Water plays a key role in the development and functioning of society by serving as a basic resource for activities such as irrigation, livestock production, fisheries, aquaculture, and hydroelectric power. Adequate water use in house-holds, businesses and manufacturing is a prerequisite of economic growth. Since many of the world's diseases are waterborne, we need clean water and sanitation for reducing the incidence of these diseases. And, most significantly, water provides habitat and sustenance for a rich diversity of plant and animal species that make up aquatic and riparian ecosystems, providing the basis for many of the goods and services received by society. Society is forcing unprecedented changes on global water resources through worldwide abstraction and pollution of water. Society also has a pervasive indirect impact because anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are causing long-term global changes in weather extremes and climate. Changes in the global water system are difficult to understand with simple cause-effect relationships because of the intense and complex linkages and feedbacks between different parts of the system. These changes and linkages also sometimes lead to abrupt changes in water systems such as the eutrophication of coastal aquatic systems, loss of biodiversity, the exceedance of safe water supply in urban areas, or intense competition between different water sectors for remaining water resources.
Carbon cycle research is often carried out in isolation from research on energy systems and normally focuses only on the biophysical patterns and processes of carbon sources and sinks. The Global Carbon Project represents a significant advance beyond the status quo in several important ways. First, the problem is conceptualised from the outset as one involving fully integrated human and natural components; the emphasis is on the carbon-climate-human system (fossil-fuel based energy systems + biophysical carbon cycle + physical climate system) and not simply on the biophysical carbon cycle alone. Secondly, the development of new methodologies for analysing and modelling the integrated carbon cycle is a central feature of the project. Thirdly, the project provides an internally consistent framework for the coordination and integration of the many national and regional carbon cycle research programmes that are being established around the world. Fourthly, the project addresses questions of direct policy relevance, such as the management strategies and sustainable regional development pathways required to achieve stabilisation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Finally, the Global Carbon Project goes beyond the traditional set of stakeholders for a global change research project by seeking to engage the industrial and energy sectors as well as the economic development and resource management sectors in the developing regions of the world.
Recent years have seen a greatly increased understanding of how global environmental change will affect crop and animal productivity and these results pave the way for broader analyses of global environmental change impacts on food production. However, there is a need to think beyond productivity and production - food security is the ultimate concern, as it is of greater relevance to societal well-being and hence policy-making. To address this broader concept of food security, research and policy formulation needs to be set within the context of food systems, rather than just food supply. This will allow a more thorough understanding of the links between food security and the environment, and make clearer where technical and policy interventions in food systems might be help them adapt to global environmental change.
It is widely, often intuitively, understood that human societies and the well being and health of their populations depend on the flow of materials, services and cultural enrichment from the natural world. Nevertheless, to date there has been little formal description and study of the relationships between global environmental changes and human health, and of the ways in which social institutions and processes modulate those relationships. For several human-induced global environmental changes, particularly changes to the world's climate system and to the ultraviolet radiation-filtering functions of the stratosphere, there has been a recent increase in research into the main health risks. But for most other global environmental changes little formal research on the risks to human health has been carried out. Indeed, among the practitioners of the various scientific disciplines engaged in studying the processes and impacts of global environmental changes - including environmental sciences, ecology, geography, economics, etc. - there has been relatively little recognition that ecosystem disruptions, species extinctions, degradation of food-producing systems, the perturbation of cycling of elements and nutrients, and the spread of cities pose risks to the well being and health of human populations. This science plan and implementation strategy proposes to address this gap in knowledge and research.