Global Environmental Change

Global Environmental Change

© UN Photo / L. Abassi - Civilians Attempt to Avoid Wrath of Hurricane

Global environmental change includes processes such as biodiversity loss, freshwater scarcity and climate change. Understanding of the complexity, interconnectedness and sensitivity of social systems, ecosystems and their interfaces is needed to address and plan for the environmental change. The challenges associated with the change are not “outside” human societies – they are an integral component of their functioning. It has been well recognized since the first Rio Earth Summit in 1992 that sustainable development has inseparable social and environmental pillars. It is now increasingly clear that every social challenge is in some respect environmental, and that every environmental challenge is in some respects social.

Global environmental change is therefore a major contemporary driver of social transformation, and its effects are expected to grow through coming decades – possibly to the point of calling into question not just growth and prosperity but social inclusion and the realization of human rights. It thus gives rise to ethical challenges that need to be grasped within a framework of forward-looking critical thinking.

To address these issues, the Global Environmental Change Team works in three complementary directions:

  • to identify the ethical and social challenges arising from global environmental change, particularly climate change, biodiversity loss and freshwater scarcity, by supporting the production of social and human science knowledge within an integrated science framework;
  • to reflect on ethical principles that can make sense of environmental challenges and offer a normative basis to address them;
  • to support ethically and social scientifically grounded national policies in selected countries to adapt to global environmental change, with particular reference to assessment methodologies and policy design.

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