Sustainability Science

The 2030 Agenda is addressing the big questions of our time - questions about eradicating poverty, enhancing food security, promoting sustainable energy, managing water and environmental resources, controlling disease, mitigating natural and man-induced disasters, and fostering sustainable cities. The development of solutions to these global challenges needs to be science based.

Sustainable solutions, whether at the global, regional or country level, require creativity, new advances in scientific knowledge, discoveries and innovations. Sustainability science promotes problem driven cross-disciplinary approaches to advance understanding of human-environment interactions and systems, and of how those interactions affect the challenge of sustainability. The field is defined by the problems it addresses rather than the disciplines it employs. It draws from multiple disciplines of the natural, social, medical and engineering sciences, from the professions, and from practical field experience in business, government, and civil society. Sustainability science approaches are characterised by:

  • Use of problem-driven methodologies promoting dialogue between science and society
  • A focus on the interactions between social and natural systems
  • Integration of multiple forms of knowledge leading to sound policy

In response to the emerging global sustainability challenges, UNESCO is putting into practice integrated science for sustainable development, or sustainability science. UNESCO will be an active partner in Future Earth, a new ten-year international partnership initiative to make sustainability science an enabler of evidence-based policy-making. Decision makers need scientifically sound, reliable knowledge and policy advice to implement sustainable development goals. Within UNESCO’s medium term strategy C/4 and operational plans C/5 sustainability science will be delivered through existing UNESCO Networks i.e. International Hydrological Program (IHP), Man and Biosphere Program (MAB) and Management of Social Transformations (MOST) Programme. While IHP and MAB focus on natural science aspects, MOST programme's primary purpose is to transfer relevant social sciences research findings and data to decision-makers and other stakeholders. Sustainability Science is also expected to play an important role in further promoting Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). Building on its experience in leading international and intergovernmental science programmes and bodies and on their global observation capacities, UNESCO will contribute to influencing and shaping the research agenda of global and regional scientific cooperation, through the lens of sustainability science aimed at social inclusion which will be a defining factor of the post-2015 development agenda.

Since 2014, UNESCO has been putting into practice integrated approaches to science and engineering for sustainable development, called “sustainability science”. These integrated, “problem-solving” approaches draw on the full range of scientific, traditional and indigenous knowledge in a trans-disciplinary way to identify, understand and address economic, environmental, ethical and societal challenges using existing UNESCO Natural and Social and Human Sciences networks. In Asia and the Pacific region, demonstration sites were established in four countries Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines in order to assess practicality of co-design and co-delivery of sustainability science in the specific context of the region and UNESCO designated sites under three projects:

  1. A Sustainable Future: Supporting Indonesia’s Strategies to Address the Social Implications of Climate Change funded by Indonesian Funds-in-Trust (IFIT) with demonstration sites in Indonesia   
  2. A Sustainable Future: Supporting Indonesia’s Strategies to Address the Social Implications of Climate Change funded by Indonesian Funds-in-Trust (IFIT) with demonstration sites in Indonesia 
  3. Science Harnessed for ASEAN Regional Policy (SHARP), supported by the Malaysia Funds-in-Trust (MFIT) with demonstration sites and UNESCO designated sites in Cambodia, Malaysia and the Philippines 


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