Ambitious research to help achieve UN Sustainable Development Goals

13 February 2019

Scientists from across five countries will collaborate on ambitious research to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between humans and their environment in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Man watering crop with watering cans

In September 2015, 193 world leaders committed to the 17 Global Goals, with the aim of ending extreme poverty, inequality and climate change by 2030. In 2017, NERC and the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) worked with the Rockefeller Foundation, commissioning a report delivered by the University of Sussex, which found that understanding the multiple ways we, as humans, interact with and depend on the environment is essential to achieving these aims.

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.

The Towards a Sustainable Earth (TaSE) research programme has seen NERC join forces with ESRC, both part of UK Research & Innovation, in collaboration with the Japan Science and Technology Agency, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Indian Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and the Swedish research council Formas.

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.

Professor Alison Park, Director of Research at ESRC, said:

ESRC is delighted to be supporting these valuable multi-disciplinary projects which aim to significantly improve our understanding of how people interact with their environment. Social science can shed unique insights in this area, and these contributions will be an important part of the journey towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Yoshiko Shirokizawa, Executive Director, Japan Science and Technology Agency, said:

The TaSE programme explores the relationship between the natural environment and human society, with research outcomes expected to be employed for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Each project of this programme involves stakeholders from multiple sectors and countries to co-design research agendas and co-produce research results, together tackling the serious problems affecting both the natural environment and human society. We hope that their research outcomes will be utilised in many countries and regions and generate new methodologies for the realisation of a sustainable Earth.

DBT Secretary Dr Renu Swarup, said:

Achieving sustainable development goals is the topmost priority for India. Department of Biotechnology, Government of India has endeavoured to meet the enormous challenges that depleting natural resources and increasing human population puts on the planet. For a population of 1·3 billion it is vital that we collaborate with countries across the globe and address these challenges in a holistic and targeted manner.

Professor Fan Yingjie, Deputy Director-General of NSFC International, said:

It is quite a unique experience and high significance for NSFC to participate in this multilateral framework on sustainable studies. All the funded projects include researchers from more than three countries. It is expected that through the knowledge exchange and academic cooperation among these researchers, we will promote the understanding of the complex interaction between people and environment as well as its sustainability, and explore effective strategies for multilateral and multi-objective coordination and development, so as to adapt to climate change and social and economic development in the future.

The projects awarded funding are as follows:

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

Principal investigators: Kate Schreckenberg (King's College London), Sharachchandra Lele (Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology & the Environment), Tim Daw (Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University)

Countries: UK, India, Sweden

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

Principal investigators: Joseph Ravetz (The University of Manchester), Sudhir Chella Rajan (Indian Institute of Technology Madras), Harini Nagendra (Azim Premji University), Andrew Karvonen (KTH Royal Institute of Technology Stockholm)

Countries: UK, India, Sweden

Social-economic-environmental trade-offs in managing the land-river-interface

Principal investigators: Robert Grabowski (Cranfield University), Adani Azhoni (National Institute of Technology Karnataka), Vijay Shankar (National Institute of Technology Hamirpur), Brij Bala (Chaudhary Sarwan Kumar Himachal Pradesh Krishi Vishvavidyalaya), Jian Peng (Peking University)

Countries: UK, China, India

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

Principal investigators: Fabrice Renaud (University of Glasgow), Suiliang Huang (Nankai University), Xin Zhou (Institute for Global Environmental Strategies)

Countries: UK, China, Japan

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

Principal investigators: Robert Nicholls (University of Southampton), Sugata Hazra (Jadavpur University), Tim Daw (Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University)

Countries: UK, India, Sweden

Opportunities for climate mitigation and sustainable development (OPTIMISM)

Principal investigators: Raphael Slade (Imperial College London), Minal Pathak (Ahmedabad University), Miguel Esteban (Waseda University), Jamil Khan (Lund University)

Countries: UK, Japan, India, Sweden

A systems approach to sustainable sanitation challenges in urbanising China (SASSI)

Principal investigators: Deljana Iossifova (The University of Manchester), Feng Luan (Tongji University), Alexandros Gasparatos (University of Tokyo)

Countries: UK, China, Japan

Pathways of dispersal for cholera and solution tools (PODCAST)

Principal investigators: Marie-Fanny Racault (Plymouth Marine Laboratory), Anas Abdulaziz (National Institute of Oceanography), Nandini Menon (Nansen Environmental Research Center), Grinson George (Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute), Masami Nonaka (Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science & Technology)

Countries: UK, Japan, India

For full details of these projects, visit our live online grants browser - Grants on the Web (GOTW):

View details of projects - external link

Further information

Mary Goodchild
External Communications Manager
01793 411939
07710 147485


1. NERC is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. Our work covers the full range of atmospheric, Earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic science, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere and from the poles to the equator. We coordinate some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major environmental issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on Earth, and much more. NERC is part of UK Research & Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.