Grand Challenges

(National Academy of Sciences, 2001)

  • Biogeochemical cycles: Understand the Earth's major biogeochemical cycles, evaluating how these cycles are perturbed by human activities, and determining how the cycles might be stabilized.
  • Biological diversity and ecosystem functioning: Understand the factors affecting biological diversity and ecosystem functioning, including the role of human activity and deemed the most important of the eight challenges.
  • Climate variability: Increase the ability to predict climate variations, understand how this variability is likely to change in the future, and assess the realistic impacts of such changes.
  • Hydrologic forecasting: Develop an improved understanding of and ability to predict changes in freshwater resources and the environment caused by floods, droughts, sedimentation, and contamination.
  • Infectious disease and the environment: Understand the ecological and evolutionary aspects of infectious disease; develop an understanding of the interactions among pathogens, hosts/receptors and the environment.
  • Institutions and resource use: Understand how human use of natural resources is shaped by institutions such as markets, governments, international treaties, and formal/informal set of rules that govern the extraction of resources, waste disposal, and other environmentally important activities.
  • Land use dynamics: Develop a systematic understanding of changes in land uses and land covers that are critical to ecosystem functioning & services and human welfare.
  • Reinventing the use of materials: Develop a quantitative understanding of global budgets and cycles of materials widely used by humanity and how the life cycles of these materials may be modified for sustainable use.

Forum on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development (American Association of the Advancement of Science)

  1. How can the dynamic interactions between nature and society including lags and inertia be better incorporated in emerging models and conceptualizations that integrate the Earth system, human development, and sustainability?
  2. How are long-term trends in environment and development, including consumption and population, reshaping nature-society interactions in ways relevant to sustainability?
  3. What determines the vulnerability or resilience of the nature-society system in particular kinds of places and for particular types of ecosystems and human livelihoods?
  4. Can scientifically meaningful "limits" or "boundaries" be defined that would provide effective warning of conditions beyond which the nature-society systems incur a significantly increased risk of serious degradation?
  5. What systems of incentive structures including markets, rules, norms and scientific information can most effectively improve social capacity to guide interactions between nature and society toward more sustainable trajectories?
  6. How can today's operational systems for monitoring and reporting on environmental and social conditions be integrated or extended to provide more useful guidance for efforts to navigate a transition toward sustainability?
  7. How can today's relatively independent activities of research planning, observation, assessment, and decision support be better integrated into systems for adaptive management and societal learning?

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