Ambitious research to help achieve UN Sustainable Development Goals

Scientists from across five countries, including those from University of Glasgow, 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.

The University of Glasgow project “River basins as ’living laboratories’ for achieving sustainable development goals across national and sub-national scales” has been funded through the new Natural Environment Research Council-TaSE (Towards a Sustainable Earth) research programme.

The TaSE programme is a collaboration between NERC/Economic and Social Research Council, the Japanese Science and Technology Agency, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Indian Department of Biotechnology and the Swedish research council Formas.

Professor Duncan Wingham, NERC Executive Chair, 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”

The University of Glasgow led project is one of eight projects funded through the programme. Its main objective will be to provide scientifically-grounded, policy-relevant information on the synergies and trade-offs between selected sustainable development goals and targets within the Luanhe river basin in China. Our approaches will also be replicable in other river basins globally. The research will be participatory in nature and will focus on:

  • Understanding historical changes in land use at the basin scale and engaging with different levels of stakeholders to develop future land-use change scenarios;
  • Modelling flood risk and impact on environment under various land use and infrastructure change scenarios;
  • Evaluating the main ecosystem services and disservices that can be derived from various land-use change and reservoir operation scenarios; and
  • Understand the interlinkages between SDGs at the sub-national scale through the improvement and use of SDG Interlinkages Tool developed by project partner IGES.


This research will be implemented by scientists from the School of Interdisciplinary Studies (Professor Fabrice Renaud) and the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences (Professor Trevor Hoey and Dr Brian Barrett) at the University of Glasgow in partnership with Loughborough University in the UK, Nankai University in China and the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies in Japan.

Professor Fabrice Renaud (PI), Professor in Environmental Risk and Community Resilience in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Glasgow, said: “Countries around the world are developing policies and programmes in view of achieving the SDGs.

“However, while attempting to reach SDGs goals and targets at the national level, there is a risk that inequalities between segments of society at the sub-national scale emerge. We will therefore analyze synergies and trade-offs between SDGs at the sub-national scale, using river basins as unit of analysis as these constitute an ideal geography for the study of human-environment interactions where cause-effect relationships related to human activities can be investigated within clearly defined physical boundaries."

Co-I Dr Brian Barrett, Lecturer in the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences at the University of Glasgow, said: “Achieving the SDGs represents many of our greatest challenges and I’m delighted to be working with colleagues in the UK, China and Japan on this exciting project investigating the human-environment interactions between selected SDGs across multiple spatial and temporal scales."

Professor Anne Anderson, Vice-Principal and Head of the College of Social Sciences at the University of Glasgow, said “This exciting new project demonstrates the benefits of international research collaborations, and we are delighted that the University of Glasgow’s strategic partnership with Nankai University has facilitated this exciting research."

Commenting on the study, Professir Carol Hill, Head of the School of Interdisciplinary Studies, said: “I am absolutely delighted that the international collaboration led my colleague Professor Renaud has secured the funding that will enable them to undertake this important study. It is an example of interdisciplinary research at its finest; cutting edge, challenge led and with the potential to build sustainable livelihoods and communities in areas of the world where it is extremely challenging to do so.”

NERC is the UK’s main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. NERC 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. The organisation coordinates 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.