Published: May 16, 2019

MSU scientists contribute to UN sustainability report

Contact(s): Sue Nichols Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability office: (517) 432-0206

In assessing the world’s biodiversity and ecosystem services, a landmark United Nations report finds an unprecedented biodiversity loss – one million species of animals and plants face extinction. It calls for transformative changes to balance nature conservation and economic development.

Three years in the making, the global assessment of nature was organized by the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, an organization with focus on nature’s contributions to people. Two Michigan State University sustainability scientists, Jianguo Liu and Andrés Viña of the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, contributed to the report.

Liu, Rachel Carson Chair in sustainability, is a co-author of the summary released on May 6, which has served as an arresting alarm about the devastating effects human actions have had on nature. He is a coordinating lead author on the full report’s Chapter 5, “Pathways Towards a Sustainable Future” and a contributing author of Chapter 1, “Introduction to and Rationale of the Global Assessment.”

Viña, an assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife and an expert in remote sensing, is a lead author of Chapter 2 of the report, “Status and Trends – Drivers.”

In Chinadialogue, the London- and Beijing-based news site, Liu comments on how environmental factors are – and must continue to – weigh in to policy development and performance evaluation of government officials.

The report also has applied the telecoupling framework, an emerging tool to holistically examine all aspects of sustainability over distances.

The concept of telecoupling, introduced by Liu in 2008, describes socioeconomic- environmental interactions over distances. The umbrella concept encompasses all distant interactions such as trade, migration, foreign investment, species invasion, technology transfer and knowledge transfer. The framework developed by Liu and colleagues in 2013 shows how environmental and socioeconomic actions lead to reactions and feedbacks – and then to more repercussions that reverberate globally. 

“The telecoupling framework not only allows us to understand socioeconomic and environmental sustainability in one place, but it enables us to evaluate sustainability in all relevant places across the world simultaneously,” Liu said. “It provides a useful foundation to protect our environment while allowing people to thrive globally.”