Panama Research and Integrated Sustainability Model (PRISM)


Context: McGill in Panama

The Panama Research and Integrated Sustainability Model (PRISM) emerges from long-standing partnerships between McGill University and institutions in Panama, and matches McGill's commitment to sustainability (Vision 2020). Over the past 17 years, McGill programs - the Panama Field Study Semester (PFSS), Neotropical Environment Option (NEO), and NSERC CREATE Biodiversity, Ecosystem Services, Sustainability (BESS) program - have trained or are training >500 undergraduates (>50 from Panama) and 82 graduates (29 from Latin America), with interns working in 30 Panamanian organizations. We have over 40 McGill faculty members as part of our McGill-Panama programs, across 7 departments and 4 faculties, and also have the UNESCO Chair in Dialogues on Sustainability, to foster dialogue around sustainability and development options, and strong existing connections with institutions in Panama, including the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and Universidad Católica Santa María la Antigua.

Panama is an exemplar of sustainability issues in the Global South. Panama is characterized by rapid economic (10.6% in 2011) and population growth (>40% by 2050), is a hub of international shipping traffic (Panama Canal) and has a highly skewed wealth distribution (17/136 in the world). To develop resilient policies, it is critical to understand how alternative development trajectories will result in different urban footprints, which will have ramifications for water use, the canal watershed, protection of forests, indigenous peoples, and agriculture, particularly under climate change.

Vision Statement from Principal Investigator (Brian Leung)

By 2050, human population size is projected to increase to >9Billion, with 70% of the human population living in cities, and potentially substantively different environmental conditions. These massive changes will have wide-ranging consequences far beyond the boundaries of cities, with effects on trade, migration, land-use patterns, resource use, and sustainability of socio-ecological systems. While these issues are global in extent and their analyses relevant at the broadest possible scale, countries in the Global South may be particularly vulnerable, given rapidly growing economies and relaxed regulations. In particular, we focus on Panama as a template for sustainability science at the national scale, one which partners international researchers with researchers from Panama, to ensure that the outcomes of PRISM help meet the goals of Panamanian stakeholders, improving their long-term welfare and livelihoods.

PRISM is a nationwide spatially-explicit computational model, which we envisage will form the basis for wide-ranging analyses geared towards sustainability, some of which can be found on our Projects page. PRISM will incorporate social, environmental and economic dimensions across space and time. Thus, PRISM will be true to a fundamental tenet of sustainability by treating these as dynamic interacting entities that cannot be viewed in isolation. We envisage PRISM as a platform to explore interactions between diverse research across disciplines, to engage communities and to facilitate evidence-based decision-making. Thus, PRISM will serve the research community, stakeholders, and policy makers interested in sustainability questions.

Over the longer time-horizon, we envisage PRISM to become self-perpetuating, comprised of a network of international and Panamanian researchers, taking ownership of the platform and providing substantial human capital and multidisciplinary expertise. In this way, we envisage that PRISM will evolve as a continually-improving, open-source platform for sustainability science.