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Researching Environment - Society Relations. Professor Philip Lowe Newcastle University Director of UK Research Councils’ Rural Economy and Land Use Programme. Structure. Scientific Challenge of Sustainable Development Social Science and the Environment

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Researching Environment - Society Relations

Professor Philip Lowe

Newcastle University

Director of UK Research Councils’

Rural Economy and Land Use Programme



  • Scientific Challenge of Sustainable Development
  • Social Science and the Environment
  • The Importance of Interdisciplinary Research (e.g. Rural Economy and Land Use Programme)
  • Examples of Upcoming Programmes

Scientific Challenge of Sustainable Development

  • Sustainable development:
    • implies integration of economic, social and environmental objectives in public and private behaviour
  • Unsustainable development:
    • fostered by fragmented thinking and blinkered disciplinary perspectives
  • Sustainable development:
    • requires integrated solutions (socio-technical and socio-ecological adaptations)

Demands a key role for the social sciences alongside the environmental sciences and technology

social sciences and the environment
Social Sciences and the Environment
  • UK has long track record of bringing social sciences – the human dimension - to the heart of debates on the environment
  • ESRC Global Environmental Change Programme 1990s

- Attitudes and behaviour

- Business and environment

- Policy and institutions

- Sustainability and resource management

  • Particular advances from research included:

- Fiscal policies and development of environmental taxes

- Scientific approaches to environmental valuation

- Insights into public understandings and responses to risk and uncertainty

- Sources of social vulnerability to climate change

uk principles of sustainable development
UK Principles of Sustainable Development

Living Within Environmental Limits

Ensuring a Strong, Healthy and Just Society

Achieving a Sustainable Economy

Using Sound Science Responsibly

Promoting Good Governance

the environment and international development
The Environment and International Development

Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability (STEPS Centre)


Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility

  • Overarching themes:
    • The socio-environmental impacts of business
    • Sustainable consumption and production
    • Responsible management
  • Examples of research:
    • Developing local and regional Sustainability Indicators
    • Ecological footprinting of major events
    • New decision tools for improving the sustainability of

business activity

Business Relationships, Accountability, Sustainability and Society (BRASS)


Importance of Interdisciplinary Research

  • Social science increasingly called upon to address solutions to environmental challenges

Calls for:

  • Interdisciplinarity across social and natural sciences
  • More socially accountable science

Interdisciplinary Research

  • Rural Economy and Land Use Programme (RELU)

Key public challenges include:

  • Restoring trust in food chains
  • Promoting robust rural economies
  • Sustaining agriculture in a liberalised economy
  • Tackling animal disease in a socially acceptable manner
  • Mitigating threats from climate change and invasive species
  • Reducing stress on water catchments


Interdisciplinary Research (RELU)

Socio-Technical Innovation

  • Barriers to alternative pest management strategies
  • Political science, entomology, microbiology, economics

Reframing Science

  • Management of animal and plant diseases
  • Economics, microbiology, veterinary medicine, epidemiology, plant pathology, science studies

Spatiality of Changing Land Use

  • The effects of scale in organic agriculture
  • Human geography, sociology, economics, development studies, environmental informatics and modelling, hydrology, civil/water engineering

Upcoming Programmes (LWEC)

  • Living with Environmental Change
  • Predicting what will happen and where impacts will be
  • Examining the provision of ‘ecosystem services’
  • Finding ways to use limited resources sustainably


Living With Environmental Change (LWEC)

Over the next ten years the programme will:

  • connect natural, engineering, social, medical and cultural researchers with policy makers, business, the public and other key stakeholders
  • focus on the regional and local impacts of environmental change from seasons to decades
  • provide decision-makers with best information to manage environmental change and protect vital ecosystem services

Upcoming Programmes (ESPA)

Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation

  • Improve ecosystem management policies
  • Loss of services from ecosystems reduces wellbeing
  • International focus


Anglo-Chinese Collaborations


  • Sino-European Dragon Programme
  • Ecosystems Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA): China Regional Analysis and Research Strategy
  • Living With Environmental Change (LWEC): seeking a partnership with China


  • Sustainable development calls for new ways of doing science
  • Understanding complex environment-society relations demands interdisciplinary research combining social and natural sciences
  • Such interdisciplinarity promises more integrated, more socially accountable and more applicable solutions
  • Global environmental change demands effective scientific collaboration not just across disciplines but across nations too