A year in the making, the IIASA Flagship Report titled “Systems Analysis for Sustainable Wellbeing. 50 Years of IIASA Research, 40 Years After the Brundtland Commission, Contributing to the Post-2030 Global Agenda” was launched in September 2023 at an official UN event in the  framework of the 78th session of the UN General Assembly.

The launch event, which was co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of Austria and South Africa to the UN and supported by the Department of Science and Technology of South Africa, unveiled crucial insights from the report and brought together policymakers, scientists, and representatives from various sectors to discuss the importance of advancing the 2030 Agenda.

Several leading IIASA researchers and high-level collaborators including Csaba Kőrösi, President of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly; Stefan Pretterhofer, Deputy Permanent Representative of Austria to the UN; Sepo Hachigonta, Director of Strategic Partnerships at the National Research Foundation of South Africa; Nyovani Janet Madise, Director of Research for Sustainable Development Policies and Head of the Malawi office of the African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP); and Adil Najam, President of WWF International and IIASA Peter de Jánosi Visiting Fellow, participated as speakers. Notably, the publication also features a foreword by H.E. Alexander Van der Bellen, the Federal President of the Republic of Austria, who has been a steadfast supporter of IIASA and its research initiatives.

schloss © IIASA

A call to action

The IIASA Flagship Report focuses on future challenges and solutions to help ensure sustainable wellbeing for all. As such, the publication closely tied into the overall theme of the 2023 General Assembly on “Rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity: Accelerating action on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals towards peace, prosperity, progress, and sustainability for all”.

The report is organized into six parts, summarizing past and current IIASA research highlights, and pointing toward future challenges and solutions:

  1. Systems analysis for a challenged world.
  2. Population and human capital.
  3. Food security, ecosystems, and biodiversity.
  4. Energy, technology, and climate change.
  5. Global systems analysis for understanding the drivers of sustainable wellbeing; and
  6. Moving into the future: Three critical policy messages.

“This report is a testament to the unwavering dedication of IIASA to addressing global challenges for the past five decades and its commitment to continue to do so. It showcases our evolution from a cooperative scientific venture during the Cold War to a global institute at the forefront of solving humanity’s most pressing issues today,” notes IIASA Interim Deputy Director General for Science, Wolfgang Lutz, who was also a coeditor of the report.

Charter © IIASA

The signing of the IIASA Charter in London in 1972.

Looking back

In 1972 – at the height of the Cold War – representatives of the Soviet Union, the United States, and 10 other countries from the Eastern and Western blocs met in London to sign the charter establishing IIASA. It marked the beginning of a remarkable project to use scientific cooperation to build bridges across the Cold War divide and to confront growing global problems on an international scale.

In the 1970s most research organizations focused on national issues. Few encouraged researchers from different countries or disciplines to work together for the greater good. To achieve its ambitious research vision, IIASA would have to break down the barriers between  nations and disciplines. This it did, building international interdisciplinary teams that used advanced systems analysis to study global  challenges, both long-standing and emerging. For example, a study on water pollution carried out by a team of IIASA chemists, biologists, and economists in the 1980s, still forms the basis of modern water policy design in Japan, the USA, and the former USSR.

“We cannot talk about systems analysis without referring to IIASA,” said Najam during the launch, reminding participants of the Institute’s pioneering role. “The report demonstrates that we have the knowledge, the resources, and the ability to change gears and directions, and know what we need to do within the next one, five, and 50 years.”

Moving forward

“This report is the first and only summary of IIASA contributions over five decades. Not only is it a written account of the Institute’s impactful history, but it is also a blueprint for building a better and more  sustainable future,” says coeditor Shonali Pachauri, who leads the Transformative Institutional and Social Solutions Research Group at IIASA.

In the final chapter, the authors offer three critical policy messages to stimulate discussions about a post-2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development:

  • Suboptimization is suboptimal: Mainstream a systems analysis approach into policymaking at all levels to ensure that broader, longer-term considerations are incorporated.
  • Enhance individual agency: Provide equal access to quality primary and secondary education for all, and in particular for women, as a means of promoting gender equality and empowerment.
  • Strengthen collective action and global governance: Harness global cooperation and representation to support the global commons.

“The official launch was only the beginning. I am excited about many more events presenting and discussing this important document, and what IIASA research can offer the world in these uncertain times,” concludes Lutz.