Societal challenges

The CNRS has identified six major societal challenges, areas in which it aims to make a significant contribution: climate change, educational inequalities, artificial intelligence, health and environment, territories of the future and energy transition.

These six challenges that the organisation is determined to shed light on through coordinated mobilisation of multiple disciplines are set out in the CNRS's 2019-2023 Objectives and Performance Contract (COP).These are complex challenges that were exposed by science like climate change and artificial intelligence or for which science can provide effective responses as with energy transition. For each of these challenges, there has been at least one call for proposals from the Mission for Transversal and Interdisciplinary Initiatives (MITI) whose objective is to support original interdisciplinary projects (in French).

Climate change

  • The issue: Studying climate change and looking for solutions to limit it needs transdisciplinary research: from the climate sciences to ecology and the social sciences, involving all steps of observation and experimentation.
  • The contribution of science: Driving collaborative work involving different disciplines and teams means that quality research can be produced, at the interface of the topics addressed by the different CNRS Institutes.
  • The initiatives: Mapping the forces for research into climate change at every CNRS Institute to identify the most relevant issues to tackle through interdisciplinary work. Creating the interdisciplinary research network 'Theoretical Challenges for the Climate Sciences (in French)' and a unit to provide upstream information for public policy-makers in this area..
We are facing a climate change emergency, which has once again been demonstrated by the latest IPCC report and this is leading a growing number of researchers to work on climate-related topics. The CNRS is unique in its multidisciplinary structure, and through this it can raise these researchers' profiles and encourage new synergies and original work to emerge by bringing these researchers together. We need to be effective and do all we can to accelerate these collaborations, to move forward in resolving this major challenge.
Stéphanie Vermeersch and Philippe Lecheminant, deputy scientific directors at CNRS Humanities and Social Sciences and CNRS Physics, respectively and the coordinators of this challenge

View the dedicated page on the MITI website

Discover the Priority Research Programmes and Equipments (PEPRs) Exploratory documents sheets related to the challenge:

Educational inequality

  • The issue: Today's education system does not seem to be able to assert itself sufficiently as an instrument for promoting the life chances of all students. So how can this problem be dealt with?
  • The contribution of science: By combining the contributions of scientists working on differing themes, the aim is to identify the causes of individual and/or collective educational inequality, develop or validate tools for measuring inequality and innovations to rectify it and carry out a more global study of the challenges and objectives of modern education systems as regards educational inequalities.
  • The initiatives: An international symposium has been organised to pave the way for a future structured interdisciplinary field of research and an observatory to look specifically at educational issues is on the horizon.

View the dedicated page on the MITI website (in French)

Discover related PEPR documents:

Artificial intelligence

  • The issue: Big data, complex algorithms, machine learning, automation and so on. How can we gain clarity on the challenge of the expansion of artificial intelligence in scientific practice?
  • The contribution of science and initiatives: The CNRS has launched its 'AI for Science, Science for AI' (AISSAI) centre, which has the primary goal of structuring and coordinating horizontal initiatives that involve all the disciplines of the CNRS that are at the interface with AI.
This multidisciplinary centre launched in November 2021 forms a fertile environment that promotes dialogue between interested scientists in order to structure communities and set up new modes of collaboration between AI and the other sciences. This particularly involves different quarterly themes that are explored through symposia, webinars, seminars and research schools to take stock of the issues defined scientists from all around the world, representing the various disciplines
Jalal Fadili, director of the AISSAI centre

Health and the environment

  • The issue: As a number of outbreaks of zoonotic infectious diseases (HIV, Ebola, plague, COVID-19, etc.) have shown, interactions between environmental disruption, exploitation of ecosystems and human populations can result in global health risks.
  • The contribution of science: By adopting the One Health holistic, transdisciplinary and multisectorial approach, the CNRS is coordinating the biological, human, social, environmental, physical, mathematical and computer sciences to understand the links between human health, animal health and their ecosystems, thus supporting the public decision making process.
  • The initiatives: Developing interdisciplinary observatories in strategic locations, such as the Camargue, around the Seine or in Arizona, to study the relevant health issues and observe and document the emergence of situations of risk with input from CNRS expertise in the relevant disciplines

View the dedicated page on the MITI website (in French)

Discover related PEPR documents:

Territories of the future

  • The issue: The territories of the future are complex systems made up of a large number of interacting entities that need to be integrated to achieve the common goal of living together. These are places where technological, economic, sociological, political and ecological initiatives that need to co-exist can be implemented. The concept of territories of the future is an experimental field, in which many societal challenges interact.
  • The contribution of science: The CNRS has a rich store of reliable, plentiful and long-term data about all the regions in France and can bring together scientists and local stakeholders, particularly local authorities, to discuss local issues involving careful consumption, health, ecology and inequalities.
  • The initiatives: The territories of the future challenge has chosen Marseille as the pilot area to test an instrument from an associated laboratory of researchers and stakeholders that could potentially be reproduced in other regions.
Aix–Marseilles is a conurbation where a range of problems are concentrated: challenges connected to the coastline, pollution, urban development, transport, the environment and also biodiversity. Our objective is to find a way for the stakeholders and scientists to jointly explore research questions
Stéphanie Vermeersch, joint coordinator of the challenge, deputy scientific director at CNRS Humanities and Social Sciences

Energy transition

  • The issue: How can we address the societal challenge of energy transition in general and more specifically the shock of the energy crisis?
  • The contribution of science: The energy transition requires interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches to meet the needs of the planet and societies. Work on the energy transition challenge greatly involves the Energy Unit of the CNRS, which encourages interactions between scientific and technological research into energy systems and promotes research into the impact of these technologies on the environment and on society in terms of lifestyle and societal and economic behaviour.
  • The initiatives: The energy transition challenge has set out three major ambitions, with an emphasis on the importance of human behaviours: resilience, flexibility and careful consumption. These will be integrated into technological and social forward planning. A seminar on the topic of energy and energy transition in 2023 aims to unify and structure an interdisciplinary community focused on energy.

View the Cellule Énergie du CNRS website (in French)

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Photo credit: © Cyril FRESILLON / LAM / CNRS Images