The Future Earth Natural Assets KAN - towards fair and equitable stewardship of natural resources


Cornelia Krug (University of Zurich)

Ariane de Bremond (University of Bern)



Future Earth Knowledge-Action Networks (KANs) are conceived as networks for mobilising scientists, stakeholders and policy-makers and provide a collaborative framework to facilitate highly integrative and action-oriented sustainability research. KANs are envisaged to act as mechanisms for exchange, and to bring communities together to share knowledge; their aim being to generate the multifaceted knowledge needed to inform solutions for complex societal issues. This is achieved by centring the KANs around activities that are driven bottom-up, and take place the science-society-policy interface. KANs also play an important role in community building; pointing to the importance of the various research communities assembled under Global Research Projects and national committees under the Future Earth umbrella participating in the development of the KANs.


The Future Earth Natural Assets KAN intends to facilitate and enable co-designed, integrated, action-oriented research and synthesis towards the sustainable and fair stewardship of terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems that underpin human well-being. Although still in their planning phases, initial activities of this KAN are geared towards increasing the understanding the relationships between biodiversity, ecosystems and their benefits to societies, and to developing more effective management and governance approaches. Knowledge to inform action, and tools needed to support management decisions are drawn from various perspectives and epistemologies, and combined to offer a more holistic approach.


Humans are dependent on nature for their well-being, for example by harvesting of natural resources for food or medicine, or through access to natural areas for cultural and spiritual well-being. At the same time, mainly due to human-induced land use and climate change, ecosystems are degrading, and are less and less able to provide benefits for humans. Furthermore, the benefits derived from nature are often distributed unfairly, and unequally. To reduce and prevent further degradation of nature, and to maintain the benefits humans derive from these, there is a need to not only ensure the sustainable use of natural assets, but also a need for responsible action and accountability.


Transdisciplinary science is required to support management and decision-making to achieve sustainable use of nature in a world with a growing population, and under pressure from changing climate and land use. To address these challenges, research activities need to span multiple scales and levels of governance, and regard larger time scales and longer temporal scales. An emphasis should be placed on the question “natural assets for whom” – who gains from which services, who loses, whose assets are we using up? – in order to develop and select the necessary tools to guide management decisions.


Research activities also need to be conscious of the ongoing societal and economic developments that shape human attitudes and use of natural assets, and be geared towards the insertion of science into decision-making. Activities should contribute to the integration of different communities at their intersections and interfaces, and address the exponential increases in human impacts on the environment and the natural system feedbacks.


Scientific activities within the Natural Assets KAN should focus on the development of tools for a specific context, including the development of the underlying concepts, as well as insights and understanding of causal relationships required for correct application of tools and interpretation of outcomes. Furthermore, a clear understanding of the dynamics of a system is needed, which requires the inclusion and integration of social sciences to cover different perspectives and open avenues for actions. The development of new tools, or the advancement of already existing tools, for data collection will also form part of the activities conducted within the framework of the KAN.


As a first activity, and to provide a conceptual framing for the activities within the KAN, the Swiss Future Earth Global Research Projects (GLP, GMBA, bioDISCOVERY, and PAGES), the Swiss Academy of Sciences and the Future Earth Secretariat co-organized a workshop in September 2017 bringing together respected scholars from across the sciences to develop a shared understanding of the Natural Assets conceptual framework. In a follow-up, participants at the PECSII conference in Oaxaca were invited to join the process of co-designing an innovative, integrated and inclusive conceptual framework for the Natural Assets Knowledge-Action Network, thereby further contributing to on-going efforts by Future Earth and the KAN development team to lay the foundation for future activities and for tackling pressing societal challenges.


More information on the Natural Assets KAN

Watch a video on the first workshop here:


Fig. 1 -  Participants in a workshop to develop a concept of natural assets to frame the Natural Assets KAN (© Lorène Mesot and Raphaël Taylor Ponte)


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