establishment of international, multi-year, interdisciplinary research projects on these topics. It supports linkages between projects and coordinates scientific activities including workshops, open science conferences, inputs to international bodies and publications.


    All IHDP bodies, including the Scientific Committee and the Scientific Steering and advisory committees of projects follow gender balanced policies.

    Target Audience

    Three core audiences benefit from IHDP research: the scientific community working in the area of global change, policymakers on both national and regional levels and partners including research organizations and international bodies.

    Intended Impact

    Impact: Influencing policymaking in the United Nations System
    Target: The Rio+20 process leading to the Rio+20 summit in June 2012 was an excellent opportunity to input on policymaking in the UN system.
    How: This was achieved by developing a targeted summary for decision makers on the green economy and by launching the Inclusive Wealth Report.

    Impact: Contribution to a UN assessment/issue/query
    Target: UNU-IHDP contributes to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice consultations (Nairobi Action Plan), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Millennium Ecosystems Assessment, and various other assessments with the United Nations Environment Programme; the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services; World Meteorological Organization; and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — e.g., the World Water Assessment Programme or the Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT).
    How: IHDP achieves this goal through 1) the coordination of leading scientists and synthesis of key research results for assessment reports, 2) the preparation of consolidated inputs and consultations to the scoping workshops for major assessment reports, 3) the nomination of lead authors to assessment reports, and 4) translating agency priorities into research agendas.

    Impact: Influencing policymaking at the international level
    Target: UNU-IHDP aims to support the definition of research priorities and to increase coherence in international, regional and national research policy, in particular with regard to fostering integrated inderdisciplinary approaches to highly complex socioecological phenomena. It further aims to provide input to global environmental policy.
    How: Research policy is influenced on the international level through collaboration and consultation with the International Group of Funding Agencies for Global Change Research. Policy on the regional level is influenced through regional agencies such as Inter-American Institute (IAI), Asia-Pacific Network (APN), START, the European Commission, and AfricanNess. Policy on the national level is influenced through IHDP National Committees and Contact Points, collaboration with national donors, research councils and leading research institutions, as well as through selected science-policy-interaction activities. Environmental policy is influenced through provision of relevant cutting-edge knowledge for action.

    Impact: Capacity development in developed/developing countries
    Target: In its Strategic Plan 2007-2015, IHDP called for a renewed focus on the capacity development arena in the second decade. IHDP capacity development aims to train emerging scholars in state-of-the-art human dimensions issues and methods, to leverage existing capacities in a still nascent research area, and to help create sustainable research communities by bringing existing capacity together in national and regional networks.
    How: As a ‘network of networks’, the IHDP Secretariat is in an excellent position to fill this role on behalf of the relevant research community, going beyond support for individual research topics. The International Human Dimensions Workshop (IHDW) series, IHDP’s flagship capacity development activity, has trained nearly 300 young scientists since 1998 on key issues of human dimensions research. IHDP currently takes part in an coordinated effort with partner organizations including APN, IAI, and START to re-frame capacity development for global change research communities including exploration of potential links to UNU’s twinning strategy.

    Impact: Supporting academic communities
    Target: Global change research is a vast, complex area with a multitude of involved actors and stakeholders. Successful international research collaboration, however, is time-consuming and management-intensive, siphoning valuable resources from the scientific community. Acting with a “clearing house” function, the IHDP Secretariat aims to provide highly specialized services and efficient structures for international collaboration in order to reap the full scientific benefits of the network’s research activities.
    How: UNU-IHDP provides central functions and services to the global change community in general and IHDP research projects in particular. These functions include coordinative functions, capacity development activities including workshops and training, activities bridging the science-policy gap, and central communication and dissemination functions including both print and electronic media. Due to its very nature as the central coordinating unit of an international community of several thousand scientists, UNU-IHDP answers a wide variety of requests for collaboration with and providing information to policymakers, civil society actors, the media and other academic communities.

    Value Added

    Throughout its activities, UNU-IHDP adds value to the UN by inputs to international assessments, to UNU through a vast research network of high interest to the university’s research agenda, and to policymakers through highly policy-relevant research topics.


    Programme outputs include publications, submissions to international assessments and conferences, scholars trained in international collaborative research methods, and consolidated proposals for the development of the international research agenda. The dissemination of UNU-IHDP expertise is granted by the IHDP websites, newsletters issued by UNU-IHDP and partner organizations, the journal IHDP Update and a report series. Moreover, the IHDP supports project publications.

    Timeline/Programme Cycle

    IHDP was established in 1996 under the sponsorship of the ISSC and the ICSU. Since then, human dimensions research has been established as a distinct scientific community. While thematic research is conducted in projects running in cycles of approximately ten years, the programme as such has no specific conclusion date.


    As an international research programme of ISSC, ICSU and UNU, evaluation is conducted by ICSU external assessment panels, the last of which took place in 2006. The 2006 panel judged that “IHDP has been successful in developing an international research programme, enhancing the involvement of social sciences in global change issues, and contributing to heightened political and social awareness of the human dimensions of global change.” The panel concluded that “[g]iven the success of the IHDP Programme, it is an opportune time to consider other activities that IHDP could be expanding or initiating, cognizant of the realities of available funding and researchers interested in the field at this stage”.


    Core challenges include the long-term funding structure and the changing demands of the political and academic landscape with regard to global change research. While the importance of considering human dimensions in global change research and adaptation is broadly acknowledged, security in funding at a corresponding level remains a challenge.

    Expected Duration

    Programme Start: 1 January 1996.

  • Activities within the programme will involve cooperation between the UNU Vice-Rectorate in Europe and two partners:

    • UNU Institute for Environment and Human Security
    • UNU Institute for Water, Environment and Health
  • United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security

    UN Campus
    Platz der Vereinten Nationen 1
    53113 Bonn, Germany

    Tel.: + 49-228-815-0200
    Fax: + 49-228-815-0299