Lavish praise and a few reservations at the launch of Future Earth

Mićo Tatalović

Mićo Tatalović
Deputy news editor, SciDev.Net


A much-talked about global research alliance for global sustainability, Future Earth, was officially launched, and its tentative research themes unveiled, at the science forum yesterday.

The vast initiative aims to integrate various sciences find solutions for sustainable development. Its ‘integrated research themes’ were revealed — to  mixed reception — at the forum.

The eight themes were in the fields of: state of the planet; resources for development and wellbeing; critical regions (eg cities, poles); disasters; living with the sea; lower carbon societies; global responses to the environment and transformative pathways towards a sustainable future.

The next steps include the research framework going online for open consultations in the next few weeks; four regional workshops to be held by the end of the year; and the scientific committee to be set up in early 2013.

“An enormously significant compilation of organisations has come together, which, I think, shows the commitment of the science community,” said Felix Dodd, executive director of Stakeholders Forum, who chaired the meeting.

And Joseph Alcamo, Chief Scientist, United Nations Environment Programme was effusive: he said this was “one of the most unique partnerships the Earth has seen” and said it had “tremendous potential” to provide us with the science needed to achieve sustainable development.

But despite praise and flagship status of Future Earth, there were many questions raised about it at the debate following the presentation, and also on the sidelines .

Kathleen Cass, executive director of the Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA), said there were hardly any mentions of ‘data’ and it was not clear how or where the data expected to be produced by the research initiative will be stored and handled.

John Baglin, emeritus researcher at the IBM Almaden Research Center, United States, who earlier in the week proposed a research roadmap on behalf of the International Union of Materials Research Societies said the presentation omitted two key things: who is Future Earth’s audience and what are their deliverables.

Similar concerns about how this venture will measure its success were raised (and not answered) at a meeting earlier in the year.

This blog post is part of our Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development blog which takes place 11-15 June 2012. To read news and analysis from the conference please visit our website.

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