Research Handbooks on Impact Assessment series
Edited by Angus Morrison-Saunders, Jenny Pope and Alan Bond
Chapter 14: An introduction to sustainability science and its links to sustainability assessment
Science is well positioned to respond to the challenge of sustainable development. However, its potential in this regard has arguably not been met (Burns and Weaver, 2008). Burns and Weaver (2008) attribute this partly to the avoidance within traditional science of the normative, or value-based, aspects of sustainable development, which are at odds with the positivism and value neutrality on which classical science rests. This results in traditional science encountering significant challenges in influencing the politics of sustainable development consistently (Burns and Weaver, 2008). Kates et al. (2001) state that during the 1980s and early 1990s much of the scientific community became distanced from the political processes that were moulding society’s sustainable development agenda. However, this is now changing as the global scientific community actively engages in multiple initiatives to promote a transition to sustainability (Kates et al., 2001). The run-up to the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development (e.g. Friibergh Workshop on Sustainability Science, 2000; Kates et al., 2001), and special sessions at this meeting, articulated a challenge to the scientific community. This created an important opportunity to reconnect science to political efforts to achieve sustainable development and to seek agreement on how scientists may contribute more effectively to sustainability (Friibergh Workshop on Sustainability Science, 2000; Burns and Weaver, 2008). This opportunity led to the emergence of sustainability science.
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