Social sciences must respond to environmental change

The social and natural sciences must be more closely integrated to respond to the transformation in society due to global environmental change, according to a major report launched today in Paris, France.

Social sciences should more effectively research “human causes, vulnerabilities and impacts” of environmental change given that it affects people’s livelihoods, chances of survival, and ways of life, says the ‘World Social Science Report 2013: Changing Global Environments’ produced jointly by UNESCO, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the International Social Science Council (ISSC).

“North or South, human behaviour contributes significantly to climate change,” says ISSC president Olive Shisana, in the report’s preface. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions “is inextricably linked with human behaviour and the model of development we choose to follow”.

In the North, people want to maintain their lifestyles; in the South, people want similar lifestyles, which “complicates the issue”, she notes.

Despite the role of human behaviour, “the social sciences have remained marginal to global environmental change research”, the report says, warning that “now is not the time to stay on the sidelines” as climate and environmental change create “staggering human-made crises, and as the world struggles to find a path toward a more secure and sustainable future”.

Global challenges

The report’s authors say the move towards interdisciplinary research is slow everywhere.

The resilience or collapse of systems cannot be understood by measuring temperature increases, predicting earthquakes or tracking tropical storms alone, they say. Regional differences in economic stagnation or development are not adequately explained by climate conditions, the number of species or the quantity of natural resources.

Social scientists from the fields of anthropology, economics, development studies, geography, political science, psychology and sociology need to collaborate more effectively with colleagues from the natural, human and engineering sciences.

The report also calls for a new kind of social science called sustainability science or the science of transformation.

Source: Yojana Sharma | SciDev.Net

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