Knowledge Platform on Sustainability Science

The knowledge platform on Sustainability Science aims to strengthen science-policy-society interface and promote policy networks between UNESCO Regional Science Bureau for Asia-Pacific and ASEAN countries.

Given the increasingly complex global environmental challenges, there is a need to promote interdisciplinary approaches to development. Sustainability Science, a problem-focused approach rather than discipline-focused approach, recognises that social, cultural, spiritual and traditional values are part of a broader whole that needs to be encompassed in order to engender a sustainable future. UNESCO Man And Biosphere Program (MAB) defines Sustainability Science as “an integrated, problem-solving approach that draws on the full range of scientific, traditional and indigenous knowledge in a trans-disciplinary way to identify, understand and address present and future economic, environmental, ethical and societal challenges related to sustainable development” (UNESCO MAB, 2015).

According to literature reviews, Sustainability Science adopts the following 4 components: dynamic interactions between nature and society, transdisciplinary approach, normative function, and transformational function. UNESCO thus promotes Sustainability Science among ASEAN member countries as an initiative to strengthen the interface between science and policy by promoting collaboration between Natural Sciences (SC) and Social and Human Sciences (SHS). The result of International Workshop on Sustainability Science conducted on 4-5 April 2013 in Langkawi, Malaysia shows consensus among delegates that only coordinated efforts and sustainability science-based approach to solve global challenges will bring about sustainable development.

Sustainability science is currently being promoted by UNESCO Office Jakarta through the project Sustainability Transformation Across the Region (STAR). STAR aims to deliver a clear understanding of sustainability science outcomes at the regional policy levels through establishment of a platform as a depository of sustainability science best practices and development of a regional strategy and tools. STAR also develops demonstration sites to showcase sustainability science principles and applications.

In implementing sustainability science approach, a practical Sustainability Science Implementation Framework has been developed to co-produce implementable solutions through dialogues between all concerned actors including policymakers for co-generating local, national and regional science and technology actionable policies. This  five stepped, indicator based, spiral approach framework include toolboxes which can be applied to water problem solving in the particular context of UNESCO sites like UNESCO World Heritage (WH, natural and cultural), UNESCO MAB Biosphere Reserves (BR) and UNESCO IHP HELP basin.

STAR Sustainability Science Framework

Figure 1. STAR Sustainability science implementation framework Source: A. Sugiura, A. Rahmawati, H. Macarombon, M. I. de Heredia and S. Khan, “Sustainability Transformation Across the Region. Introduction to Sustainability Science Pilots Project Implementation in Asia-Pacific”, g14-11, p1-6, 7th ICWRER, 5-9 June 2016, Kyoto, Japan

Under STAR, in collaboration with Science Harnessed for ASEAN Regional Policy (SHARP) project (click here), a framework on social perspective of Sustainability Science, referred to as Integrated Strategies Framework for Sustainability Science, has been developed based on indicators (physical – ecological indicators, socio-demographic indicators, and public policy-economic indicators), socio-environmental stressors and specific findings from the demonstration sites. This framework was developed to provide useful method and guidance to support the application of sustainability science indicators for a regional vision on sustainability actions, identify the key characteristics of communities and develop the capacity of communities in order to identify the key pathways for policy intervention.


Figure 2. The Integrated Strategies Framework for Sustainability Science Developed by Tahmina Rashid (2016), for UNESCO Regional Science Bureau for Asia and the Pacific

The ASEAN member countries, as well as the broader UNESCO regional network, have diverse and often challenging social, economic, education and political contexts. This framework has been developed by UNESCO Regional Science Bureau for Asia and the Pacific for use by UNESCO regional network in need in solving environmental/sustainability/development issues. UNESCO supports member countries to adopt sustainability science approach towards a sustainable society for further sustainable and resilient futures. UNESCO also fully embraces the concept of sustainability science in the design and implementation of its programmes, as guided under UNESCO 38C/5 Programme and Budget 2016-2017

