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Sustainable development now more urgent than ever, says IGBP scientist


The global environment is in the midst of a profound transformation making sustainable development a matter of urgency, said Dr Will Steffen from the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP, at a major international consultation on education for sustainability in Gothenburg today.

Dr Steffen, Executive Director of IGBP, told the delegates from 80 countries that the transformation of Earth’s environment has accelerated so dramatically since the 1950s that it is now apparent at the global scale.

“During the past 50 years human population soared from little more than two to six billion, economic activity increased 10-fold in the same period and half of Earth’s land surface has been domesticated for human use,” he said. “The evidence that these and other changes are affecting the basic functioning of the Earth System, including the climate, grows stronger every year.”

“The Earth is on an unsustainable pathway and we must act now to reduce the risk of severe consequences later,” he said. Although the consequences of inaction are difficult to predict, it is likely that abrupt changes in climate and other features of the Earth System will begin to occur as critical thresholds are reached.

Education for sustainability is fundamental to our ability to meet these challenges, said Dr Steffen. Scientists must respond to the need for information and make their research more accessible to students of all ages and nationalities.

As a contribution towards education for a sustainable future, IGBP has developed “Learning Global Change”, a project designed to make the complex science of global change accessible to school children and teachers. The project is the result of a partnership between IGBP and the Global Change Information Network (GCIN), a communications group based in Sweden.

“Learning Global Change” will use a range of innovative approaches to make the information interesting and accessible to schools,” said Karin Åström, Chair of GCIN.

“Creative partnerships between scientists and professional communicators is important in order to make the information accessible to a wider audience without losing scientific accuracy,” she said.

By providing quality control of the translated material, IGBP can ensure that the information is both accurate and up-to-date.

Susannah Eliott | alfa
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