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Human Development in the Anthropocene: Rethinking Sustainability

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Sustainability in Geographic Science".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (20 April 2021) | Viewed by 732

Special Issue Editors

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Guest Editor
Human Development Report Office, United Nations Development Programme, New York, NY 10017, USA
Interests: human development; global public goods; inequality; poverty; sustainable development
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

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Co-Guest Editor
Center for Conservation Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA
Interests: conservation science; countryside biogeography; dynamics of biodiversity change; harmonization of biodiversity conservation and agriculture; valuation of ecosystem services; policy and financial analysis for integrating conservation and human development
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

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Co-Guest Editor
Institute of Economics and Econometrics, Geneva School of Economics and Management, University of Geneva, 1211 Geneva, Switzerland
Interests: human development; poverty and inequality; econometrics
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

E-Mail Website
Co-Guest Editor
Human Development Report Office, United Nations Development Programme, New York, NY 10017, USA
Interests: human development; sustainable development; inequality
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

We live a moment of deep changes in our Earth systems and social systems. The impact of human activities on the Earth is such that a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – has been proposed to recognise the massive changes we are inflicting on our planet. Climate change, biodiversity loss and ocean acidification point to an unprecedented moment in our 200,000 years as a species and in the 4.6 billion years of the Earth. A moment when human activity is becoming a dominant force shaping key processes of our planet. These human-led impacts are already eroding opportunities for many, deepening existing cleavages across groups of people, and, on current paths and without decisive action, will curtail opportunities for future generations. Both our notions of human development and sustainability must be recasted looking forward. 

The main purpose of the special issue is providing insights about the deep meaning of human development going forward, in the context of the Anthropocene. In particular, how the expansion of human freedoms can be squared with living in balance with the planet. Ironically, the ways in which we are disrupting our planet have also made us more aware than ever of how we all are embedded in nature. Our actions are not only constraining human development for many, but also increasing the risks of catastrophic outcomes for all. At the same time, our unprecedented level of interconnectedness, knowledge, and resources, has given us the ability to act like never before – it is all a matter of making the choices that take us away from potentially catastrophic paths and address inequality while doing so. The challenge is to rearticulate the human development journey to ensure the equitable expansion of people’s capabilities in balance with the planet. Current pathways that we used to take as examples–those of today’s developed countries—are not sustainable templates.

This is a complex exploration that involves philosophical and conceptual issues, and scientific evidence. They should land in the definition of policy priorities, new agreements encoded in social norms, and new metrics.

The ambition of rearticulating the Human Development in the Anthropocene is multidisciplinary, reflecting the challenge of understanding the close association between social and earth systems.  The special issue is expected to contribute to the literature that looks for the combination and synthesis of approaches. The scientific and development community has moved recently in the direction of integration around climate change (for instance IPCC 2014, IPCC 2019) and biodiversity loss (for instance IPBES 2019), in both cases with interlinks and analysis the multiple connections with social processes. Social sciences have also captured imbalances in our societies and their connection with environmental inequalities (see overview in HDR 2019). However, analyses are still of “partial equilibrium”, centered around the conditions necessary to achieve certain goals.   The special issue will push the frontiers towards understanding the conditions to make simultaneous progress towards balance in the social and planetary spheres.

Dr. Pedro Conceição
Prof. Dr. Gretchen C. Daily
Prof. Dr. Jaya Krishnakumar
Dr. Heriberto Tapia
Guest Editors


  1. IPBES, 2019, The global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services,  [Díaz, J. Settele, E. S. Brondízio E.S., H. T. Ngo, M. Guèze, J. Agard, A. Arneth, P. Balvanera, K. A. Brauman, S. H. M. Butchart, K. M. A. Chan, L. A. Garibaldi, K. Ichii, J. Liu, S. M. Subramanian, G. F. Midgley, P. Miloslavich, Z. Molnár, D. Obura, A. Pfaff, S. Polasky, A. Purvis, J. Razzaque, B. Reyers, R. Roy Chowdhury, Y. J. Shin, I. J. Visseren-Hamakers, K. J. Willis, and C. N. Zayas (eds.).] IPBES secretariat, Bonn, Germany.
  2. IPCC, 2014. IPCC fifth assessment synthesis report-climate change 2014 synthesis report.[ Allen, M.R., Barros, V.R., Broome, J., Cramer, W., Christ, R., Church, J.A., Clarke, L., Dahe, Q., Dasgupta, P., Dubash, N.K. and Edenhofer, O], Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: Geneva, Switzerland.
  3. IPCC, 2019. Climate Change and Land: an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems [P.R. Shukla, J. Skea, E. Calvo Buendia, V. Masson-Delmotte, H.- O. Pörtner, D. C. Roberts, P. Zhai, R. Slade, S. Connors, R. van Diemen, M. Ferrat, E. Haughey, S. Luz, S. Neogi, M. Pathak, J. Petzold, J. Portugal Pereira, P. Vyas, E. Huntley, K. Kissick, M. Belkacemi, J. Malley, (eds.)], Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: Geneva, Switzerland.
  4. UNDP, 2019, Human Development Report 2019: Beyond income, beyond averages, beyond today: inequalities in human development in the 21st century.[ Conceição, P. et al] United Nations, New York.

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • anthropocene
  • biodiversity
  • capabilities approach
  • complex adaptive systems
  • climate change
  • human development
  • social-ecological systems
  • sustainable development

Published Papers

There is no accepted submissions to this special issue at this moment.
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