Initiating a collective assessment on key issues for science, research organizations and their partners
We lack a science process (despite efforts in the Global Sustainable Development Report) to deliver integrated understanding on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a nexus. There are ongoing efforts, for instance for the land sector, but these are not taking place at scale. Delivering integrative actionable knowledge to meet Agenda 2030 raises many questions: how do we re-legitimate scientific knowledge and preserve scientific integrity, coproduce knowledge with users, avoid silos and promote iterative ways of producing knowledge preserving diversity and addressing uncertainty and complexity? Would this require changes in institutions, in international research cooperation and in science-policy dialogue?
To answer these important and ambitious questions, 30 high-level international experts were invited by INRAE to participate in a workshop at Royaumont Abbey near Paris, following online sessions organized in June.
Addressing interconnected grand challenges
In the years 2020-2030, it is expected that scientific research will not only provide knowledge for characterizing major environmental and societal issues, but also provide knowledge and resources for innovation to tackle global challenges, and hence contribute to achieve SDGs in the most relevant, appropriate and efficient way. The current pandemic of COVID-19 underlines the fragility of our societies and particularly the interconnections between land use, agriculture and food systems in relation to climate, biodiversity, health and socio-economics in a globalized world. It also questions how to reduce cascading negative impacts on inequality and human rights across the spectrum (including economic and social rights, and civil and political rights). In this context, research should not only aim at an integrative vision of future landscapes of food systems and activities ̶ including their social, health, food and well-being components ̶ but at supporting transition pathways, including the identification of lock-ins and barriers.
A discussion structured by five broad questions
Q1. How do we improve integrated assessments?
Given the large uncertainties on possible pathways to 2030 and 2050, there is a need to progress beyond mainstream approaches (e.g. Integrated Assessment Models and Planetary Boundaries) and to develop possibly simpler models covering the full nexus of land and food systems and challenges, exploring an extended spectrum of future global pathways and assessing trade-offs and synergies across SDG targets. This next generation of assessment models could evidence which degree of coordinated changes in land and food systems is required to meet multiple SDGs. Such global scale assessments would need to be confronted to bottom-up studies, involving stakeholders, and assessing transformation pathways in contrasted countries and regions.
Q2. How do we understand socio-technical transformation processes, barriers, levers and place-based innovation?
Production of actionable knowledge requires changes in knowledge production regime. Among the lock-ins, research institutions and research culture have their own part. This requires: (i) better understanding processes of deep socio-technical transformations, including their dynamic dimensions, the main lock-ins and related levers; (ii) fully acknowledging the importance of local / bottom up actions and systemic changes.
Q3. How could transformation through local bottom-up action be consistent with overall coherence in transitions across scales?
To achieve socio-tech transformation, place-based innovation can be used, e.g. living labs and clusters of living labs at local scale (infra-national). It may facilitate an enabling environment and the test of improved technologies locally, in a participatory and inclusive manner but consistency with national and global scale SDG targets should be assessed.
Q4. How do we see the role of science advances and technologies for delivering new options?
New and emerging technologies could be game changers for possible futures of land-based systems. Is it possible to orient technologies and associated markets towards transformation needs for sustainability? Large investments are timely for transformation, but research is also needed to understand roles, places and diffusion modes of low tech innovations that could support the conservation of common goods in more participatory, collaborative, inclusive and equitable ways.
Q5. What are the needs for international science cooperation to deliver actionable knowledge?
To support the needs of research, foresight and assessments for the Agenda 2030, should we foresee a large international cooperation mechanism with key universities and research organizations agreeing to co-invest in this field with an unprecedented scale? How could assessment panels, UN agencies, governments and various stakeholders benefit from such an engagement? Could it lead to new ways of developing science-policy dialogue and facilitate the reconnection of international agendas that tend to work in silos?
A report with recommendations
The workshop gave rise to a report, published in February 2021 and including recommendations of the scientific committee. A scientific publication is also being prepared.
The report: Soussana, J.-F., Weill, C., Caron, P., Chotte, J. L., Joly, P.-B., Aggarwal, P., .... Whitmee, S. (2021). International Science Foresight Workshop: Global Challenges and Research Gaps. The Royaumont process: INRAE (France), 25 p, DOI: 10.15454/m3k7-j656
The process was guided by a scientific committee composed of scientists from INRAE and partner institutions - AgroParisTech, CIRAD, IDDRI and IRD. It took place over four months, from April to September 2020, with online work sessions. A two day workshop at Royaumont Abbey near Paris constituted an important step of the process.
"The order of events was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic", explains Claire Weill who coordinated the process with Jean-François Soussana. "The seminar initally planned in April was postponed until September, but these four extra months were used for more thorough discussions which provided further insight in the collective work".