Cranfield University will be leading an international project to look at how better and more integrated river management could help deliver UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The project, ‘Social-economic-environmental trade-offs in managing the land-river-interface’, will support the design of integrated and sustainable policies and offer practical solutions for improved river and surrounding land management that helps deliver improved sustainability.

With improved management, the Cranfield team believe that rivers and the surrounding land can help meet a number of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, for example

  • No poverty – supporting rural livelihoods by mitigating soil erosion and flooding;
  • Zero hunger – through sustainable food production, agroforestry and preventing soil erosion;
  • Clean water and sanitation – through pollutant trapping and bioremediation;
  • Affordable and clean energy – utilising modern biomass and hydropower energy generation;
  • Sustainable cities and communities –reducing risk and safeguarding cultural heritage;
  • Climate action – through land-based climate mitigation and afforestation;
  • Life on land – maintaining habitats and biodiversity.

The project will focus on the Beas-Sutlej transnational river in the Himalayan region whose land, river and water drive the economy of the region through hydropower and irrigated agriculture. Working with partners in China and India, the project aims to create a model which will enable those involved in the management of the land and river-based eco-systems to understand how their actions can support the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals.

Dr Robert Grabowski, Lecturer in Catchment Science at Cranfield University, who is leading the project, said: “Rivers and the land that surrounds them are focal points of economic activity and development in most countries. They are essential to humans for water supply, agriculture, transport and energy; hold significant importance socially and culturally; and have critically important ecological habitats that sustain high biodiversity.

“However, they are rarely managed in a holistic manner. Institutional boundaries, socio-economic drivers and barriers, and complex interactions in environmental processes limit severely our ability to integrate policies across them and the surrounding land. As a result, management decisions often have unintended social, economic, cultural and environmental consequences locally and further upstream and downstream.”

Funding for the project comes from the Towards a Sustainable Earth (TaSE) research programme, which has seen the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) join forces with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), both part of UK Research & Innovation, in collaboration with the Japan Science and Technology Agency, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Indian Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and the Swedish research council Formas. The Cranfield project was announced as part of eight two-year research projects with a collective funding of £4.3million.

Announcing the funding for the eight projects, NERC Executive Chair, Professor Duncan Wingham, said: “Realising the ambitions of the UN Sustainable Development Goals to end poverty, hunger and inequality across the globe, while preserving and maintaining our environmental resources, is key to ensuring future wellbeing and prosperity in both developed and developing countries.

“These multi-disciplinary projects will bring together researchers from five countries to help us understand the complex relationships between people and the environment, leading the global effort on finding comprehensive solutions to global challenges.”

Professor Alison Park, Director of Research at ESRC, added: “ESRC is delighted to be supporting these valuable multi-disciplinary projects which aim to significantly improve our understanding of how people interact with their environment. Social science can shed unique insights in this area, and these contributions will be an important part of the journey towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Notes for editors

NERC is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. Our work covers the full range of atmospheric, Earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic science, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere and from the poles to the equator. We coordinate some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major environmental issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on Earth, and much more. NERC is part of UK Research & Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.