Headline: Changing the scientific approach to fast transitions to a sustainable world. Improving knowledge production for sustainable policy and practice

The 2015 agreement setting forth the UN Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is an important achievement that poses complex and demanding challenges. To adequately address them, judgments must determine contextually and culturally appropriate balances between independently valuable, but often conflicting targets (Singh et al. 2018). Simultaneously, a global coherence across local and regional actions must be ensured, so that local efforts do not destructively interfere with each other, nor overstep limitations in the resources of the planet (Randers et al. 2018). The Global Sustainability Strategy Forum (GSSF) responds to the fact that, after some 40 years sustainability science has produced many insights, but has not really affected our collective behavior with respect to its impact on the environment. Generally, that is deemed to be the result of lack of communication between scientists and the outside world. But might it be that the present practice of science is in itself deficient in producing results that are useful to implement the changes called for? The Forum was established in 2018 with funding from the VW Foundation to identify and address sustainability challenges at the global to regional scales by bringing together, in week-long work-shops, renowned experts in sustainable development and thought leaders in business, government, and civil society from around the world. Under the patronage of Prof. Dr Rita Süssmuth, former President of the German Bundestag, the first Forum was coordinated by Solène Droy with assistance from Paul Skaloud. Moderated by Ilan Chabay (IASS), Sander van der Leeuw (Arizona State University), Ortwin Renn (IASS), 14 panelists convened in Potsdam (Germany) 4-8 March 2019. Eight main lessons emerged from in-depth discussions and reflections towards the end of the forum. They capture some of the main approaches deemed as necessary for science and society to counter patterns and trends of unsustainability and are outlined in this paper. The results were subsequently discussed at the Inland Department of the Office of the German Federal President, addressing fundamental challenges rarely discussed directly at such a high political level. Discussion ranged from tensions between the complexity of the issues and the urgency of the challenges, such as societal acceptance of change, and on the emerging role for compelling plausible visions to inspire and guide sustainability transformation. The expert panel will expand to include decision-makers from business, politics, and civil society to consider strategies for implementation within regional and sectoral contexts. The approach the GSSF develops draws upon indicators and other information to create evidence-informed expert judgments on strategies for implementation of socially just transitions toward sustainable futures at multiple spatial and temporal scales. Of course, the changes required include strengthening and expanding dialogues between scientists, policy makers, business, and civil society; unbiased consideration of diverse sources of knowledge; the substantial refocus of education in an effort to make the central ideas accessible across all ages and segments of society. But that is not enough – the focus of sustainability science itself must be changed to deal with the core issues regarding our current societies’ impact on the environment.

IASS Discussion Paper und IASS Working Paper

Bai, X., Begashaw, B., Bursztyn, M., Chabay, I., Droy, S., Folke, C., Fukushi, K., Gupta, J., Hackmann, H., Hege, E., Jaeger, C., Patwardhan, A., Renn, O., Safonov, G., Schlosser, P., Skaloud, P., Vogel, C., van der Leeuw, S., & Zhang, Y. (2019). Changing the scientific approach to fast transitions to a sustainable world. Improving knowledge production for sustainable policy and practice. IASS Discussion Paper, July 2019.

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Global Sustainability Strategy Forum