Scientists Identify Key Knowledge Gaps in Sustainability Research


Call for more relevant, solutions-focused research to address the social-ecological crisis.

The loss of biodiversity continues at an alarming rate despite decades of research and international policies setting out clear goals in the area. In an article published this week in Nature Sustainability, an international team of scientists including researchers from McGill identified seven key areas for future research in order to tackle, effectively, the root causes of the problem. They reached their conclusions by looking at all major regional and thematic reports from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (or IPBES). IPBES is a leading international organization and scientific body whose goal is to improve the interface between science and policy on issues of biodiversity and ecosystem service.

In order pinpoint the knowledge gaps that needed to be addressed, the researchers looked at the frequency with which gaps in our knowledge were reported in the IPBES publications from around the globe between 2012-2019. They compared these findings with research gaps identified in the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Their goal was to investigate whether the research gaps would get in the way of meeting key international sustainability goals set out by the United Nations.

“We’ve made great strides forward in global assessments. But the most urgent research gap hasn’t changed since 2005: we need effective strategies to meet our sustainability goals,” says Elena Bennett, Associate Professor at the McGill School of Environment and one of the co-authors of the study. “Additionally, in this latest assessment, the role of indigenous and local knowledge to sustain nature’s benefits to people has emerged as a key knowledge gap. Now we need to get those with deep expertise in social change and governance to the table, including local actors and decision makers.”

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