• Client: European Environment Agency (EEA)
  • Implementation period: 2016 - 2016 (Completed)
  • Geographic coverage: Europe

How can a better knowledge base and forward-looking information on systemic sustainability transitions help inform future policy-making?

The European Environment Agency (EEA) has identified the need for ‘sustainability transitions’ in response to a variety of persistent problems such as biodiversity loss, climate change and ecosystem degradation. These challenges are ‘systemic’ in the sense that they are intimately tied to socio-economic systems that fulfil societal needs (e.g. mobility, housing, energy, food). The overall objective of the project is to support building knowledge base and platform for forward-looking information (PFLI) on systemic sustainability transitions. The study was led by Trinomics, in collaboration with the Institute of Studies for the Integration of Systems (ISIS), Vizzuality and WAAT.

The first task of the project was to support the European Environment Agency (EEA) to analyse and technologically enhance the existing PFLI website and provide for a better recognition and visibility of EIONET NRC FLIS expert skills and expertise at EU/EEA level. The second task of the project was to produce five background papers that approach the themes of systemic ‘transformations’ and ‘transitions’ from a range of academic perspectives, explaining the core concepts and describing the transdisciplinary knowledge, governance approaches and competencies that are needed to effect systemic change.

The background papers capture the main line of thinking in transitions/information research in the following five thematic areas:

  • Transformations in socio-ecological systems: addressing ‘transformations’ focusing largely on social innovations, particularly in the food and land systems;
  • Socio-technical transitions to sustainability: addressing technological changes and innovation in the energy and mobility systems;
  • Transforming socio-economic systems: addressing some of the core systems such as finance, education and fiscal arrangements, which play a crucial role in enabling change elsewhere but themselves face many of the systemic challenges as other societal systems (e.g. lock-ins, feedbacks);
  • Action-oriented perspectives on transitions and system innovation: this theme has a more cross-cutting focus on issues such as society’s role in systemic change, social (grass roots) movements, youth, cities and perhaps the role of business, as well as challenges linked to scaling;
  • Integrated assessment modelling approaches to analysing systemic change: this theme is rather cross-cutting, considered separately because quantitative modelling approaches provide a strong forward-looking perspective of transitions and they also play an important role in underpinning policy and long-term strategies.