Global Challenges explores scientific solutions to the world’s greatest issues. These include global catastrophic risks, the need for a functioning global governance system and improving the ability to predict the consequences of rapid accelerating change.
These challenges are transnational in nature and cannot be solved by any government or institution acting alone. They are arranged in order of priority but the order does not imply that one challenge is more important than another.
Among the 17 global challenges identified by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, climate change is arguably the most profound. It is driven by human emissions of greenhouse gases, which have caused temperatures to rise. This in turn triggers a host of changes, from ice caps melting to water shortages, floods and drought.
Climate change is also deeply intertwined with patterns of inequality. As the world responds to its impacts, it must ensure that poor and marginalised communities receive the support they need. This means building resilience in vulnerable areas, including providing access to insurance schemes and land entitlement. It also means introducing policies that respect procedural and distributive justice.
The energy sector presents a number of global challenges. These are not ranked by importance and addressing one does not make others easier or less important. Rather, progress on each is interdependent and requires concerted effort across many actors.
The world needs to drastically reduce fossil fuel consumption and move towards net zero emissions for climate change to be tackled effectively. However, the development and diffusion of renewable energy faces a series of obstacles ranging from disproportionate subsidies to the lack of approaches to balance price disparities with mature fossil fuel technologies. This hinders market and policy development, and can also lead to insufficient data collection (REN21, 2014). The Royal Society’s GCRF research aims to address these obstacles through an integrative approach to the energy challenge.
Today, over 733 million people live in areas with high and critical levels of water stress. Water scarcity affects economic and social progress in all regions. It also threatens global climate action and is a barrier to food security and energy.
The water quality challenges we face are interconnected. An improvement in one area makes it easier to address other challenges.
In many parts of the world, water demand exceeds supply due to population growth, unsustainable withdrawals, and deteriorating infrastructure and governance. In addition, climate change is expected to intensify rainfall and raise sea level, both of which contribute to flooding and increase contaminant threats to freshwater supplies.
The flourishing global health community is a welcome development that can bring fresh resources and innovation. However, without effective leadership, it can remain ad hoc, duplicative and fragmented.
The process of globalisation enables diseases and other threats to travel quickly across borders, amplified by increases in trade and mobility. The resulting human suffering and lost economic opportunities are unacceptable, especially when they occur in poor countries that cannot afford to pay for healthcare.
In the future, Macpherson explains, global health will be more than just a field of research; it will also involve developing and disseminating new knowledge and promoting better practices. It will require a deeper understanding of other intellectual and political standpoints, including those that traduce the values we seek to promote.
The world is projected to grow by more than 9 billion people by 2050, and sustainably feeding them will be one of the biggest challenges of our era. It will require policymakers, agricultural practitioners and researchers, industrial companies, environmental non-for-profits and every individual to work together to close the global food gap and optimize plant and animal protein production with respect for the environment.
Food is affected by the economy, national and international conflicts, climate change, our diets, and shrinking natural resources. We must develop innovative solutions to ensure food security and safety for all. The Graduate Institute’s research in this area focuses on strategies and policies for sustainable food production and nutrition. These are shaped by interdisciplinary approaches that are informed by social sciences and humanities, as well as by the latest scientific findings.