Our Common Future Under Climate Change

International Scientific Conference 7-10 JULY 2015 Paris, France

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Friday 10 July - 14:00-15:30 UNESCO Bonvin - ROOM XIV

4417 - Transforming Society and Science for Sustainability – Addressing Challenges in Transdisciplinary Research

Parallel Session

Chair(s): D. Mathieu

Lead Convener(s): C. Adler (ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland), S. Moore (International Social Science Council, Paris Cedex 15, France)

Convener(s): J. El-Karraz


Social Transformations towards Sustainability – needs and opportunities for transformative, transdisciplinary science

H. Hackmann (International Council for Science (ICSU), Paris, France)

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Social Transformations towards Sustainability – needs and opportunities for transformative, transdisciplinary science

H. Hackmann (1)
(1) International Council for Science (ICSU), Paris, France

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Research on global environmental change and sustainability increasingly goes hand-in-hand with calls for deep social change, and yet we know very little about how real and enduring social transformation comes about and how – if at all – it can or should be initiated, fostered or steered. ‘Transformations towards Sustainability’ is one of the three major thematic lines of activity of Future Earth, the new international hub coordinating research on global environmental change and sustainability, along with ‘Dynamic Planet’ and ‘Global Sustainable Development’. As a direct contribution to this initiative, the International Social Science Council recently launched a research programme on Transformations to Sustainability in the first significant global effort to address knowledge gaps around social transformation.  

Both Future Earth and the Transformations to Sustainability Programme are committed to a new approach to research for sustainability. Science as usual is not going to be successful in addressing climate change or other environmental challenges. Change is needed, and urgently, in how we do science, if we want to help accelerate transitions to a sustainable and just world. A transformations approach to sustainability research demands integrated, solutions-oriented science that takes account of the complexity of the challenges: research that involves the appropriate scientific disciplines, from social sciences and humanities to natural sciences and engineering; which focuses on specific problems in specific places; and crucially, which engages with society in its many dimensions in identifying the challenges, framing the research questions, designing and implementing the research, interpreting the findings and disseminating and using the results.

However, integrated, transdisciplinary research involving multiple stakeholders and places is difficult and done in various ways with varying results by different communities of practice. We need now to go beyond enumerating the challenges, obstacles or even successes, to pull together and learn from what we know about transdisciplinary research to enhance its quality and usefulness more generally. 


Stakeholder based science in transition research – challenges and opportunities

J. Mielke (Global Climate Forum (GCF), Berlin, Germany), H. Vermaßen (Center for Political Practices and Orders Universität Erfurt, Erfurt, Germany), S. Ellenbeck (Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Potsdam, Germany), B. Fernandez Milan (Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, Berlin, Berlin, Germany)

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Stakeholder based science in transition research – challenges and opportunities

J. Mielke (1) ; H. Vermaßen (2) ; S. Ellenbeck (3) ; B. Fernandez Milan (4)
(1) Global Climate Forum (GCF), Green Growth, Berlin, Germany; (2) Center for Political Practices and Orders Universität Erfurt, Erfurt, Germany; (3) Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Potsdam, Germany; (4) Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, Berlin, Berlin, Germany

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The clean energy transition – based on the findings of the IPCC and others– is a highly political issue. It touches the way how society and especially the economy is organized, but also requires change on a personal and community level. Powerful interests of all status quo advocates are at stake and there exists not at all a consensus on how to transform and where to transform to. Hence, research on possible decarbonization pathways is a tricky issue that led researchers to involve stakeholders more strongly in the scientific process. Reasons behind this are (at least) twofold: First, engaging stakeholders more actively can facilitate access to issue-specific insider information that helps tackle scientific uncertainty and consequently improve the research process. Second, such involvement is perceived by the scientific community as a way to increase the influence of research on decision-making in political and economic arenas. However, these developments challenge the classical way scientific research is carried out and raise the question of “objectiveness” and value- and interest-driven research results.

