According to the UN, the world’s population is expected to increase by 2 billion persons in the next 30 years, from 7.7 billion currently to 9.7 billion in 2050 and could peak at nearly 11 billion around 2100. The planet is already under extreme resource pressures from the current demands for food, water, materials and energy, amongst other things. Ecosystems are at breaking point, pollution (air, water, soil) is rife and anthropogenically-driven climate change poses a significant threat to humanity as well as our ecological life-support systems that we rely upon. Science is shining a torch at the type, magnitude and extent of current and looming threats to society and nature posed by the above needs.

Georesources have underpinned the development of nations throughout time and will continue to sculpt all of our futures. Although we can be grateful for the rise in standards of living, brought to us on the back of geological discoveries and innovations, we are now conscious of the negative impacts of poorly managed resource extraction and the proliferation of non-renewable energies on the environment and climate. Geoscientists are needed more than ever to help secure clean sources of energy for the planet, source new materials, minimize pollution, develop minimum-impact resource extraction techniques and solve water and food shortages across the planet. This is a tall order for one discipline. However, it is something we must, as a community, embrace to show leadership in building a better future for people and the planet. Fortunately, the UN has already assessed many of the best pathways to create a better future for all. Geoscience is clearly required to help meet many of these goals.

UN Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a collection of 17 global goals set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 for the year 2030. All of the SDGs have links of varying sizes and complexities to geological science and digital geoscience.
The 17 SDGs include 169 targets, together aiming to end poverty, ensure universal access to basic services (e.g., water, food, education, healthcare), tackle diverse economic and social inequalities, ensure sustainable consumption patterns, and facilitate inclusive economic growth, social development and environmental protection. The SDGs require scientific research, innovation, capacity building and technology transfer, including geological science. This is because understanding, monitoring, protecting, managing, and enhancing the natural environment are central to many of the SDGs. Knowledge of the Earth’s structure, Earth processes and resources, together with the ability to translate this knowledge into tools to inform policy and practice, can inform many key aspects of sustainable development.

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“The activities required of geoscientists to deliver each SDG are different. Some will require the application of core geoscience knowledge, unique to the discipline. For example, ensuring access to water and sanitation for all (SDG 6) requires significant engagement by the geoscience community (e.g., hydrogeologists, geophysicists, hydrogeochemists) to understand and manage freshwater resources. Current knowledge, future research and many of the practical skills required to meet this goal are significant strengths of the geoscience community. SDG 7 ‘Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy’ aims at improving energy access, increasing renewables in the energy mix, energy efficiency and integration and international cooperation. Many of the targets are closely associated with geoscience, for example in exploration and feasibility studies for subsurface renewables such as geothermal, as well as sustainable use of fossil fuels within strict carbon budgets.

For other SDGs where the subject matter is less geological, geoscientists will need to look at what actions they can take within their places of work. For example, geoscientists should take responsibility for championing and delivering gender equality (SDG 5) in those spheres that can be influenced.” Thoughts of Mike Stephenson, full article available here.

With so many important global challenges to solve, during the IUGS’ 60th Celebrations, we would like to explore more how the geoscience community can; accelerate our transition into a low-carbon energy world, fairly and sustainably provide resources for a growing global population, and provide nature with the best chance of survival when cohabiting the Anthropocene. We are interested to hear from members as to what is the future of Geosciences?

Why is geoscience not publicly acknowledged to be one of the key disciplines required to solve climate and resource challenges?

Do we feel supported enough to be able to research, engineer and deliver world-changing solutions to the planet’s greatest challenges?

What would help us have more impact?

Is the public opinion of geosciences a barrier we need to put more energy into removing?

Should Geosciences have better representation at the UN level?

Although not necessarily expressing the views of the IUGS, below is a talk by IUGS President Professor John Ludden sharing his views on the future role of Geoscience. We will be hearing from many other IUGS members throughout 2022 and will be sending out questionnaires in Feb 2022 to sample views on the direction  IUGS should be moving to address global challenges.

Relevant Flagship Programs IUGS will be promoting during 2022

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