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United Nations Environment Programme taps MSU scholar

A Michigan State University sustainability scholar has been tapped to be a lead author of a key United Nations environmental report that assesses and offers solutions to global challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.

Jianguo “Jack” Liu, University Distinguished Professor and Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability, has accepted the request to lead the development of a chapter of the solutions-oriented seventh edition of the Global Environment Outlook (GEO-7), the flagship report of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

“It is rewarding to see Dr. Liu recognized as a global thought leader in developing solutions to global environmental challenges,” said MSU Interim Provost Thomas Jeitschko. “His expertise and engaged scholarship have propelled him to this level, and his authorship will add value to not only the report, but further amplify his scholarship with greater impact for the greater good.”

The GEO-7 provides an integrated and holistic assessment of environmental conditions and pathways to address the triple planetary crisis. Liu will be part of the efforts to write chapter 8: Interlinkages across environmental changes, scales and geographic regions and sub-regions (Asia and Pacific and sub-regions). He will also help expand the overall framework of GEO-7 by including socioeconomic-environmental linkages across areas worldwide, using his integrated framework of metacoupling (human-nature interactions within and across adjacent and distant systems), 

“It is my honor to be invited to join in such a global transdisciplinary effort that is dedicated to finding real solutions to our world’s most critical problems,” said Liu, who is director of the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability. “MSU’s land-grant tradition has long extended to be a force for global good, and I am proud to contribute to that tradition.”

The methodology of the preceding edition, GEO-6, was used by more than 30 countries, calling for phase-out of 80% of fossil fuels globally, reducing environmental impacts of the global food system by about two thirds, and achieving a near-zero-waste economy by 2050. GEO-7 will develop solutions pathways to transform these key systems in an integrated manner to inform decision making, technologies, behavioral and economic changes.

“We are working to assemble a strong and diverse scientific team to deliver the most solutions-focused, innovative and digital GEO yet,” said Pierre Boileau, head of GEO at UNEP.

Liu, who is a member of MSU’s Ecology, Evolution and Behavior Program, is interested in connecting seemingly unrelated issues to help understand broad impacts of policies and global events such as climate change, disasters, war, tourism, and trade. His focus on new ways to holistically view complex human- nature interactions that span the globe led to his leadership in developing and applying the telecoupling framework, which describes how distance is shrinking and connections are strengthening between nature and humans around the world. 

Liu has also played important roles in many other global efforts to both create new insights into and mitigation of ecological challenges, as well as ways to provide critical information to policymakers. For example, he was a coordinating lead author of the influential global assessment of biodiversity and ecosystem services organized by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and a Commissioner of the international Commission on Sustainable Agriculture Intensification.

The GEO-7 is expected to be presented to the seventh UN Environment Assembly by 2026.

Read the story in the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability