Science, Technology, and Innovation for Ecosystem Performance – Accelerating Sustainability Transitions

25 October 2023/Study

The vision of a clean planet: The role of science and technology

In a world grappling with unprecedented sustainability and environmental challenges, the European Green Deal emerged as Europe’s robust response. This initiative aims to position Europe as a global leader in implementing the UN Agenda 2030 and its Sustainable Development Goals, emphasizing transformative resilience in the face of the pandemic and geopolitical shifts.The Green Deal’s vision of a clean planet by 2050 underscores the vital role of science, technology, and innovation (STI).

Traditionally, S&T&I have focused on human performance, guided by notions of progress. However, given the interconnectedness of human well-being and the planet’s health, there is a growing need to shift the spotlight from human performance to the broader concept of “ecosystem performance.”


Project S&T&I for 2050, mapping the future

Visionary Analytics along with other partners from Austrian Institute of Technology, Insight Foresight Institute, ISINNOVA, Fraunhofer ISI, and Institutul de Prospectiva have worked on the “S&T&I for 2050” project to identify future scientific and technological advancements that can significantly enhance ecosystem performance, aligning with Horizon Europe’s second strategic plan in support of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The project commenced by pinpointing the most dynamic STI areas globally, drawing data from Microsoft Academic. This comprehensive analysis identified 1,000 dynamically growing STI topics over a decade, leading to the identification of 130 STI directions across 21 domains for further exploration. Our team’s role was to support the research for DG RTD through extensive bibliometric analysis to identify emerging STI topics as well as provide insight on clustering of the topics.

Simultaneously, the project delved into the multifaceted concept of Ecosystem Performance, recognizing its dependence on diverse worldviews regarding the relationship between humans, nature, and responsibility for planetary health. Three key perspectives emerged:

  1. Protecting & Restoring: This perspective emphasizes the distinctive nature-human interaction, seeking to manage human activities to attain specific environmental targets.
  2. Co-shaping socio-ecological systems: In this view, ecosystems are seen as complex adaptive socio-ecological systems with no clear boundaries. The focus is on steering system dynamics towards long-term survival.
  3. Immersing & Caring within hybrid collectives: This perspective envisions a pluriverse of hybrid entities with agency emerging from relationships. It promotes negotiation with other inhabitants of critical zones to allow all to flourish on their own terms.


Mapping future advancements

To identify advancements that can enhance ecosystem performance, a two-round Dynamic Argumentative Delphi survey was conducted, engaging top researchers. The survey participants prioritized key STI directions and identified significant potential harms that STI could inflict on planetary ecosystems. Results were used to create Future Sheets for each domain, offering examples of technological / scientific applications and potential harm to planetary ecosystems.

Six case studies emerged from online workshops with foresight and domain experts, exploring diverse scenarios tied to the different perspectives on society-nature interactions. These case studies promise to inform the programming and implementation of Horizon Europe, assisting in project evaluation and policy decisions.


Shifting S&T&I focus: Convergence on ecosystem performance

The trajectory of STI has shifted from a focus on enhancing human performance to addressing global threats to both human health and planetary health. This shift is evident in the current mapping of dynamic ST directions, with more domains specifically targeting ecosystem performance.

The multiple crises we face today, including climate change, the pandemic, and geopolitical shifts, demand a broader perspective on accelerating transitions and achieving climate neutrality by 2050. Reconsidering the relationship between society and nature is crucial for the development of STI policy strategies, the European Green Deal, and the 2030 biodiversity strategy.

As demonstrated in the case studies, scenarios built on these three perspectives enrich STI policy strategies, shaping thematic focus areas, research directions, and modes of research. The inclusion of social sciences, humanities, and non-scientific knowledge in research projects, as well as the design of the instrument portfolio, further enriches our ability to address planetary health challenges. This shift signifies a holistic and sustainable approach, recognizing the interdependence of human well-being and the health of our planet. It is a call to action to employ science and technology for a clean and flourishing planet by 2050.


Read the full report here.

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