Our goal

We aim not only to understand human–environment systems, but also to make them more sustainable while taking into account the trade-offs that development entails. We work to develop approaches and solutions that foster fair distribution of the gains and risks of globalization, shared responsibility for global resources, and engagement on behalf of well-being and peace for all. Our core concern is building institutions that both enable global environmental governance within planetary boundaries and fulfil the requirements of social justice.

Engaged and transformative science

Science alone cannot deliver the necessary processes and decisions. This is why we view research for sustainable development as engaged and transformative: We aim to conduct research, teaching, and implementation that advances sustainable development in concrete ways. We pursue this aim using traditional scientific tools such as well-grounded hypotheses, imaginative research questions, and precise and innovative methods. At the same time, we develop inter- and transdisciplinary approaches to analysis and transformation. Our research agenda is created jointly with our partners in Switzerland and abroad. We engage in dialogue and collaboration with policymakers, civil society actors, and businesspeople at all levels of society to develop new pathways beyond capital- and technology-intensive conventional approaches. Based on our shared societal responsibility and in line with the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we seek to foster transformations towards sustainable development that are anchored in the given context and supported by local stakeholders.

Research for sustainable development
Researchers are playing an interactive game with villagers in Mahalevona, Madagascar, to find out more about how they manage their land. Photo: Julie Zähringer, CDE

Our object of study

CDE’s research focuses on issues of sustainable development. We investigate global change processes and the impacts they have on natural resources – such as soils, water, and biodiversity – as well as on land use systems and the living conditions of different groups. Population pressure and increasing human use can drastically impact fragile ecosystems, especially in areas where regulating institutions are weak. Wide-ranging forces such as regional conflicts, climate change, global trade, and transnational land deals increase social inequalities and exacerbate the vulnerability of at-risk individuals and groups.

Our approach

In our globalized world, sustainability problems are interwoven and span national borders and continents. CDE reflects this by conducting research in five regions worldwide, including Switzerland and Europe. Our research agenda is defined jointly with our partners in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe. Our inter- and transdisciplinary approaches to analysis and transformation integrate diverse actors, including their knowledge and value systems. Based on a joint understanding of sustainability, we identify trade-offs, dangers, and development potentials together with our partners, as well as build alternative technologies, planning tools, and suitable institutions. We put the power of knowledge to work on behalf of actors whose voices tend to be neglected. This expands the scope, capacity, and sovereignty of local resource users, and supports improved resource governance among local, national, and global authorities.