Humanity faces global challenges that are complex and interrelated, and cannot be solved by any one government or institution acting alone. These global challenges include climate change, natural disasters, terrorist threats, pandemics, displaced populations and water shortages.
Our students explore these issues and search for solutions with an interdisciplinary approach. In doing so, they learn about:
A warming world poses serious challenges for humankind and other species. This is due to an accumulation of extra heat in the Earth’s climate system caused by the burning of fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – which release ‘heat-trapping greenhouse gases’ into the atmosphere.
Increasing temperatures affect natural and built environments. Sea levels rise, glaciers melt and droughts become more extreme. Climate change disrupts the normal balance of nature, reducing global ecosystem services that support people and other species.
The climate change challenge is deeply intertwined with global patterns of inequality. Poorer countries bear the brunt of impacts and contribute least to the crisis. This leads to disproportionate burdens in terms of health, food, water and livelihood security.
Energy poverty and security
Almost half of the world’s population does not have access to reliable energy. This lack of affordable, sustainable energy impacts the lives of people and can create or exacerbate poverty, affecting the ability to produce food, heat, cool, run lights, operate machinery or even get clean water.
In this regard, energy poverty is often considered a development problem. However, it can also be a security issue as it exacerbates conditions thought to enable violence and terrorism, such as poverty, environmental degradation and political instability.
Research in this area is focusing on understanding the causes of energy poverty and the effect it has on other areas such as food security. This can be done by studying the causal mediation effects using statistical models. The resulting empirical results provide insights into how to improve the energy supply for vulnerable communities.
Health security and disease
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the ‘securitisation’ of health with governments, international institutions and private sector organisations now recognising the need for stronger global surveillance, monitoring and reporting mechanisms while developing countries continue to struggle with accessing vaccines, medicines and technology. However, a rights-based approach to health security is needed that puts the individual and their communities at the centre.
The scoping literature on health security emphasises the need for routine system capacities to be in place as a baseline for general health security and for the need to tackle non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and multimorbidity, which underpin many communicable disease outbreaks. It also highlights the need to work through a One Health lens in order to deal with new and emerging diseases like zoonoses that can be spread between humans and animals via mutation.
Food and nutrition security
Food security is the physical and economic access to adequate amounts of healthful foods for a healthy life. Prolonged undernourishment stunts growth, reduces cognitive function and makes people more susceptible to disease.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added to global challenges to food and nutrition security by interrupting global food supply chains, reducing agricultural productivity and raising prices for consumers. These events exacerbate the risks of hunger and malnutrition, which already threaten many families.
Nutrition security requires population-level policies and programs aimed at providing healthful diets, particularly in schools, early child care, work places and other communities. They should also promote greater health equity by prioritizing traditionally marginalized groups. The public, private and nongovernmental sectors are all needed to catalyze new approaches.
The global community is increasingly aware that if present patterns of consumption and production continue, the planet’s natural resources will be irreversibly depleted, with calamitous consequences for future generations. This new focus on sustainability has led to the creation of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that must be reached by 2030.
To address these problems, businesses need to make contributions that change impractical and unsustainable consumption and production patterns. One such business is Novozymes, which works to leverage the microbiome to prevent disease and improve health and nutrition.
Achieving these goals requires addressing all dimensions of sustainability – environmental, economic and social. Donors interested in supporting these efforts can consider donating to vetted funds like the Provide Clean Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Fund.