What is the most important research question in Earth system research that needs answering in the next decade?

The International Council for Science (ICSU) and the International Social Science Council (ISSC) recently created a web-based consultation process to ask the scientific community for advise and ideas on how to develop "a holistic strategy on Earth system research". The research strategy is intended to encourage scientific innovation and address policy needs.

The challenge posed in the Web Consultation for "Developing a New Vision and Strategic Framework for Earth System Research" was to propose an answer the question,

"What is the most important research question in Earth system research that needs answering in the next decade?"

I contributed the question:

"How can we satisfy the (increasingly conflicting) needs to maintain global human well-being and to maintain global biodiversity (including its “option values” for the future)? "

Participants in the consultation process were allowed to vote on submitted questions (up or down).

The final set of about 300 submitted questions, and their votes, can be found at the Web Consultation for "Developing a New Vision and Strategic Framework for Earth System Research".

How did my question go?

According to votes, my question, How can we satisfy the (increasingly conflicting) needs to maintain global human well-being and to maintain global biodiversity (including its “option values” for the future)? was in the top 5% of submitted questions.

My brief justification for proposing the question was:

"Earth system research focuses on “observing, understanding, reconstructing and predicting global environmental changes involving interactions between land, atmosphere, water, ice, biosphere, societies, technologies and economies”. The question I pose is perhaps the most fundamental of the “interactions” questions relating to global environmental change. It matches well the Vision’s goals to identify “research questions that… would provide answers that are relevant to the needs of decision-makers concerned with global environmental change and human well-being”. This question might have been listed only under “biodiversity” – but I list it as “Interdisciplinary” because it is an multidisciplinary challenge, and perhaps calls for new institutions and programs over the next decade. At same time, it makes sense that “biodiversity” is highlighted because biodiversity underpins present and future benefits and services.

This question is important in next decade because there is a narrow window of opportunity to find effective solutions. Answers to the question would serve the needs of decision-makers in addressing the increasing “tensions” between local versus global values; current versus future benefits; known elements of diversity versus unknown elements, etc. There are good opportunities to make a difference in the next decade. For example, emerging new technologies for rapid biodiversity discovery and assessment, if well-coordinated regionally and globally, might help us to integrate biodiversity values into interdisciplinary conservation planning, and into policy frameworks such as “beyond-2010”."

 


Dr Dan Faith , Principal Research Scientist
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