We are at a remarkable point in human development. Until now, the perception of sustainability has primarily focused on environmental protection, morality and efficiency. In 2015, there are strong signs the world may have crossed a social tipping point where the focus of sustainability as shifted towards innovation, prosperity and equity. With the adoption of the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Climate Paris agreement, for the first time, political and business leaders and communities around the world have set a roadmap for a global sustainable transformation.
Science has provided the essential insights illuminating the necessity, possibilities and desirability of sustainable development. Decades of scientific observations, and advances in Earth system science, ecological economics and environmental engineering have given us the knowledge base to state Earth has entered a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. Critically, world economic dynamics now interact with the Earth systems undermining future development: the risk of abrupt and irreversible Earth tipping points is rising as we exert more pressure on the Earth system.
Earth is on the cusp of leaving the Holocene basin of attraction, the interglacial state that has lasted 11,700 years and has provided a relatively stable climate and supported a rich diversity of life – and our global civilisation. Remaining within a Holocene envelope is the most profound challenge in science. A plethora of research shows political, social, technological and economic solutions abound. Indeed, we are also on the edge of a Fourth Industrial Revolution of innovation in bio-, digital-, and nano- technology. But, these solutions and innovations are poorly integrated, or worse, disconnected from the major Earth system challenges.
Sustainability science is growing rapidly. In 2009, the total research output was 56,390 papers. In 2013, it reached 75,602 – a growth rate of 7.6%, almost double the academic average. Furthermore, research output in sustainability science attracts 30% more citations than an average research paper. This is a dynamic field and in the last decade has seen the emergence of a more integrated world-Earth research approach: global sustainability science. Global sustainability science explores interactions between social and natural systems, from local to global scales, with a particular focus on development at any scale in the context of global environmental change and Earth resilience.
Given the urgent need for new insights to drive breakthroughs, global sustainability science needs an ambitious premium-quality scientific publication to support the research effort. This is why the new Cambridge University Press (CUP) journal Global Sustainability is not only necessary – to be on par with what the world needs and where science is heading – but also desirable to contribute to a global social tipping point towards sustainable development. The new journal will aim to sate the intellectual hunger for knowledge on humanity’s future on Earth in the Anthropocene.