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Wits academics play leading role in Future Earth 2020 report

- Wits University

The Future Earth Report is an overview of some of the various risks faced by humanity, where it comes to our sustainable future on the planet.

Two senior academics from Wits University’s Global Change Institute played leading roles in the writing and editing of the new Future Earth Report, published by the International Science Council (ISC), in association with global science organisations, including the United Nations.

Future Earth ReportSeveral of the leading international scientists that contributed to the report are South African, including Richard Calland from the University of Cape Town and Odirilwe Selomane from Stellenbosch. Wits University’s Professor Bob Scholes sat on the report’s Editorial Board, while Professor Coleen Vogel co-authored an article on transformation in the 53-page report.

The 2020 Future Earth report is an overview of some of the various risks faced by humanity, where it comes to our sustainable future on the planet. According to Amy Luers, Executive Director of Future Earth, the report “aims to tell the story of where we are on our collective journey by connecting the dots between what society is currently experiencing – from fires to food shortages to a rise in populism – with recent developments in the research community”.

The report is a step away from the traditional manner of communicating the science around the planet’s risks, through processes like the IPCC, to a more direct approach of communication between scientists and the public. All the articles are co-generated in a collaborative process between a leading scientist and a science journalist.

The articles in the report tackle the difficulties and challenges that society is facing on Earth, including climate, politics and political economy, the deep ocean, forced migration, fake news biodiversity, food and transformation. The aim is to highlight the challenges in each of these fields, with an attempt to find a sustainable way forward to our future.

“We live in an era where it is declared that humans are one of the biggest forces on Earth, as opposed to the planet’s natural forces such as tectonics, volcanism and ocean processes,” says Scholes. “At the moment we are heading for a future with a 3.5 degree increase in global temperatures, where the Paris accord was trying to limit the rise to 2 degrees. We are not getting close to that.”

One of the key challenges of our time is trying to find ways to navigate our way into the future in just and sustainable ways. The Sustainable Development Goals, the climate and disaster risk reductions challenges facing us all require purposeful considerations of how we ‘live’.

Transformations will be required including how we design and do business and think about our economic future; how we feed ourselves and how we consider, design and construct our livelihoods, homes and how we think about the meaning of work and design workplaces,” says Vogel. “We also need to think about how we relate to each other and to nature. Transformations of how we can align our everyday realities and future change will thus need to be balanced with what the planet can sustain and will ultimately require personal and systems wide transformations.”

Writing in the foreword of the report, former Prime Minister of Norway, Gro Harlem Brundtland says “Our world stands at a crossroads. We face existential threats that demand urgent action, from the climate crisis to the risk of nuclear war. In 2020, we need to make a bold, collective, and positive choice to work together to secure our common future, and not retreat into tired dogma, failed policies, or defeatism … I firmly believe that a collaborative and inclusive approach is essential”.

The report was launched in South Africa at an event hosted by The Future Earth Regional Office for Southern Africa (FEROSA) and the National Research Foundation (NRF) in Pretoria on Thursday, 13 February.