We have the opportunity to develop an integrated approach to earth system science, which sees the challenges as a complex interrelated theme, rather than a series of traditional scientific disciplines.
UNESCO's Sarah Gaines turns the spotlight onto recent activities recognising the fundamental importance of earth sciences...
The major challenges of our time – from natural hazards, to energy requirements, to climate change – are inextricably tied to the continued demand for natural resources, such as minerals for new technology, and clean drinking water and air. In order to fully understand and respond to these multifaceted challenges, multidisciplinary teams are required that include natural scientists, social scientists, economists, policy experts, educators and communicators.
During a high-level panel at the 40th anniversary of the International Geoscience Programme (IGCP) in February 2012 at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, experts underlined the major role that earth sciences play in understanding and responding to sustainable development challenges. They also underscored the need to ensure that societal awareness is raised on this issue through education and communication activities.
UNESCO is the only UN organisation with a mandate in geology and geophysics, executed principally through the IGCP, but also thanks to the strength of work on ecology, hydrology, basic sciences and oceans. We have the opportunity to develop an integrated approach to earth system science, which sees the challenges as a complex interrelated theme, rather than a series of traditional scientific disciplines. Further collaboration with colleagues specialising in issues of culture, heritage, education and communication can promote societally appropriate and coherent responses.
A recent natural resources and natural disasters roundtable of Ambassadors to UNESCO highlighted the value of a national perspective, with the Chinese Ambassador speaking about the series of nationwide institutional plans that his country has developed on these topics, while also highlighting the perspective of Tao in governing the management of the Earth: 'There is one Earth, one science, it is ubiquitous.' The Ambassador from Indonesia, a cornucopia of natural hazards and abundant biodiversity, meanwhile, spoke not only about the integrated tsunami warning system that has been put in place since the devastating 2004 event, but also about the Bali landscape system, which since the 10th Century, has governed an integrated management of landscapes, including religious perspectives.
In the shadow of the Rio+20 proceedings, there has been progress in practical and sensitive approaches to finding sustainable ways forward for the extractive industries, as minerals are a basic requirement for all models of sustainable development now being imagined. This is evidenced through the recent launching of the World Forum of Universities of Resources for Sustainability and the development of an Africa Mining Vision.
Recognising the wealth and opportunities available, the Earth Science Education Initiative in Africa was launched during the International Year of Planet Earth in 2008. Many of the situations in earth science education and research identified in African scoping workshops are echoed around the world, so it is not surprising that the initial activities of this programme are taking root in various forms globally. These include a focus on improving earth science education at primary and secondary levels in order to raise awareness throughout society and open later career opportunities, as well as a commitment to improve institutional networking through a new African Network of Earth Science Institutions. In addition to this, investment has been made in training in geological mapping as a critical skill and a means for countries to identify and take responsibility for their mineral wealth.
Despite the severity of some of the challenges our Earth system faces, we can have fun in the process of redressing them. Geoparks, for example, focus on the conservation of significant geoheritage, education on the stories held in the landscape and geotourism to promote the economy of rural communities. More than anything, Geoparks are about celebrating community – the local communities involved in supporting and promoting their Geopark, the global community of Geoparks representing 88 sites in 27 countries, and the greater community of Earth's citizens.
This article originally appeared on Publicservice.co.uk: Down to earth sciences