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Research & the environment

Picture Research & the environment

The possibility for research within technical/natural science to affect our environment occasionally comes under attention. Naturally, researchers must follow applicable environmental laws, not least in their work with dangerous chemicals (see research on chemicals, etc.) or in how to destroy or deposit dangerous waste. In cases of work that threatens the environment, for example the ordinance on environmentally dangerous work and health protection - SFS 1998:899 - and the ordinance on review of environmentally dangerous activities - SFS 2004:989 - are to be followed. Swedish regulations can primarily be found in The Swedish Environmental Code, which contains general rules of consideration that also place demands on research work. Promoting people's health, safeguarding biological diversity, utilizing culture-historical values, preserving the ecosystem's long-term productive ability and securing good management of natural resources (SOU 2000:52: Framtidens miljö - allas vårt ansvar [English translation The environment of the future - the responsibility of us all]) are valuable ideals that should affect research as well as all other work. The introduction of a new structure containing national environmental quality goals has further increased authorities' responsibility for the environment. Additionally, the government has decided that authorities should introduce an environmental management system.

Research for the environment

But researchers must also recognize that the aim and consequences of research can reflect and change people's stand on environmental issues and on the environment itself. In its Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the United Nations pointed out that environmental protection is an integral part of human development and challenged all countries to work actively for better scientific understanding in this area, as well as for the development of new and innovative technologies. This work has been continued in the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto protocol. In Sweden this has led to a paragraph in Högskolelagen [Higher Education Act] that states the responsibility of universities for a sustainable development that creates a good, healthy environment for this and future generations, economical and social welfare and justice.

European Union

On a European level, the European Union has reacted to the Rio Declaration in its Amsterdam Treaty (which gives a central position to the principle of sustainable development), and later through the introduction of the EU's Sixth European Community environment programme. These approaches have had an impact in Sweden. SOU 2000:52, section 21.2.9, states that the National Agency for Higher Education (Högskoleverket) and various bodies that finance research "have a meaningful role in offering qualified education and performing research… Every organisation that finances research should analyze which contributions may be needed to develop the foundation for the ability to achieve environmental goals". Section 19:5 establishes that "well-functioning research is of decisive significance in discovering problems and continuously testing and questioning chosen solutions and established goals". In 2003 in the EU, a resolution on research and sustainable development was adopted. The EU also has a biodiversity strategy; Our life insurance.

Other initiatives

The 1999 World Conference on Science was held in Budapest. There, The Declaration on Science and the Use of Scientific Knowledge was created, taking up questions regarding the environment and sustainable development. The International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) has commented on TRIPs and the environment. The Association of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future has its Talloires Declaration on universities' responsibility for sustainable development. Forestry is given attention in the Statement of Forest Principles (a UN document from the Rio Process). Additionally, FAO has published guidelines under the title Environmental impact of forestry, and deforestation and forest degradation are adressed in the United Nations REDD programe.


Many researchers and organisations have drafted appeals encouraging care for the environment. The InterAcademy Panel on International Issues carries particular weight in its statement Transition to Sustainability in the 21st Century: The Contribution of Science and Technology. Some researchers believe that one always should apply a precautionary principle to such research that "raises threats of harm to the environment or human health ... even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically", see Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle. See also Recommendation 1787 (2007) on the precautionary principle and responsible risk management, from the Council of Europe.

For the researcher employed by a multinational company, there is The OECD Declaration and Decisions on International Investment and Multinational Enterprises. According to OECD's rules, these companies are to promote economic and social welfare through the effective use of capital, technology and employees. Great importance is attached to environmental protection.

Last updated: 2020-04-12

Rules & guidelines

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