Sustainability science: building a new discipline

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Courtesy of Springer

In scientific and academic circles worldwide, the opportunity to develop the emerging discipline of sustainability science has never been greater. This new science has its origins in the concept of sustainable development proposed by the World Commission on Environment and Development (1987) (WCED, also known as the Brundtland Commission). Defining sustainable development as ‘‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability
of future generations to meet their own needs’’, the WCED gained worldwide support for its argument that development must ensure the coexistence of economy and the environment. Today, ‘‘sustainability’’ is recognized the world over as a key issue facing twentyfirst century society. It has, however, also been remarked that the idea of
sustainable development increasingly seems to be linked to political agendas, raising concerns about the solidity of its analytical basis; as a consequence the scientific and technological underpinnings of the concept remain unclear to many (Cohen et al. 1998). During the 1990s, the International Council for Science (ICSU) initiated studies of science and technology for sustainable development. There were, increasingly, calls for a science of sustainability predicated on recognition of the fundamental link between science and economy while remaining free from political bias of the sort seen, for example, when North–South issues are raised in debates over sustainable development (Kates et al. 2001; ICSU 2002; Clark and Dickson 2003).

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