Sustainability Transformation Across the Region (STAR)

The immediate objective of this project is to integrate “Sustainability Science” concepts into natural resource management frameworks and processes that serve and align well with regional research and management challenges while supporting opportunities for more sustainable and resilient futures. The project also aims to raise awareness about sustainability science among policymakers in the Asia and Pacific region, with a view to position this as part of the national and regional science and technology policy.

Click here for the Knowledge Platform on Sustainability Science established under the project.


  • Workshop on Strengthening Science-Policy-Society Interface for Implementing Sustainability Science for Biodiversity Conservation in ASEAN and Asia Pacific Region (19-20 June 2017)
  • Synthesis Workshop of the Project “Sustainability Transformation Across the Region (STAR)” and the Project “Science Harnessed for ASEAN Regional Policy (SHARP)” (2-4 November 2016)



The High-Level Dialogue on the Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development (IFSD), organized by the Secretariat of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) and Indonesia from 19-21 July 2011, has concluded with a call for integration, implementation and greater coordination and coherence among international and regional institutions, in order to strengthen the IFSD. Some of the proposals emerging from the Dialogue includes: the need to strengthen the environmental pillar of sustainable development while at the same time reinforcing the economic and social pillars and achieving greater balance among the three. The meeting also discussed the role and position of science, in ensuring that the transition towards a ‘Green Economy’ is based on sound science, technology and innovation.

The Japanese National Commission for UNESCO submitted a proposal to UNESCO’s 36th General Conference for the promotion of an integrated approach to build a sustainable society through coexistence between the economy and the environment. This approach is emerging as a new academic discipline entitled “sustainability science”. As outlined by the Sustainability Science Program at Harvard University’s Center for International Development:

Sustainability Science is an emerging field of problem-driven, interdisciplinary scholarship that seeks to facilitate interventions that foster shared prosperity and reduced poverty while protecting the environment. The field is defined by the problems it addresses rather than the disciplines it employs. It draws from multiple disciplines of the natural, social, and engineering sciences, from the professions, and from practical filed experience in business, government, and civil society.

Sustainability science promotes as such cross-disciplinary coordination, and requires global cooperative effort to advance understanding of human-environment interactions and systems.

UNESCO Jakarta organized an International workshop on “Sustainability Science – A Science based Approach to realise the Future We Want for All”, Malaysia, from 4 to 5 April, 2013.The event was organized by UNESCO and LESTARI, UKM in collaboration with ISTIC and MEXT-Japan. This workshop was attended by the Secretary General of the Japanese National Commission for UNESCO, the Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, ADG/SC, ADH/SHS, Director Regional Science Bureau for Asia and Pacific and staff and a number of eminent international delegates. This workshop was held at a critical juncture in time, ahead of the transition from MDGS to Post-2015 Agenda and therefore there were focused deliberations on how the “Sustainability Science” approach can be used to define global challenges and deliver solutions by maximizing benefits and minimizing possible negative consequences from new S&T based innovations and developments. The participants agreed that due to the diverse and often challenging social, economic, educational and political contexts in Asia-Pacific countries, there is need to foster development and implementation of integrated policies, strategies, and management models within the sustainability science framework, in order to improve the living standards for local communities, and foster cooperation among countries for sustainable development. It was recommended to the governing bodies that UNESCO might promote this integrated approach into the next medium-term strategy (C/4) and the programme and budget (C/5). It was emphasized that South-South-North cooperation is critical for the successful implementation of the sustainability approach. The progress made between Asia and Africa for cooperation through connectivity tools need to be fostered further for capacity building at all levels. It is recommended to organize an Asia-Africa summit on sustainability science. The participants also felt the need for Sustainability Science Networks to be established to proactively promote this approach at all levels.


The immediate objective of this project is to integrate “Sustainability Science” concepts into natural resource management frameworks and processes that serve and align well with regional research and management challenges while supporting opportunities for more sustainable and resilient futures. The project also aims to raise awareness about sustainability science among policymakers in the Asia and Pacific region, with a view to position this as part of the national and regional science and technology policy. This will be achieved by:

  • Development of regional knowledge platform, tools and framework to encourage regional research committees to own and manage the research outputs adding to their own local program of activities and also set in place a process that allows this to continue beyond the life of the project;
  • Demonstration of the sustainability science approach across three demonstration projects working closely with natural and social science research disciplines and with the regional committees receiving the research outputs.
  • Liaise extensively with governments, regional professional bodies, industry associations and regional communities to secure and integrate program outputs that meet research needs and outcomes;
  • Establish and encourage where necessary appropriate business arrangements between sustainability science research and regional communities to facilitate positive change for a more resilient environment, prosperous livelihoods and better futures;
  • Assist selected regional communities to build their capacity to move to a sustainable and resilient future utilising sustainability frameworks.

A group of international experts from diverse backgrounds will be invited to develop further the conceptual framework of sustainability science, synthesize key lessons from case studies from the Asia-Pacific region, and propose answers to the following general question: how can sustainability science address economy-environment interactions and contribute to sustainable development in the Asia-Pacific Region?

