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Towards the Research Program

The Challenge

The challenge to be met by GSDP can be seen by looking at two events of the past two years: The global financial crisis of 2008 and the UN climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009. The financial markets as well as the climate system are complex systems whose study relies strongly on computer models, models that in turn are indispensable tools for decision-makers. However, the models used by central banks and other financial operators did not foresee the possibility of a global crisis and the models used by IPCC did not help policy makers to make practical progress in Copenhagen 2009. The models were not useless, they were in fact very good for a variety of purposes, but not for the task of dealing with critical stages in global decision-making.

The Scientific Endeavor

Because of the systemic, multi-level and integrative social-ecological perspective of this ambitious endeavour, the present research community is likely to challenge significantly the assumptions and practices of present thinking in many key scientific disciplines, including economics, modelling, or risk assessment as well as on many policy domains. This requires new paradigm-breaking solutions in which ICT plays a key role.

Our starting point is that the time is ripe for a research programme blending the themes of complexity and sustainability.

This has two kinds of reasons, one internal and one external to science. The external reasons include a global financial crisis that took nearly all decision-makers as well as scholars by surprise. In the face of this crisis, European governments showed very little capacity to act as a team, except for public relations. And instead of using the crisis as an opportunity to accelerate the transition to sustainable development, more often this transition was delayed with the excuse of the crisis. Clearly, sustainability presents many complex and interlinked challenges such as the one identified in this proposal, which require a coherent and integrated research effort.

The reasons internal to science include progress in multi-agent modelling, foresight methodology, and data gathering together with an increased willingness of natural scientists, social scientists, as well as mathematicians and computer scientists, to join forces and to tackle pressing practical problems. However, while in the natural sciences mathematics plays an immensely helpful role since generations, the recent and visible shortcomings of mathematically inclined economic research confront us with the urgent question of how mathematics of social entities could and should look like. In particular, while it is clear that many policy options for sustainable development cannot be assessed without using computers, it is also clear that dangerous nonsense can be produced by misusing computers as the hightech analogue of crystal balls. Domain specific languages to bridge the gap between the crystal-like clarity of mathematics and the need for responsible judgement in the various areas of sustainability policies need to be developed. To tackle these challenges, a trans-disciplinary community is required such as the one that GSDP shall foster.

Towards a Research Program

There is no recipe for developing research programs in the ambitious sense GSDP is focused on. The division of labour has to be designed in a pragmatic fashion, so as to make sure that the heterogeneity of issues arising in connection with global systems is taken fully into account, and that the creative potential of researchers able and willing to share this effort can be fully mobilized.

For more information see: GSDP Research Lines