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Key knowledge gaps to achieve global sustainability goals


Regional and global assessments periodically update what we know, and highlight what remains to be known, about the linkages between people and nature that both define and depend upon the state of the environment. To guide research that better informs policy and practice, we systematically synthesize knowledge gaps from recent assessments of four regions of the globe and three key themes by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. We assess their relevance to global sustainability goals and trace their evolution relative to those identified in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. We found that global sustainability goals cannot be achieved without improved knowledge on feedbacks between social and ecological systems, effectiveness of governance systems and the influence of institutions on the social distribution of ecosystem services. These top research priorities have persisted for the 14 years since the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Our analysis also reveals limited understanding of the role of indigenous and local knowledge in sustaining nature’s benefits to people. Our findings contribute to a policy-relevant and solution-oriented agenda for global, long-term social-ecological research.

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Fig. 1: Distribution of individual knowledge gaps across the IPBES conceptual framework.
Fig. 2: Evolution of key knowledge gaps from MA to IPBES.

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Data availability

Descriptive statistics of the raw dataset are available in the Supplementary Information.


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This work emerged at an ecoSERVICES workshop supported by Future Earth. M.E.M. and L.G. thank the National Agency for the Promotion of Science and Technology and the ex-Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development of Argentina for their support (grant nos. PICTO 2014-0046 and PICT 2015-0538, respectively). E.O.-R. thanks the support of Juan de la Cierva Incorporation Fellowship of the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities (grant no. IJCI-2017-34334).

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Authors and Affiliations



M.E.M. and N.P.-H. designed the study, analysed data and coordinated tasks. L.E., E.B., S.L. and G.S.C. contributed to task coordination. B.L. and E.O.-R. contributed to figure design and preparation. All co-authors contributed to data preparation and manuscript writing.

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Correspondence to Matías E. Mastrángelo.

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Mastrángelo, M.E., Pérez-Harguindeguy, N., Enrico, L. et al. Key knowledge gaps to achieve global sustainability goals. Nat Sustain 2, 1115–1121 (2019).

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