We use the case of clean energy transition in Germany and Europe to systematize and discuss arguments for and against stakeholder based science and put them in a meta-scientific context. By doing so, we tackle the following questions: What kind of knowledge can be generated from stakeholder dialogues involving actors with varying degrees of influence in society and how can it be used? Which are the limitations of the so called co-production of knowledge? How can researchers coordinate and evaluate the influence that stakeholders have on their research process? What kind of trade-offs exist in the way research involves stakeholders and what implications do different approaches have for the science-policy interface? Our discussion paper thus investigates the influence of stakeholder based science on research "validity" and "objectivity", and its effects on research processes. 


Transforming Science to meet Society's Needs - The Social Footprint Laboratory

A. Malik, D. Mcbain (University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia), M. Joy (University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia)

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Transforming Science to meet Society's Needs - The Social Footprint Laboratory

D. Mcbain (1) ; M. Joy (1)
(1) University of Sydney, Integrated Sustainability Analysis, Sydney, Australia

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A quiet revolution is taking place that began a decade ago on a small Pacific island. A group of trans disciplinary academics had gathered to enjoy the sun, great company and discuss the how they could share data in a way that would be scalable and replicable. The data would be based on the trade in the world economy, and have detailed sets of environmental accounts for countries globally. When these data sets were all used together, the impact could be transformational. Complex global problems, such as understanding indicators of climate change, could be modelled and scenario tested. Academics from across the world could contribute and upload environmental and economic data, to be used with a multi-regional input-output database. The database and user friendly interface has now been uploaded to a cloud based platform. In 2014 this idyll dream came to fruition in the form of the Australian Industrial Ecology Virtual Laboratory (IELab). The IELab is transformational in bringing together academics, early career researchers, and users to better understand the environmental impacts of consumption, production and trade.

Now that the lessons have been learned for environmental data using economic modelling, researchers are developing a network to establish the global Social Footprint Laboratory (SFL). Where the IELab can be used to model carbon, energy and water footprints, the SFL will model social footprints such as labour or inequality. Social footprints are already being used to demonstrate the inequality in trade between countries, the ‘Master/Servant’ relationships between producing and consuming nations, and the embedded social impacts such as accidents and even workplace deaths associated with production. The development of indicators in the SFL will provide a focus on basic needs and the capacity to engage local stakeholders to define and model relevant indicators for transformational change for social sustainability, as well as develop networks for data collection, sharing and use. The power and innovation of the project is to enhance and extend the existing economic and environmental data and structures of the IELab, with the critical social data and indicators required to identify, guide and monitor changes towards sustainability.

The development of these cloud based tools will bring together users such as governments, businesses, non-government organisations (NGO’s), academic research institutions and international institutions worldwide to start to understand the drivers of globally and locally complex problems such as climate change and inequality. The SFL, when developed, will also help to monitor multidimensional progress against social, environmental and economic goals such as the UN Post 2015 Sustainable Development goals. An important part of the process of developing the SFL will be bringing together users to form a network and creating the knowledge links essential for transformational change. This network will complement the existing Asia-Pacific Research and Training Network on Trade (ARTNeT), which is an open network of research and academic institutions and think-tanks in the Asia-Pacific region, currently coordinated through UN ESCAP in Bangkok.   Even without the virtual laboratory, the establishment of such a global network concerned with the collection, use and dissemination of social impact data will be transformational.  The case studies developed as part of this project will also add to the transformational change through demonstration to the different user groups of how the data in the SFL can be applied.

Existing data sets on social indicators such as employment, income, poverty and child labour have already been used with the multi-regional input-output databases, in both the IELab and the Social Hotspots Database, proving viability of this project. A transformational aspect of this project will be in bringing together early career researchers in developing countries to gather the data and involving end users with the development of the tool.

This paper will present the transformational work on the IE Lab, giving examples of studies this work has enabled early career researchers to conduct and publish and share practical experiences of building a virtual laboratory in Australia and scaling it to a global capacity. It will also outline the proposed SFL project and network as part of the Transformation to Sustainability Programme, and showcase some of the social footprinting studies conducted to date and how this multidisciplinary work can contribute to solutions oriented research on climate change.


FEAST (Food: Engaging in Action for Sustainable Transformation): Building a Transformative Knowledge Network

R. Garcia, (Benemerita Universidad Autonoma de Puebla, Puebla, Mexico), B. Rault, (Desarrollo y Aprendizaje, A.C., Puebla, Mexico), N. Castillo (Desarrollo y Aprendizaje, Puebla, Mexico), E. Nelson (Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, France), A. Blay-Palmer, (Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Canada)

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FEAST (Food: Engaging in Action for Sustainable Transformation): Building a Transformative Knowledge Network

R. Garcia, (1) ; B. Rault, (2) ; N. Castillo (3) ; E. Nelson (4) ; A. Blay-Palmer, (5)
(1) Benemerita Universidad Autonoma de Puebla, Puebla, Mexico; (2) Desarrollo y Aprendizaje, A.C., Puebla, Mexico; (3) Desarrollo y Aprendizaje, Puebla, Mexico; (4) Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, France; (5) Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Canada

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With academic and community partners in Mexico, Brazil, Kenya, Canada, the United States, and the European Union, the FEAST (Food: Engaging in Action for Sustainable Transformation) social economy of food network focuses on co-creating and sharing knowledge about innovative, community-scale solutions to the interrelated challenges of climate change, poverty, and food insecurity. We take as our starting point practical initiatives that have demonstrated potential to improve access to healthy food, build resilient communities, and contribute to transformation to more sustainable food production and consumption practices. These include: promoting new as well as traditional climate-smart production techniques; building community capacity to engage in agroecology and agroforestry; facilitating increased access to traditional foods, particularly in Indigenous communities; developing appropriate alternative markets for ecological products; and, implementing participatory governance systems, for example for organic certification.

By analyzing and developing connectivity amongst projects such as these, our transdisciplinary network of scholars and practitioners aims to increase the scope of their transformative potential. Specifically, our objectives are to: 1) Use a social economy of food as a lever to explore socially just, economically robust, and ecologically regenerative sustainable opportunities for communities in the Global South that would increase their ability to address the interrelated challenges of climate change, poverty, and food insecurity; 2) Build direct person-to-person (or community-to-community) knowledge flows that enable citizens in the Global North to better understand the impacts of climate change, poverty and food insecurity in communities of the Global South, and also build solidarity amongst communities in the Global South that are confronting these challenges; 3) Create a networked learning community to facilitate the exchange of knowledge regarding concrete examples of innovative, community-scale solutions to the problems of climate change, poverty and food insecurity; and 4) Use this knowledge-network as a platform to extend knowledge sharing to other communities. This learning community would highlight the co-creation of knowledge between South and North and between academic and community partners, and be facilitated in a way that empowers traditionally marginalized communities. It would also enhance the capacity of researchers/scientists – particularly emerging scholars – to analyze household and community-level adaptation strategies, and inform climate-smart policies.

The proposed paper will highlight some of the advances that have been made to date by FEAST network partners working at the regional scale to address climate change, poverty, and food insecurity, particularly for marginalized populations including women, youth, Indigenous communities, and smallholder farmers. It will also outline how the development of a robust transdisciplinary knowledge network creates opportunities to increase the transformative potential of existing regional work. 


Strengthening collaboration for transformation to sustainability in research and education at universities

P. Adam (Centre for Global Change & Sustainability, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria), H. Kromp-Kolb (Centre for Global Change & Sustainability, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria), T. Lindenthal (Centre for Global Change & Sustainability, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria)

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Strengthening collaboration for transformation to sustainability in research and education at universities

P. Adam (1) ; H. Kromp-Kolb (1) ; T. Lindenthal (1)
(1) Centre for Global Change & Sustainability, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria

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To be able to respond to grand societal challenges such as climate change, it is necessary for universities and other research organisations to recognise and act upon their responsibility as both educators and generators of knowledge. An effective contribution of science to societal transformation requires an adaptation of teaching and research activities and intensified collaboration and networking. Equally important is that science opens up to civil society and improves interactions with decision makers. Inter- and trans-disciplinary approaches can help expedite the necessary dialog on all levels. “Responsible Science” is the catch word used to address these changes – but what needs to be done? What are best practice examples from different academic cultures? How can universities and other research institutions cooperate to speed up the necessary change?

