The Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (RIHN) was established in April 2001 to conduct integrated research in the field of global environmental studies. In 2004, RIHN became one of the original members of the National Institutes for the Humanities (NIHU), as an Inter-University Research Institute Corporation.
Environmental degradation can be understood as an imbalance in interactions between human beings and natural systems. Our mission is, therefore, to conduct solution-oriented research aimed at exploring how these interactions between humanity and nature ought to be. To achieve this mission, RIHN has been conducting interdisciplinary research spanning the natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences, and in recent years, has enhanced transdisciplinary research that involves collaboration with various stakeholders in society.
Since its establishment, RIHN researchers have formulated creative projects to address social needs in diverse fields of environmental interaction. Following an external review of research activities and organizational structures, in fiscal year 2015 we reformed the ways in which we conduct and promote research projects, in order to enhance coordination and integration of the projects for achieving the goals of RIHN missions. As part of this reformation, since April of 2016 (beginning of fiscal year 2016), we have launched a new set of Research Programs, a Core Program, and the RIHN Center in order to organically integrate and support the overall research activities of RIHN. With a new structure in place, we determined to pursue our mission even more vigorously through enhanced collaboration within our institute, across our diverse research community, and with society in general.
To enhance international activities of RIHN, we have been collaborating in the international research platform Future Earth, which aims to integrate global environmental change research for achieving global sustainability. As part of this international collaboration, RIHN has established the Asian Regional Center for Future Earth as one of the four formally-appointed regional centers in the world.
In fiscal year 2017 we are fully implementing these new research initiatives.
In 2016 RIHN initiated its Phase III Medium-Term Plan, with the following three goals:
Promotion of environmental studies that elucidate the interaction between humanity and nature and critically examine the future potential of human culture, based on the accumulated body of RIHN research and the results of global environmental research in Japan and abroad;
Promotion of solution-oriented global environmental studies involving close collaborations with stakeholders, starting from the research community;
Contribution to problem-solving by applying research results in support of, and participation in, on-site multi-stakeholder arrangements in society.
RIHN’s priority issues and areas of research are the following:
Exploration of the future potential of localities and of the Earth, centered on issues in modern society that are at the root of global environmental problems, including climate change, ecosystem degradation, rapid urbanization, changing population composition, depletion of resources, diversification of disaster risk.
Developing research globally, but with the Asia Pacific region ― a hotspot of global environmental problems ― as a core focus area.
The overall structure of RIHN consists of four Programs and a Center. The programs are to guide the development of global environmental studies by organically integrating RIHN research results, while the Center provides their operational foundation, helps RIHN engage in two-way collaborations with society, and at the same time is the locus of capacity building activities.
RIHN research is organized into Programs and Projects, rather than preexisting academic disciplines or domains. Three Research Programs and one Core Program each include multiple projects which carry out research in line with the Programs’ thematic foci. The bundling and integration of Projects within the Programs is expected to facilitate the production of synthesized results at a level not possible otherwise. Programs are subject to annual review by the External Research-Evaluation Committee whose members include domestic and international researchers (See RIHN Project Trajectory). RIHN endeavors to improve its research by making good use of the review results, while respecting the independence of each program.
Research Programs are organized around three themes identified in the Phase III Medium-Term Plan. In addressing environmental problems, technological and institutional developments are important, but RIHN recognizes that these need to build on the foundation of people’s awareness, value systems and culture. The programs collaborate closely with society in developing and proposing options that contribute to the transition of society.
Program 1: Societal Transformation under Environmental Change
This program aims at providing realistic perspectives and options to facilitate the transformation towards a society that can flexibly respond to environmental changes caused by human activities such as global warming and air pollution, as well as to natural disasters.
Program 2: Fair Use and management of diverse resources
Taking tradeoffs into account, this program provides multifaceted options to stakeholders involved in production, distribution, and consumption of resources, in order to realize fair use, optimal management, and wise governance of diverse resources including energy, water and ecological resources.
Program 3: Designing Lifeworlds of Sustainability and Wellbeing
Our lifeworlds are composed of the physical spaces and socio-cultural spheres of our everyday lives. They are continually reproduced, reimagined, and evolving through an interactive and reflexive relationship with society, culture, and nature. Program 3 proposes research aimed at illuminating reciprocal linkages between diverse rural and urban lifeworlds and contributing to the solution of sustainability problems by working with various societal partners such as governments, companies, and citizen groups. Special emphasis is placed on envisioning sustainable futures that improve wellbeing and gauging their feasibility.
Incubation Studies (IS) are proposed by individual researchers to the RIHN Project Review Committee. If approved, the researcher is granted seed money to prepare a proposal for Feasibility Study.
Feasibility Studies (FS) allow the study leader a period to develop a proposal for Full Research. In the transitional
Pre-Research (PR) period, the project leader formally assembles the team, establishes MoUs necessary for collaboration with other institutions and makes other preparations to enable Full Research.
Full Research (FR) lasts from three to five years. It typically involves a research team at RIHN and concurrent activity with collaborators overseas, several periods of field study, workshops and presentations, and outreach or communication to relevant communities. FR projects are evaluated by the External Research-Evaluation Committee at the beginning (selection) and the end (final evaluation).
Based on the mission of RIHN and in order to realize the strategies and policies formulated by the Council for Research Strategy, the Core Program undertakes research on an ongoing basis. During Phase III, the Core Program will develop concepts and methodologies to solve global environmental problems in collaboration with society.
Within the structure just described, the RIHN Center is to play the roles described below. See pages 46 for detailed description of the Center's divisions.
Collaboration with the Core Program
The Center will identify and propose Core Projects designed to make continued use of research conducted by the Programs by analyzing and enhancing its foundations (including identification and refinement of key research methods, devices, resources, and data) while also promoting collaboration within and between RIHN and its research partners.
Collaboration with the Academic Community as an Inter-University Research Institute
The Center will facilitate the role of RIHN as an Inter-University Research Institute and operate as an international research networking hub by promoting collaborative research with domestic and international institutions as well as contribute to capacity building and education.
Cooperation with Diverse Stakeholders
The Center will guide and promote transdisciplinary research processes involving domestic and international stakeholders in the entire research process, from problem identification to solution development, while also reflexively developing the methods of transdisciplinary scholarship.