The IRCS (International Research Center on Sustainability) focuses on sustainable planning and development issues. Its central topic is: how can societies most effectively guide or manage human-environment systems toward a sustainability transition? Trying to combine social justice and environmental viability is the heart of the Center’s action. According to Amartya Sen:
“if we have obligations towards future generations, we also have obligations towards current generations.”
The legitimate increase of environmental concerns provokes an increase of technical devices and of regulations. It is not rare that these responses to environmental challenges end up not considering social and spatial justice or to reinforce existing access inequalities. To be able to conceive this governance, it is essential to rethink the practices of planning. In fact, the choices and the compromises must fit within the construction of a long term democratic society that is performed at the same time from social, environmental and spatial points of view. However, since the end of the 1980s, planning has almost disappeared from public policy under the pressure of a combination of individualism, of the prevalence of urgency, of the research of short term social, political, economic profitability. Moreover, the end of the cold war gave birth to a more uncertain world, where forecasting is more difficult. It is true that planning as it was—normative and based on archaic analytical tools—had several perverse effects, which are at the basis of its failures.
Nevertheless, it is possible, these days, to conceive a new kind of planning that takes in consideration at the same time social justice and environmental sustainability, based on tools and notions such as:
- Coupled human-environment systems (HES);
- Participatory mechanisms of co-construction of political choices;
- New information models integrating uncertainty.
The recurring question of which coordination mechanisms are needed at the local, regional, national or international scale is central here. Decision-making processes need to be understood on the basis of the following questions:
Who decides on necessary compromises and on planning mechanisms? Which control and validation methods are possible?
These questions are major issues for the theorization of sustainability and for its implementation.
Sustainability Science encompasses the interaction of global processes with the ecological and social characteristics of particular places and sectors; integrating the effects of key processes across the full range of scales from local to global; addressing the behavior of complex human-environment systems (HES) (http://m.pnas.org/content/104/6/1737). It presupposes a multiscale approach (temporal, spatial, and functional), as well the inclusion of dynamic equilibria, not only of an economic, physical-chemical or biological kind, but also between actors and societies whose interests may be divergent. It correspond to use-inspired research, which is based on the postulate that the greatest scientific achievements in whatever domain take place in the framework of research applied to concrete needs of human societies.
The IRCS at Rheims University is in relation with numerous structures and people working on Sustainability science, such as the Sustainability Science Program at Harvard University, the CIRED (Centre International sur l’Environnement et le Développement), the CEDRIE (CEntre de Développement de la Recherche Internationale en Environnement) at Montreal University and the ICIS (International Center for Integrated assessment and Sustainable development) at Maastricht University.
Director of the IRCS