Increasingly science is becoming aware of and acting upon this responsibility. In Austria e.g. over 240 scientists have collaborated to jointly create the first Austrian Panel on Climate Change (APCC) report, mimicking in form, structure and process the assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The leading climate research institutions have founded the Climate Change Centre Austria (CCCA), which coordinates activities of and facilitates exchange between the climate science community. Recently a number of major universities created the Alliance of Sustainable Universities in Austria that is working on implementing the necessary transformation in teaching, research, on-campus and in societal outreach and exchange activities. In 2014, this alliance e.g. completed a research project on climate friendly research and managed to implement sustainability strategies on the regulatory level as part of mandatory performance agreements with the Austrian Ministry of Science and Research.

In this contribution we will discuss experiences, particularly on barriers and leverage points and potentially transferable “catalysing mechanisms” for “science and research in transition”.

Although these activities have many positive effects, a fundamental issue still persists: Currently the academic system is geared towards achievements within the scientific community such as e.g. SCI publications, disciplinary oriented research and education, scientific oriented third-party funding, etc. However, responsibility toward society means dealing with the challenges society faces rather than investigating issues which promise to be lucrative either financially or in terms of scientific ‘standing’. Sustainability science and education with its inter and trans-disciplinary research, exchange and dissemination of knowledge and engagement in collaboration and networking activities of the kinds mentioned above are often not rewarded and hence are difficult to prioritise in a publish-or-perish system.

Universities and the scientific system at large can play and must play a leading and visionary role toward the solution of the climate crisis and other grand societal challenges. However this will mean considerable changes to the current academic system, supplementing systems of evaluation and rewards in order to enable science to answer the pressing questions of our times and engage in the type of education, collaboration, networking and exchange, which is so crucial if we are to achieve the necessary transformation to a post-carbon, sustainable society.


Networked co-design for trans-national sustainability-oriented innovation systems

A. Ely (STEPS Centre, Sussex, United Kingdom)

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Networked co-design for trans-national sustainability-oriented innovation systems

A. Ely (1)
(1) STEPS Centre, SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit, Sussex, United Kingdom

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Contribution to No. 4417 “Transforming science to transform society”


This paper presents initial findings from a co-design process involving ‘transformation platforms’ in six different high, middle and low-income countries as part of the ‘Constructing Pathways to Sustainability’ network.  In each case, co-design workshops were hosted in order to bring stakeholders together around challenges that linked to climate change, including sustainable cities, sustainable agricultural and food systems and low carbon energy.  In all cases the host institution convened a mix of academic scientists and knowledge partners in order to analyse the locally-defined problem and explore alternative pathways serving environmental sustainability and social justice objectives.


The paper will focus in particular on the examples from China and Africa, which primarily address the challenge of low carbon transitions that serve the needs of the poor.  In each case, local innovations were identified that related to solar photovoltaic technologies, and participants discussed the problem of enabling access among poorer communities.  Whilst innovation policies in China are clearly succeeding in the competitive production of low-cost PV panels, primarily for export, the uptake of PV in poor rural areas remains relatively slow.  Participants identified the need to move away from technology-focused approaches to expanding energy access towards bottom-up approaches that also integrate concerns embodied in a new central government focus on poverty reduction, seen for example in the State Council’s new policies on rural participation.


In the African case, participants discussed the utility of solar home systems (SHSs) and biomass in providing energy services to off-grid communities.  Of particular interest to this paper is the development of novel payment mechanisms for solar energy, utilising mobile phone systems, that have been pioneered in Kenya.  Interestingly, these are being recombined with solar PV hardware imported from China to produce a (socio-technical) system with potential to enable low carbon transitions that serve the needs of the poor.   


The networked approach to co-design enabled the pairing of the China and Africa cases, offering opportunities to explore linkages and mutual learning across continents that can – together – contribute to transnational (low carbon) sustainability-oriented innovation systems.  The paper ends with a proposal to take forward these initial findings through continued work at the levels of the local transformation platforms and across the international transformative knowledge network.



Collaborative political ecology: Mapping movements to leave oil in the soil with and for Environmental Justice Organizations

L. Temper (Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology (ICTA)- Autonomous University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain)

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Collaborative political ecology: Mapping movements to leave oil in the soil with and for Environmental Justice Organizations

L. Temper (1)
(1) Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology (ICTA)- Autonomous University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain

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This paper presents the results of the collaborative work on climate justice undertaken in the EJOLT (Environmental Justice Organizations Liabilities and Trade) EU fp7 project through the presentation and analysis of over 300 cases of conflicts over fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure as documented in the Atlas of Environmental Justice (www.ejatlas.org).

