Most human beings have benefited greatly from modern civilization. If we continue down the current civilizational path, however, weather and water-related natural disasters will intensify, ecosystem degradation and loss of biodiversity will increase, and human livelihood, health, and safety will be at ever-greater risk. Modern civilizations have incessantly expanded the scale of production and consumption, but at nature’s expense, and humans are both the perpetrators and victims of this path of development. The Covid-19 pandemic clearly shows the result, as it was caused by ever-expanding global human activities.
New technological fixes will not offer fundamental solutions to such complex problems, unless human lifestyles also change to achieve harmonious relationships with nature on Earth. For the last 20 years RIHN has conducted research with the awareness that the roots of global environmental problems are found in human culture. Based on the results of our past projects, it is time for us to promote new practical research.
Cultural diversity is based on the diversity of nature. However, nature forms ecosystems in which regions are connected through the circulation of materials and energy, while cultures insist on their uniqueness and are sometimes in conflict. Solutions to global environmental problems therefore depend on connecting cultures through common environmental ethics. Great traditions of Eastern environmental wisdom and experience still exist, as do those of other regions; their valuable insights can help to break the deadlock in modern science and capitalism. It is for this reason that RIHN undertakes interdisciplinary research spanning the natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences, and in recent years, has evolved towards transdisciplinary research seeking to expand the kinds of knowledge that are considered valid in scientific inquiry.
RIHN has recently established three Research Programs, one Core Program, and the RIHN Center to promote such research. We have enhanced collaboration within the institute, across the diverse research community linked to RIHN research projects, and with society in general. RIHN also collaborates with the international research platform Future Earth, which aims to integrate global environmental change research and contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. As part of this effort, RIHN hosts the Future Earth Asian Regional Centre to strengthen research collaboration and capacity building across the region.
We will strive to expand these activities in the coming years, and implement new research initiatives in the search for solutions to the many environmental challenges of our planet.
For several decades, researchers have attempted to find solutions to the environmental problems that now confront human communities at all scales, but despite extensive research in individual disciplines, many environmental problems have remained unresolved. There is therefore a need to go beyond partial descriptions of discrete environmental problems towards holistic understandings of the underlying causes of these problems and for integrated approaches to their solutions.
The Research Institute for Humanity and Nature is a national research institute established by the Government of Japan in 2001 and it is part of the National Institutes for the Humanities. RIHN research starts from the premise that environmental problems are rooted in human society, culture, and values. The goal of RIHN is to seek concepts, theories and mechanisms capable of describing and enabling transformation of human-environment interactions. This implies that RIHN research involves a normative dimension, driven by questions such as what the relationship between humanity and nature ought to be like. To this end, RIHN solicits, funds, and hosts integrative research projects investigating environmental change problems in specific settings. Research projects are undertaken by interdisciplinary teams at RIHN, partner institutions, and societal stakeholders in Japan and abroad.
We at RIHN believe that research ought to contribute to the search for solutions to real-world problems and, therefore, we promote a co-design and co-production approach where researchers and societal actors join hands in exploring problems and developing new framings and possible solutions. RIHN research is increasingly transdisciplinary in that it seeks to redefine the role of science in society, improve dialogue between different traditions of knowledge, and stimulate new multiactor local, national and international collaborations. This approach needs to draw on multiple, diverse perspectives from a range of disciplines including the natural and social sciences, arts and humanities, and engineering and design.
Science cannot be uniformly applied to the world but should instead enable solutions to social-environmental problems that are informed by lived social practices and communal values. RIHN research is developed globally, but with Asia as a core focus area. Not only is Asia’s impact on global development increasingly conspicuous, but at the same time it is also home to many examples of long-term cultural-ecological continuity that need to be understood in terms of their own significance to regional dynamics. RIHN research crucially depends on long-established networks in Asia and contributes to transdisciplinary initiatives in the region, among others by hosting the Regional Centre for Future Earth in Asia.
RIHN research is guided by the following three objectives:RIHN research is guided by the following three objectives:
Conduct research that analyzes the interaction between humanity and nature and critically examines the sustainability of human societies, based on past RIHN research and international literature and experiences
Apply research results to solve real-world sustainability problems
Promote solution-oriented research on environmental challenges that is co-designed and co-produced in close collaboration with societal stakeholders
While other regions are not excluded, the primary geographical focus of RIHN research is on Asia. More broadly, RIHN strives to deploy an Asian perspective in its research on global environmental change.
RIHN is fundamentally a project-based institute, with projects alternating through a 5-7-year cycle. Identification of ideas for projects happens through public solicitation. Through a process of evaluation and selection that includes “incubation” and “feasibility” stages, these ideas are gradually developed into fully-fledged projects and only get officially underway after evaluation by an international external review committee. At this point, the proponent joins the RIHN community by becoming a staff member of the Institute. In most cases projects run for five years. They include a core team of researchers based at RIHN and a much larger network of partners at research institutions throughout Japan and abroad.
RIHN research is organized into Programs and Projects rather than pre-existing academic disciplines or domains. Three Research Programs and one Core Program are each home to multiple projects that carry out research in line with the Program’s broad direction. The bundling and integration of Projects within the Programs facilitates synthesis of research results and allows for strategic planning of research. Programs are subject to annual review by the External Research-Evaluation Committee (see RIHN Project Trajectory on pages 6 & 7). RIHN endeavors to improve its research by making good use of the review results while also 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 transition to 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 natural 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 Task 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) , mid-term 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 Ⅳ, the Core Program will develop concepts and methodologies to solve global environmental problems in collaboration with society
The RIHN Center provides the foundations for collaborative research and activities at RIHN. Its five Divisions manage and operate the laboratories and the information systems of the Institute, and facilitate communication, networking and capacity building. Center faculty also engage in research in pursuing the goals of the Center. Collaboration is fundamental to the operation of the RIHN Center: it works closely with the Core Program and Research Programs by providing tools, facilities and methods. It also collaborates with the wider academic community in support of RIHN’s role as a joint-use Inter-University Research Institute and engages a broad range of societal stakeholders in problem-solving research processes.
The RIHN Center consists of five divisions. The Laboratory and Analysis Division develops and maintains the laboratory facilities necessary for research and fieldwork. The Information Resources Division maintains the RIHN research databases and archive. The Communication Division develops a variety of communication strategies linking RIHN research to academic, public and user-specific communities. The Collaboration Division facilitates internal and external research networking. The Future Earth Division engages with the international Future Earth initiative and hosts the Regional Center for Future Earth in Asia.