UNESCO: United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization



Social Dimensions of Global Environmental Change

    Environmental changes have been occurring ever since the Earth was formed. Human activities have led to slow and environmental changes over time. Today however, population growth combined with increasing consumption induces changes at such a high pace that ecological systems lack the time to adapt. As people depend on the environment, natural degradation can lead to major socio-economic issues and risks to human lives.

    The Asia and the Pacific region is home to two thirds of the world’s poor. The rural poor – agriculturalists, forest plant collectors, hunters, and fisherman in Asia and the Pacific – whom live along forests and coasts, have traditionally been economically and socially ignored, under-represented, under-served, and most vulnerable to ecological and socio-economic perturbations.

    The Asian-Pacific nations have a real economic and social stake, many challenges ahead, but also an opportunity to make sustainable development work. In cooperation with Engineering Science and Technology Unit, SHS is currently working on the following projects:

    1. Sustainability Science in the Asia-Pacific Region

    2. A Sustainable Future: Supporting Indonesia’s Strategies to Address the Social Implications of Climate Change

    Sustainability Science in the Asia-Pacific Region

    This project aims to develop a common understanding of the concrete concept of "Sustainability Science". The project also aims to raise awareness about sustainability science among policymakers in the Asia and Pacific region, with a view to position this as part of the national and regional science and technology policy.

    The concept of "Sustainability Science" was officially introduced at the World Congress "Challenges of a Changing Earth 2001" organized by the International Council for Science (ICSU) and other international organizations in Amsterdam.

    In 2011, the Japanese National Commission for UNESCO submitted a proposal on "Sustainability Science" to UNESCO’s 36th General Conference for the promotion of an integrated approach to build a sustainable society through coexistence between human beings and the environment.

    There is a clear mutual influence between socio-economy and the environment. Human beings affect nature and nature affects human beings. Consequently environmental change is a major contemporary driver of social transformation, and its effects are expected to grow through coming decades. Social and economic development, changes in the environment, and the opportunity to live in peace and security, are all inextricably linked in the world of today. Sustainability science aims to understand the relationship between the natural and the human system. In the case of environmental change research on the social dimension is vital. However, the social and human dimension of environmental changes only recently became the object of increased attention from both policy-makers and researchers.

    A group of international influential experts from diverse backgrounds have been invited to develop further the conceptual paper on sustainability science, discuss case studies from Asia-Pacific region, and propose answers to the following general question: how can sustainability science address economy-environment interactions and contribute to the achievement of sustainable society in the Asia-Pacific Region?

    • Sustainable Sciences Expert Meeting, Tokyo 6-7 September 2012

    • Regional Workshop on Sustainability Science, Kuala Lumpur, February 2013

    • UNESCO Conceptual Paper on Sustainability Science, 2013

    A Sustainable Future: Supporting Indonesia’s Strategies to Address the Social Implications of Climate Change

    The social impacts of environmental change are strongly interlinked and transversal. Shortage of water and food are interconnected and both have impacts on social issues such as gender and education. To achieve sustainable development, policies and resilience, adaptation and mitigation strategies have to hold into account this interconnectedness and apply the knowledge on the interlinked social dimensions of climate change.

    Interdisciplinary research such as Sustainability Science can be used as a tool to obtain this knowledge and apply it when developing national and sub-national policies and plans on climate change adaptation and mitigation.

    Over the past years climate change has proven to be a major challenge for Indonesia because it has been a major 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.

    Due to its geographical location, topography and socio-economic factors, Indonesia is very vulnerable to the impacts of climatic variability and climate change. The manifestations and impacts of climatic changes are unpredictable and expected to be serious.

    This project aims to promote discussion on the importance of paying attention to the social dimensions of climate change, and to stimulate adjustments to existing and new legal and policy documents and practices. Research could contribute to the formulation of resilience strategies for communities that would be affected by future environmental changes such as the destruction of agricultural land due to the long drought and other seasonal changes. Research will also provide policy makers with a better understanding of the social dimension of climate change and its effects on local communities. Like for instance: the loss of livelihoods for communities of farmers and fishermen, or the problems derived from food insecurity, population displacement and unavailability of clean fresh water.

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