The Global Atlas of Environmental Justice (www.ejatlas.org) is a collaborative project that draws on activist knowledge to document social conflict over the environment. Ecological conflicts are defined as: “mobilizations by local communities, social movements and EJOs against particular economic activities (or state policies), in which concerns about current or future negative environmental impacts are an important part of the grievances, along with social, psychological and political impacts.”

The Global Atlas of Environmental Justice currently documents over 1400 such ecological conflicts displayed on an online interactive map. Each conflict contains around 100 fields including activity type and commodity, actors, quantitative data, degree of violence, forms of action, outcomes and perception of success, among others. Over 250,000 users have opened over 1 million pages of the atlas in the last year since it has been public.

The atlas one one hand serves to document, making visible, and support the struggle for environmental justice (EJ), with the ultimate goal of empowering movements and activists, and increasing the recognition and legitimacy of research done by environmental justice organizations. It also serves as an important activist resource for information sharing and networking.

Scientifically it contributes to a form of 'statistical political ecology', and the development of a system whereby a large number of environmental conflicts can be described, analyzed, and compared across geographies and thematic issues and across spatial and temporal scales. The global nature of the atlas enhances the study of transnational spatial patterns of environmental and economic risks and impacts and their connections through commodity and financial flows that cannot be gained except at broader geographic and political scales. 

The EJatlas is part of a new wave of initiatives that use geo-spatial information and new spatial media to advance, legitimate and secure political claims (Elwood and Leszcynski 2012). Through these “knowledge politics” individuals and institutions leverage digital spatial data and spatial technologies in negotiating social, political, and economic processes. The process of co-production of knowledge in producing the EJatlas is thus a contribution to transcending the expert/amateur or expert/grassroot activist dichotomy, while creating a new spatial knowledge politics and contributing to a collaborative political ecology. 

After an explaination of the methodology of the EJatlas process the paper will present results from a comparative survey of the 300+ cases related to climate justice and fossil fuel extraction in the EJatlas with an emphasis on the following lines of enquiry: 1) The increasingly interlinked nature of place-based mobilizations over fossil fuel extraction and their articulation with global climate activist movements 2) The growth in conflicts over new technologies such as hydraulic fracturing and how citizen science is created and knowledge difused and transmitted between locations 3) the use of increasingly contentious and disruptive forms of resistance to fossil fuel expansion such as blockades in some regions 3) Transformative cases in the atlas that demonstrate how communities resisting fossil fuel extraction are presenting innovative governance mechanisms to leave oil in the soil and move towards energy sovereignty and post-extractivism. 




The Role of Young Scientists in Advancing Knowledge and Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate

J. Baum (University of Victoria, Victoria, Canada)

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The Role of Young Scientists in Advancing Knowledge and Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate

J. Baum (1)
(1) University of Victoria, Biology, Victoria, BC, Canada

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Young scientists are passionate about addressing the climate challenge, and this community is increasingly being recognized for its leadership and contributions to international climate science and policy efforts. Processes such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.S. National Climate Assessment are making explicit efforts to include early-career scientists. Young scientists play critical roles in advancing the understanding of climate change, developing mitigation and adaptation solutions, and informing societal decisions that enhance sustainability in the face of climate change. Doing so often requires early-career researchers to work across traditional disciplinary boundaries throughout the process of discovery. In addition, many young scientists regularly engage with the public and with decision makers, such as resource managers, local officials, urban planners, and stakeholders, through their work. For such emerging leaders, metrics of professional success should therefore reflect not only new contributions to knowledge but also the tangible benefits that those insights bring to society. Despite progress in meaningfully integrating young scientists as leaders in the climate-science community, institutional barriers often hinder early-career researcher engagement both with the scientific community and with stakeholders. This talk will discuss opportunities and challenges facing young scientists working on transdisciplinary projects to inform sustainability solutions in a changing climate. In particular, organizations such as the Global Young Academy provide critical opportunities for mobilizing and empowering early-career scientists to become the leaders of tomorrow’s climate science and policy efforts.