Social sciences play vital role in tackling environmental challenges, says UNESCO report

The Pacific Island nation of Kiribati has been affected by climate change. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

15 November 2013 – A new United Nations report underscores the vital contribution of the social sciences to survival in the face of climate change, and stresses that human behaviour must be at the heart of efforts to tackle the challenges related to the natural environment.

The 2013 World Social Science Report takes stock of the “unprecedented and staggering environmental challenges” facing society and their potentially devastating consequences on the well-being of people worldwide, according to a news release issued by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“Global environmental change impacts everything for everyone on this planet: life support systems, livelihoods, ways of life, actions and interactions,” said the agency, which published the report along with the International Social Science Council (ISSC) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

It added that problems encountered by individuals and communities struggling with social, economic and political crises, persistent poverty, increasing inequalities and social discontent are already exacerbated by environmental change.

The 600-page report, which will be launched on Friday at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, features articles by more than 150 leading experts from all over the world and represents the full gamut of social science subjects: anthropology, economics, development studies, geography, political science, psychology, and sociology.

The issues presented in the report highlight the need to draw on the social sciences to bring about the economic and behavioural changes required to achieve sustainability.

To this end, the report issues an urgent call to action to the international scientific community. “Social scientists need to collaborate more effectively with colleagues from the natural, human and engineering sciences to deliver knowledge that can help address the most pressing of today's environmental problems and sustainability challenges,” said UNESCO. “And they need to do so in close collaboration with decision-makers, practitioners and the other users of their research.”

The report urges a new approach to social science that is bold enough to reframe and reinterpret global environmental change as a fundamentally social process; better in terms of incorporating social science insights into problem-solving; and bigger in terms of the need for more social scientists to address the challenges of global environmental change.

The new approach should also be different by changing the way the social sciences view and practice science to help meet current complex interdisciplinary challenges, UNESCO added.


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