For further reading :

  • Sugiura A., Rahmawati A., Macarombon H., I. de Heredia M. and Khan S. 2016. Sustainability Transformation Across the Region Introduction to Sustainability Science Pilots Project Implementation in Asia-Pacific, g14-11, p1-6, 7th ICWRER, 5-9 June 2016, Kyoto, Japan.
  • Rashid, T. 2016. Developing Integrative Socio-environmental Approaches in Support of Effective Community Level Decision Making for Human Development and Environmental Sustainability in Sustainability Science Demonstration Sites. University of Canberra
  • Rashid, T. 2016. Improving Integrative Socio-environmental Approaches in Support of Effective Community Level Decision Making for Human Development and Environmental Sustainability in Sustainability Science Demonstration Sites. University of Canberra

Sustainability Science Networks

  • Project Partner Langat Sustainability Science Demonstration Site: Institute for Environment & Development (LESTARI) Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) Contact: Dr. Rahmah Elfithri (LESTARI, UKM
  • Project Partner Langkawi Sustainability Science Demonstration Site Institute for Environment & Development (LESTARI) Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) Contact: Dr. Rahmah Elfithri (LESTARI, UKM)
  • Project partner Davao city:HELP Davao Network Contact: Dr Anthony C. Sales (HELP Davao Network / Department of Science and Technology Regional Office XI)
  • Project partner Ifugao Rice Terraces: IH&MD Heritage Tourism Consultants Co Contact: Prof Ivan Anthony S. Henares (University of the Philippines, Diliman)
  • Project partner Siem Reap :APSARA (Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap) UNESCO Phnom Penh Office Contact: Maria Iniguez De Heredia (consultant UNESCO Phnom Penh)

Sustainability Science International/Regional Dialogue/Workshops

Contact Professor Dr. Shahbaz Khan Director, UNESCO Regional Science Bureau for Asia and the Pacific s.khan(at)

Other Resources

Langat-River-UNESCOLangat River Basin, Malaysia

The Langat River Basin, a UNESCO HELP (Hydrology for the Environment, Life and Policy) River Basin, is an important water catchment area, a source of hydropower, and a source of raw water supply and other amenities to approximately more than 1.59 million people and conurbations that include towns such as Cheras, Bangi, Kajang and Putrajaya, the Federal Government Administrative Centre. The area surrounding the Langat River Basin is facing rapid development in terms of urbanisation, industrialisation, road network and agriculture, bringing conflicts of harmony with the river environment, and increases the degree of pollution into the river channels. The Langat River Basin has been selected as a Sustainability Science demonstration site of UNESCO in order to demonstrate how sustainability science-based solution can support a holistic river management beyond traditional approaches which often overlook social and ecological needs

Ifugao Rice Terraces, Phillipines

Ifugao-RiceTerraces-UNESCOThe Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, a UNESCO World Heritage List, was the first-ever property to be included in the cultural landscape category of the World Heritage List. The terraces illustrate a cooperative approach of the whole community and a persistence of cultural traditions which have been in use in the region for two millennia virtually unchanged, including a finely tuned annual system respecting lunar cycles, zoning and planning, extensive soil conservation, and mastery of a complex pest control regime based on the processing of a variety of herbs, accompanied by religious rituals. The site was selected as a UNESCO Sustainability Science demonstration site to apply sustainability science principles to this system in order to understand how the dangers of deforestation and climate change can be managed through community based approaches, and to identify solutions to maintain the rice terraces and cultural practices

Siem Reap and Tonle Sap, Cambodia

Siem-Reap-UNESCODue to excessive groundwater pumping under the city of Siem Reap, water pollution, periodic flooding and degraded ecosystems of Tonle Sap, there are current and emerging challenges to the stability of the Angkor World Heritage Site and its building foundations. These complex water and environmental management issues of World Heritage site, biosphere reserve, and urban management nexus were addressed using sustainability science approaches in order to help restore and preserve Angkor World Heritage site’s water management system.