Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change: Research Pathways for the Next Decade*
Research on the human dimensions of global change concerns human activities that alter the Earth's environment, the driving forces of those activities, the consequences of environmental change for societies and economies, and human responses to the experience or expectation of global change. Such research is essential both to understand global change and to inform public policy.
Research on the human causes of global change has shown that socioeconomic uncertainties dominate biophysical uncertainties in climate impacts and possibly also in other impacts of global change. It has shown that human activities, such as deforestation and energy consumption, are determined by population growth, economic and technological development, cultural forces, values and beliefs, institutions and policies, and the interactions among all these things. Ongoing research is improving our understanding of the dynamics of several of these driving forces. It has shown, for example, that human interactions with the environment do not necessarily lead to a "tragedy of the commons" and has begun to enumerate the necessary conditions for successful long-term environmental resource management. Research on the human consequences of global change shows that they are due at least as much to the social systems that produce vulnerability as to environmental changes themselves. This work is refining estimates of impacts and identifying major sources of vulnerability. Research on
human responses is continually developing and applying better analytical procedures to estimate the costs of global change and policy response options, considering their dependence on highly contestable judgments about nonmarket values and intergenerational equity. Much human response research is focused on the design of human institutions to reduce vulnerability and manage global resources more effectively.
Research over the past decade has made considerable progress, but there are still many unresolved questions. Key research imperatives for the next decade are the following:
- Understanding the social determinants of environmentally significant consumption. Research should focus on the most environmentally significant consumption types, changes in consumption patterns as a function of economic growth and development, materials transformations, and the potential for related policy changes. Consumption is a key variable driving trends and patterns in the human impact on atmospheric composition, land use, and biogeochemical cycles.
- Understanding the sources and processes of technological change. Research must address the causes of "autonomous" decreases in energy intensity, determinants of the adoption of environmental technologies, and effects of alternative policies on rates of innovation and the role of technology in causing or mitigating global changes.
- Making climate change assessments and predictions regionally relevant . Research must develop indicators for vulnerability, project future vulnerability to climatic events, link climate change with social and economic changes in projections of overall regional impacts and their distribution, and improve communication and warning systems, especially in view of recent developments in forecasting.
- Assessing social and environmental surprises. The historical record of social and environmental surprises must be explored to clarify the consequences of major surprises, identify human activities that alter their likelihood, and better understand how communication and hazard management systems can help in responding to surprises.
- Understanding institutions for managing global change. Research should clarify the conditions favoring institutional success or failure in resource management; the links among international, national, and local institutions; and the potential of various policy instruments, including market-based instruments and property rights institutions, for altering the trajectories of anthropogenic global changes.
- Understanding land use/land cover dynamics and human migration. This research should examine and compare case studies of land use and land cover change; develop a typology that links social and economic driving forces to land cover dynamics; and model land use changes at regional