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The University of Southampton

Ambitious research to help achieve UN Sustainable Development Goals

Published: 13 February 2019
Tase Research
Prof Nicholls and his team will look at opportunities and conflicts in the deltas

Professor Robert Nicholls from the University of Southampton is part of a group of scientists from five countries who will research the relationship between humans and their environment in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In 2017 the National Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) commissioned a report which found that understanding the multiple ways we, as humans, interact with and depend on the environment is essential to achieving the SDGs.

Now, a multilateral call between the UK, India, China, Japan and Sweden has resulted in a collective £4.3 million funding for eight two-year research projects placing human-environment interactions at the heart of achieving the UN global goals.

Professor Nicholls will lead a project called 'Opportunities and trade-offs between the SDGs for food, welfare and the environment in deltas', working with Stockholm University and Jadavpur University, Kolkata India. The overall aim of the project is to analyse the common ground and conflicts between the Sustainability Development Goals in complex socio-ecological systems and explore the resulting opportunities and trade-offs for policy decision makers. 

They will study the deltas as these illustrate the complex challenges of achieving the SDGs. Collectively, they are home to 500 million people who are often poor with a strong dependence on rural livelihoods. At the same time, they are subject to multiple drivers of change, such as climate change and sea-level rise, subsidence, extensive conversion of land from agriculture to aquaculture due to global seafood demand, and widespread migration and urbanisation. The resultant trade-offs, systemic shifts and critical thresholds in biophysical, economic or social dimensions are hard to foresee and often difficult to reverse. 

The Ganga delta, West Bengal, India will be used as a case study. This is home to 18 million people and the project team has access to an extensive highly relevant base data for the site, available from the earlier DECCMA project.

NERC Executive Chair Professor Duncan Wingham said: “Realising the ambitions of the UN Sustainable Development Goals to end poverty, hunger and inequality across the globe, while preserving and maintaining our environmental resources, is key to ensuring future wellbeing and prosperity in both developed and developing countries.

“These multi-disciplinary projects will bring together researchers from five countries to help us understand the complex relationships between people and the environment, leading the global effort on finding comprehensive solutions to global challenges.”


The full list of projects awarded funding is as follows:

Nature's contribution to poverty alleviation, human wellbeing and the SDGs (Nature4SDGs)

- Kathrin Schreckenberg, King's College London

PERI-CENE (Peri-urbanization & climate-environment change)

- Joseph Ravetz, The University of Manchester

Social-economic-environmental trade-offs in managing the Land-River-Interface

- Robert Grabowski, Cranfield University

River basins as 'living laboratories' for achieving sustainable development goals across national and sub-national scales

- Fabrice Renaud, University of Glasgow

Opportunities and trade-offs between the SDGs for food, welfare and the environment in deltas.

- Robert Nicholls, University of Southampton

Opportunities for Climate Mitigation and Sustainable Development (OPTIMISM)

- Raphael Slade, Imperial College London

A Systems Approach to Sustainable Sanitation Challenges in Urbanising China (SASSI)

- Deljana Iossifova, The University of Manchester

Pathways Of Dispersal for Cholera And Solution Tools (PODCAST)

- Marie-Fanny Racault, Plymouth Marine Laboratory



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