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and decision making can help bring about a much more productive relationship between society and the environment.


A great deal of knowledge, know-how, and capacity for learning about sustainable development is already assembled in various observational systems, laboratories, and management regimes around the world—but these resources are not widely known or used. Changes in the environmental research enterprise must ensure that this gap is closed and that knowledge is put into action. Key enabling steps will be a framework of standards and organizational incentives, including the necessary resources that encourage integration. Given such a framework, webs of observing and information systems can grow by capturing initiatives that have many different origins, funding sources, and motivations. To do so, the organizational approach must be designed from the start to be able to evolve with time.

The Fundamental Research Agenda

The first steps must be to implement the research agenda that is clearly defined in this report's primary references (see section A of the Bibliography) and discussed thoroughly in the many more detailed reports on which the primary references are based (see section B and section C of the Bibliography). Here we restrict ourselves to several very general observations.

For global change research there is a need to create more focused programs of research and multidisciplinary process studies related to the six critical areas identified in the Pathways report: changes in the biology and biogeochemistry of ecosystems, changes in the climate system on seasonal-to-interannual timescales, changes in the climate system on decadal-to-century timescales, changes in the chemistry of the atmosphere, long-term historical changes in the earth system, and the human dimensions of global environmental change. Fundamental to these research endeavors are high-quality, long-term environmental observations and the information systems to provide access to and to interrelate these data.

For sustainability research, strategies should be developed and employed that improve understanding of human reliance and human effects on environmental systems, by combining research with real-life experiments that are carefully planned to provide opportunities to improve the process as we go along. These strategies must incorporate fundamental research on such understudied issues as consumption, social transitions, and carrying capacity. They must bring together both global and local perspectives from the natural and social sciences so that the multiple cumulative environmental stresses of a particular location can be understood, resulting risks identified, and coping strategies formulated. And these strategies will have to include new resources for emerging areas of research such as ecosystems and human dimensions of global and regional environmental change.

For environmental and ecosystem research, the overall challenge is to sustain and strengthen a diversity of research efforts in the many supporting fields of science and engineering, to promote the aggregation of these efforts into multidisciplinary studies of critical systems, and to recognize the essential complexity of these systems. The role of ecosystems in providing essential products and services must be better understood—in particular how broader environmental changes and human interactions might affect these products and services. It will be important to exploit advances in such areas as ecosystem

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