László Pintér, photo by CEU - Peter Lorenz

Spotlight on CIVICA’s focus area "Societies in Transition and Crises of Earth"


Theme Leader Professor László Pintér from Central European University unpacks CIVICA’s focus area dedicated to sustainable development, environmental assessment, urban transformation, and COVID consequences and recovery measures.

CIVICA’s Work Package 6 (WP6) focuses on research and its activities will be implemented by a design team consisting of researchers from across the alliance. Divided into four thematic groups, WP6 addresses the following key topics: Challenges to Democracy in the 21st Century; Societies in Transition and Crises of Earth; Europe Revisited; and Data-Driven Technologies for the Social Sciences.

To better understand the focus and goals of these areas, we will speak with each Theme Leader. We begin with Professor László Pintér of Central European University, who leads the Societies in Transition and Crises of Earth theme.

“Work began on the Societies in Transition and Crises of Earth theme at CEU by identifying three broad topics related to the governance of sustainability transitions1 that could act as conversation starters with our network partners,” Pintér began. He explained that this was the process through which the group adopted their first topic, global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which contains a variety of cross-cutting priorities such as the climate, both in terms of mitigation and adaptation, resource consumption, biodiversity and others.

Professor Andrew Geddes of the European University Institute, another participant in the theme, underscored how SDGs are not focused solely on one area: “11 of the 17 SDGs contain targets or indicators that are relevant for migration and mobility and will test the core objective of trying to leave no one behind,” he said. Emphasising the importance of CIVICA and the benefits of collaborative work, Geddes continued: “It is important to understand more through the exchange of ideas, experiences, information and knowledge within the CIVICA network about how these challenges can be addressed.”

“Since all countries are involved at some level in translating global goals into their national realities, putting programs in place and understanding how society is engaged in SDGs – conceptualisation, planning and implementation – is and will be quite important,” Pintér added. 

The theme’s second possible topic focuses on knowledge and assessment systems regarding the environment and development, specifically how we know what we currently do about the state of the global environment – or, more regionally, the state of the environment at the European level.

“The agency overseeing this is the European Environment Agency, who at this time are only beginning their preparations for the next major State of the Environment Report for Europe, which will be published in 2025,” Pintér noted. “This raises a wide range of questions regarding methodologies, approaches, engagement with society, stakeholders, and so on. Similar discussions are underway about how to conduct global assessments focused on the climate, biodiversity and SDGs, so this is also a cross-cutting issue.”

The third topic involves urban transformations, which are quite closely tied to the reintegration of nature back into cities and its potential to improve human health and wellbeing. “The term we use is nature-based solutions,” Pintér continued. “There are additional aspects, such as: How do natural infrastructure and technology transform cities? What role do they play in urban transformations? Or what types of engagement mechanisms can bring citizens into debates about sustainable urban futures? There is also a link back to the first topic, of SDGs, because cities are also increasingly becoming involved with the SDG process and defining city-level sustainability goals and priorities, thereby launching SDG-type city-level programs themselves.”

Pintér stated that the ability to adapt is important for the theme, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic was unforeseen when the project launched, but now it must be considered. The Societies in Transition and Crises of Earth theme “would not look primarily at the epidemiological aspects, but rather the consequences and recovery measures, and how these measures could take into account broader sets of sustainability concerns.” 

Owing in large part to the rapidly changing circumstances, the Societies in Transition and Crises of Earth theme will organize joint events online and might develop digital teaching modules. Various members within the network will contribute their individual expertise to help create more rounded courses, with potential plans for participating universities to incorporate these courses into their curriculum. 

With regard to online programming, the thematic group will also concentrate on hosting virtual workshops and knowledge-sharing events. The aim is to create a collaborative structure and rhythm so that participants become acquainted with each other and form relationships. Once collaborative structures and relationships develop, the goal is for further ideas to be generated towards applying for research funding.

Pintér closed by stating that, with the start of the new academic year, the CIVICA partners will reconnect to discuss plans and also to identify sub-themes within the groups as potential seeds for course or virtual event proposals. This may not involve every university in a topic, but rather engage three or four universities with a shared interest in working together on a sub-theme, such as urbanisation, with one university taking the lead for each sub-theme.

Written by Zoltan Csipke (CEU)

Photo credit: Peter Lorenz, CEU

1 - A sustainability transition is a “radical transformation towards a sustainable society, as a response to a number of persistent problems confronting contemporary modern societies.” Source