Sustainability Science

The Post-2015 Agenda must address 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

On 30 May 2013, the UN Secretary-General received the High-level Panel report on the Post-2015 Development Agenda which provides recommendations on advancing the development framework beyond the target date for the MDGs . Under Goal 12 titled “Create a Global Enabling Environment and Catalyse Long-Term Finance” it proposes to “promote collaboration on and access to science, technology, innovation, and development data”¹  . However the challenge remains to lift the role of science, both natural and social, to develop a thorough understanding of the complex global challenges, to identify, validate and monitor new approaches and technologies and to introduce new green economic models. Sustainability science is a vital part of the solutions to the sustainability challenges we face. The scientific community now needs to strengthen further international collaboration, and take a leading role in providing the knowledge needed for societal transformations to a sustainable world.

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.


[1] United Nations (2013) A new global partnership: eradicate poverty and transform economies through sustainable development - The Report of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda; available at

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