The urgent need for transformations to sustainability
Climate change, environmental degradation and resource pressures have reached unprecedented levels worldwide. There is growing recognition that achieving sustainable societies and ways of life will depend on rapid and fundamental transformations in the ways people interact with each other and with the natural environment. The Belmont Forum and NORFACE research programme Transformations to Sustainability (T2S) contributes to re-structuring the domain of sustainability research by putting the social sciences, as well as the humanities, at the heart of interdisciplinary research on sustainability, making a step change in scale and scope for research programming in this area.
The Belmont Forum and NORFACE underline that sustainability research needs to be based on a far better understanding of how societal transformation comes about and how – if at all – it can be initiated, fostered, accelerated and steered towards ends that are at the same time ecologically sound, economically viable and socially just. Therefore, the T2S programme has two major objectives:
- To develop understanding of and promote research on transformations to sustainability which are of significant social, economic and policy concern throughout the world and of great relevance to both academics and stakeholders.
- To build capacity, overcome fragmentation and have a lasting impact on both society and the research landscape by cultivating durable research collaboration across multiple borders, disciplinary boundaries, and with practitioners and societal partners. This includes facilitating the development of new research collaborations with parts of the world which are not often involved in large-scale international research efforts, notably low- and lower-middle income countries.
The programme involved a two-stage assessment of 154 outline proposals and 39 full proposals, of which 12 were selected for funding, with combined funding of € 11.5 million. The 12 research projects launched between July and December 2018 and will each run for 36 months.
About the research projects
The twelve research projects funded by the T2S programme address one or more of the following three themes:
- Governance and institutional dimensions of transformations to sustainability;
- Economy and finance of transformations to sustainability;
- Well-being, quality of life, identify and social and cultural values in relation to transformations to sustainability.
The research projects are tackling a wide range of complex challenges, from groundwater governance, artisanal and small-scale mining, urban flood risk and land registration to the role of migration and intellectual property rights in sustainability transitions. They will conduct theoretically and methodologically innovative research in different locations across the globe facing pressing socio-ecological issues. The teams bring together researchers from a wide variety of disciplines and countries, from Brazil to Sweden, and Japan to Burkina Faso, pooling and integrating knowledge and capabilities from around the world.
The societal and behavioural dimensions of the complex problems under study mean that civil society and other stakeholders are often deeply implicated in the research, from problem-framing and objective-setting, through to communication of findings and implementation of the research. The knowledge produced by the research projects will thus not only be of use to researchers, but also to practitioners and policy makers across a multitude of sectors in their efforts to advance transformative change.
Development of the programme
The NORFACE and Belmont Forum T2S programme succeeds the original Transformations to Sustainability programme (2014-2019) that was set up by the International Social Science Council, now the International Science Council. The original programme funded 38 seed grants (2014-2015) and three Transformative Knowledge Networks (2016-2019).