• A personal note on IGBP and the social sciences

    Humans are an integral component of the Earth system as conceptualised by IGBP. João Morais recalls key milestones in IGBP’s engagement with the social sciences and offers some words of advice for Future Earth.
  • IGBP and Earth observation:
    a co-evolution

    The iconic images of Earth beamed back by the earliest spacecraft helped to galvanise interest in our planet’s environment. The subsequent evolution and development of satellites for Earth observation has been intricately linked with that of IGBP and other global-change research programmes, write Jack Kaye and Cat Downy .

The Planet in 2050

The proposal for The Planet in 2050 was accepted by the SC-IGBP as a Fast Track Initiative in March 2006 to run for 3 years.


Over the past few years, attention to issues like climate change, biodiversity loss, pressure on ecosystem services and other society-environment problems has escalated rapidly in the political and public sphere. There is a growing consensus that a "business as usual" approach to the human enterprise will not produce a desirable or even a viable future for homo sapiens as well as other forms of life on Earth. There is also a growing dismay at the "gloom-and-doom" approach to global change and the depressing scenarios we so often see. People are looking for hope, for optimism and for ways to avoid catastrophic futures. However, the question of what defines a desirable future differs widely amongst individuals, societies and cultures, leading to intense discussion and debate. Even if consensus could be reached on what defines a desirable future, multiple pathways for getting from here to there are possible.

In terms of the biophysical aspects of the Earth System, desirable futures can sometimes be described in non-normative terms. For example, our growing understanding of the fundamental processes that govern the functioning of the biophysical Earth System allows us to derive plausible narratives with a certain level of quantification concerning its future behaviour and thus describe possible future "states" or "phase spaces" that are clearly detrimental to human well-being. The attempt to define "dangerous climate change" is a recent example of defining such detrimental states. Understanding what might be termed "dangerous environmental change" in turn, can help define guardrails within which the human-environment system should evolve if the types of gloom-and-doom scenarios that dismay so many people are to be avoided. Within such guardrails, a rich array of desirable futures can no doubt be articulated, reflecting the creativity, diversity and determination of humans.


Guy Brasseur, Will Steffen, Jill Jäger, Bob Costanza, David Schimel, Torvald Jacobsson, and John Katzenberger.


The objectives of The Planet in 2050 Project are to:

(i) describe a number of desirable futures for Earth in the year 2050;
(ii) explore pathways to move from the present situation toward those futures; and
(iii) identify more immediate constraints to, and opportunities for, moving human-environment systems onto the more desirable pathways.


  • A Dahlem-style workshop, of approximately 50 invited experts was held in the southern Swedish city of Lund in October 2008.
  • Two press releases have been published as a result of the workshop:

 31 October 2008: Crisis is catalyst – Planet future meeting sees hope and opportunity.

5 November 2008: Solve economic and environmental crises at the same time.


  • A book, structured around a small number of desirable futures, the pathways required to achieve them, the obstacles to moving from where we are now onto those pathways. A final section will synthesize the contrasting visions of desirable futures to draw out common threads.
  • The presentations and discussions will be video-taped, and the products will be made available on the web.
  • New ways of thinking about the future, ongoing discussion and debate, changes in research directions and the application of research to action; moving from documenting the problems with the planet to working on the solutions.

Continuation of the activity

This FTI is designed to contribute to the IHOPE (Integrated History and future Of People on Earth) project. In particular, it will contribute to the “future” time slice of the IHOPE approach, and thus will complement the existing activity exploring the relationship of humans and the environment at three time slices in the past. The leader of the IHOPE project, Professor Robert Costanza, is a member of the convening group for this FTI, and this is in a position to carry the outcomes forward into the IHOPE project.

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IGBP closed at the end of 2015. This website is no longer updated.

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