This project will involve an integrated systems synthesis and pathways analysis using the natural and social sciences as illustrated in the figure leading to catchment based sustainability of urban and rural ecosystems and associated water and land uses through enhancement of sustainability learning networks. These projects will be delivered through existing UNESCO Networks i.e. the International Hydrological Programme (IHP), the Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme and the Management of Social Transformations (MOST) Programme. While IHP and MAB focus on natural science aspects, MOST’s primary purpose is to transfer relevant social sciences research findings and data to decision-makers and other stakeholders.

Overarching Framework for Enhancing Community Sustainability


1) Development of regional a framework and tools to implement sustainability science

The project will commission a comprehensive analysis of the concept of sustainability science to develop transdisciplinary frameworks and tools for the implementation of the sustainability science concept. It is imperative to review and discuss the current status of sustainability science particularly in higher education, research and policy, globally, and more specific in the Asia-Pacific region with regard to already established networks of experts, their approaches and methodologies

Integrated Tools for the Application of Sustainability Science

Existing natural resource management tools are still predominantly focused within narrow disciplinary boundaries such as hydrology, water systems, economics, social science, etc.; with little integration across discipline boundaries. This approach ignores the broader economic, social and environmental interactions of water management interventions that change the existing stocks and flows in the catchment or river basins and yields inappropriate responses by water planners and managers. This silo approach to analysing sustainability of natural resources and social systems in response to improvement interventions is usually ineffective in achieving their intended purpose which is to inform water management and policy decisions made by practitioners. This is especially evident in the use of modelling systems to inform natural resource management policies under severe competition between consumptive and environmental uses where despite extensive modelling carried out by scientists and academics in major river basins that are currently under severe stress, these tools remain underutilised by planners and policy makers. The purpose of this component of the project is to develop frameworks and techniques that can bind different approaches to natural resources management into a more integrated package.

The ‘Green School’ concept combines a school and community Water Supply and Sanitation programme with Education for Sustainable Development approaches, which includes subjects such as Water and Environment, Hygiene and Health, as well as Food and Nutrition. The project will provide services and technology support to establish green schools in the community to address the unsustainable water management, promote sustainable agriculture and develop water management adaptation mechanism to adapt to climate change issues suited to the current and anticipated environmental conditions of the area.

At the national and regional levels the project aims to develop Learning Alliances and Policy Support Networks to strengthen the existing environmental management plans. It will specially strengthen environmental management capacity, and support the UNESCO Medium-Term Strategy (37 C/4) in the sustainable management of environmental and water resources for economic and social development. In this regard UNESCO integrated water resources management and biosphere reserve management guidelines will be applied in association with the related agencies.

The proposed frameworks will address these integration issues in the context of developing natural resources management strategies aimed to harmonise economic uses and environmental demand. It envisages the seamless integration of the natural resources analysis and impacts from alternative management policies, economic and eco-hydrological analysis and modelling and socio-cultural and institutional elements that may impinge or constrain the application of alternative policies.

2) Establishment of Sustainability Science Demonstration Pilot Projects

In order to demonstrate the sustainability science approach, UNESCO proposes to test the frameworks and models developed in component (a) through a multilevel (community, pilot area and national level) participatory process, involving several UN agencies, universities, research institutes and other governmental institutions. An overall approach for improving the natural resources management would need to consider a comprehensive baseline assessment of land, water and environment linkages; it needs to consider sound natural resources management practices, community education and optimised ecotechnology solutions. Therefore this project will focus on two levels:

  • Community Level: Community based pilot for sustainability demonstration, awareness raising and capacity building
  • Pilot Areas/National Level and Regional Levels: Strengthening policy, legal and institutional frameworks through collaborative linkages, learning alliances and targeted interventions for capacity building

The Community Level Technical Demonstration will focus on Eco-technologies in association with the established green schools, because these are more appropriate, affordable and maintainable within the context of small and medium size districts as in the case of the target area. The application of Eco-hydrology and Eco-technologies for urban and industrial wastewater treatment and reuse are expected to generate a number of additional benefits, such as new employment and business opportunities (e.g. waste recycling, composting, biogas production, phyto-technologies for nutrients removal etc.), improved public health, and improved local food production (crops and fish).

The three demonstration sites are as follows:

  1. Restoring and Enhancing Angkor World Heritage Site and Siem Reap City Water Systems (Cambodia)
  2. Restoring and Managing Langat River, Malaysia for Future
  3. Rice Terraces of the Philippines Cordilleras

3) Organizing Regional Meetings on Sustainability Science

In association with UNESCO programs IHP, MAB and IOC and Future Earth initiative, regional meetings will be organised. This will help make sustainability science an enabler of evidence-based policy-making in the ASEAN and wider Asia-Pacific region. These meetings will be aimed at showcasing results of the pilot projects as well as to distil generic policy advice for sustainability of inland and coastal natural and built environments, the conservation of biodiversity and geodiversity, sound management of mineral resources, stronger disaster management strategies and enhanced climate change adaptation.