February 16, 2012

Europe Needs A “RESCUE” Revolution

Resolving the world´s major challenges whether climate change, environmental pollution, urbanisation, our ageing population or resource scarcity requires a sweeping shift in our approach to sustainability research and education, a group of leading scientists told European policy makers today during the launch of their report “Responses to Environmental and Societal Challenges for our Unstable Earth” (RESCUE).

A joint initiative by the European Science Foundation (ESF) and European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST), the RESCUE initiative entails a vision that calls for nothing less than a holistic approach to research and education which acknowledges that today´s complex problems require integrated solutions, and the individual, institutional and societal will to engage in their implementation.

The RESCUE Report synthesizes contributions from about 100 experts in 30 countries on how to deal with the major challenges, arising from today´s ℠Anthropocene´ age where the impact of human activity at the very least equals the bio-geophysical forces shaping the planet. In the face of these “global changes,” the RESCUE report calls on science policy makers, research funders, the scientific community, industry and business leaders, civil society organisations and citizens to implement and use an ℠open knowledge system´ in order to make the transition towards sustainability. This means interdisciplinary research, a sharing of knowledge and changes to educational systems from pre-school through to university to emphasise the collaborative, trans-disciplinary and innovative nature of learning and problem solving.

The result would end the current compartmentalisation of research so that in exploring solutions, researchers would reframe global environmental change problems as fundamentally social and human or, for example, natural scientists would join forces with economists and philosophers to learn from the current economic crisis how to better address global change challenges.

“Examining the social and individual implications of major challenges can no longer be a simple add-on to existing research. It must be integrated into mindsets and research from the start,” said Martin Hynes, Chief Executive of ESF. ℠At the very least, the RESCUE vision requires deep integration of many disciplines, and a new approach to education which will play the key role in our future, because it is in our elementary schools where we must start learning and practicing sustainability. Education is the interface between science, policy and communication´, he added.

The report was presented to the European policy community during a conference in Brussels held today (16 February) where EC Deputy Director-General for Framework Programmes, Dr. Rudolf Strohmeier, delivered opening remarks while Mr Hynes and Dr. Matthias Haury, COST Head of Science Operations chaired the meeting. Speakers included Professor Leen Hordijk, Chair of the RESCUE initiative, Karen O´Brien, from the University of Oslo, and Heide Hackmann, ISSC Executive Director. BedÅ™ich Moldan, from the University of Prague will deliver a video address. John Crowley, UNESCO Directorate-General for Social and Human Sciences, will make the closing statement.

The ESF and COST are not alone in their recognition of the need for a holistic approach to sustainability research and education. The European Commission has placed research and innovation at the centre of its Europe 2020 strategy. Within this policy context, the European Commission´s recently proposed new research framework for the period 2014- 2020 — Horizon 2020 — reflects parts of the RESCUE vision with its ℠knowledge and innovation communities´, to create greater synergies between research, business and academia for research and innovation into major societal challenges such as climate change or resources scarcity.

The forthcoming “Planet under Pressure” conference in March and the “United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development” (Rio+20) in June will also highlight the need to integrate research disciplines and education, for global issues related to environment and development. The RESCUE Report represents the ESF and COST´s contribution to those conferences where, it is hoped, a renewed research agenda and a political commitment to transition towards sustainability will be secured from countries in Europe and around the globe.


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