Today we commence a month-long focus on research on sustainability and the environment. To begin, Professor Lord Martin Rees and Professor Paul Linden, respectively Chair and Director of the Cambridge Forum for Sustainability and the Environment, describe how experts from across the University have joined forces to examine how we can respond to some of the most pressing global sustainability challenges.

Environmental sustainability is a cross-cutting multidisciplinary challenge that requires the input of minds from all fields to provide the expertise that will help society make responsible decisions for the future

Martin Rees and Paul Linden

The world is changing. The rising world population, declining resources and changing climate are reshaping where we live and how we live.

On a global scale, we need to find a way in which 7 billion people, expected to rise by another billion by 2030, can live a high quality of life that is less demanding on our planet. And to adapt, be efficient and sustainable, we need to know where to place our energies – nationally and globally – to mitigate the coming challenges. This will require knowledge from many different sources.

Earlier this year, some of the University’s leading experts in areas ranging from energy, biodiversity and public health to anthropology, architecture and economics (see below) came together to form the Cambridge Forum for Sustainability and the Environment. Across the University, there is a huge amount of research that has a direct relevance to understanding the sort of adaptive measures that might be taken to build resilience in a changing world and the Forum provides a space to make connections across these areas.

Through raising the profile of sustainability issues, we hope to steer University expertise towards opportunities, catalyse new cross-disciplinary research pathways, and increase our efforts and contributions in this area.

One of the key issues to address is the increasing demographic transition from rural to urban living, and the Forum’s first topic for discussion will focus on ‘Cities’. Today, more people live in cities than in the countryside and, by 2050, this ratio is predicted to rise to 7 out of every 10 people.

What measures can be taken to make houses, traffic and use of resources more efficient? Can we use the opportunity to rethink how we maintain public health? What will the impact be on society, or biodiversity or food security? We have experts in all of these areas, and we hope the Forum can derive fresh and innovative perspectives on each of these questions and more.

Operationally, a selection of experts – likely to be a mixture of policy and decision makers working within governments or companies, technical experts and researchers – will be invited to the Forum’s monthly meetings to provide their perspective on sustainability and the greatest challenges they face in their area of expertise. This will catalyse a process of discussion and information sharing across the Forum, culminating in a set of short briefings to summarise the main conclusions.

Our aim is for these briefings to provide an overview of the intellectual landscape of an issue, and also to identify where there might be consensus, where there are significant gaps in knowledge, and where fresh ideas and emerging research priorities might fill them.

Then in March 2014, the focus of the Forum will shift to ‘Balancing biodiversity, energy, water and food security’, stimulating connections between three of the University’s Strategic Initiatives (Conservation, Food Security and Energy), and exploring the challenges we face as we place ever increasing and sometimes competing demands on our environment and the world we live in.

By its nature, environmental sustainability is a cross-cutting multidisciplinary challenge that requires the input of minds from all fields to provide the expertise that will help society make responsible decisions for the future. The Forum’s role is to provide the opportunity for stimulating these cross-disciplinary conversations.

The Forum’s report on Cities is due to be published in summer 2014.

Current members of the Cambridge Forum for Sustainability and the Environment

Members of the Forum are drawn from disciplines ranging from zoology to social anthropology, architecture, engineering, and history and philosophy of science, and from cross-departmental collaborations working on biodiversity conservation, energy and global food security. Current members and the Schools they belong to are given below:

School of the Physical Sciences
Professor Lord Martin Rees (Dept of Astronomy), Chair
Professor Paul Linden (Dept of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics), Director
Dr Rosamunde Almond (Dept of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics), Executive Secretary
Professor Susan Owens (Dept of Geography)
Dr Bhaskar Vira (Dept of Geography)

School of Technology
Polly Courtice, Jake Reynolds, Nicolette Bartlett (Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership)
Dr Mike Rands (Cambridge Conservation Initiative and the Judge Business School)
Professor Peter Guthrie (Dept of Engineering)

School of the Biological Sciences
Professor Chris Gilligan (Dept of Plant Sciences and the Global Food Security Initiative)
Professor Bill Sutherland (Dept of Zoology)

School of the Humanities and Social Sciences
Dr Tiago Cavalcanti (Faculty of Economics)
Dr Douglas Crawford-Brown (4CMR and Dept of Land Economy)
Dr Helen Curry (Dept of History and Philosophy of Science)
Dr Hildegard Diemberger (Dept of Social Anthropology)

School of Arts and Humanities
Professor Koen Steemers (Dept of Architecture)

Independent of any Schools
Dr David Cleevely (Cambridge Centre for Science and Policy)
Gordana Najdanovic (Research Strategy Office)
Dr Miles Parker (Cambridge Centre for Science and Policy)
Dr Emily Shuckburgh (British Antarctic Survey)

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