Mathematics for a sustainable world

Mathematics is one of the fundamental tools for achieving sustainability. From developing new models to better understand migratory movements to creating better systems for resource management, mathematics pervades a myriad of aspects of reality; it contributes to economic growth by ensuring sustainable progress.

From the internet of things to smart mobility, from agriculture to industry, from the retail In the field of tourism, a substantial part of the transformation efforts are aimed at taking advantage of the opportunities opened up by digitalisation in an environmentally sustainable way, but without compromising economic viability and the public deficit.

Hence the importance of involving mathematics in forward-looking modelling of policy and business decisions related to sustainability. River flooding is the most economically relevant widespread climate risk in the EU over the next two decades, according to an analysis of physical risk factors conducted on 1.5 million euro area firms, which warns that up to 30% of corporate banking exposures may be affected by the inability to predict climate and environment-related events. The insurance sector would not cushion such a systemic shock because only 35% of economically relevant weather losses on average are currently insured in the EU.

The challenge is, again, to ensure through technology that the data is reliable and can adequately monitor the planet in real time, also from space, and then to use supercomputing tools applying state-of-the-art mathematics and algorithms to make the most accurate decisions.

Preservation of life and ecosystems

In addition to mitigating the effects of the climate crisis, the sustainable development goals encompass many other challenges. These include caring for underwater life as well as preserving terrestrial ecosystems. Mathematics contributes to both of these goals in that it helps us to better understand the development and evolution of ecosystems, as well as the relationships and connections between different species. Since the first theories put forward by Thomas Malthus and other scientists in the late 18th century, researchers have refined equations and models, and there are now widely validated systems that can predict both the survival and extinction of species with high accuracy. These studies involve complex systems equations and probability that both describe the behaviour of populations and facilitate remedial action in cases of threat.

One of the most interesting lines of research is the probabilistic model to explain the correlation network of the Earth's climate on a planetary scale proposed by a team of researchers from the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC). The new method is not based on correlation, but on the statistical relevance of a connection to explain the data with a complete statistical model. In this way it is possible to describe, for example, the probability of having a certain temperature in each place on the planet. Specifically, the researchers have studied the global effects of the El Niño phenomenon, a cyclical warming of the Pacific Ocean every 3 to 7 years, which is reflected in the Indian Ocean with overheating and cooling in Oceania.