Antropoceno XLVII – Mensagens Chave para a ação

This course on planetary boundaries and human opportunities is in fact the first time we summarize the latest science on our understanding of our human impacts on the Earth system, and combine it with the story of redefining sustainable development and a future where humanity prospers within a safe, just and resilient Earth system.841

And I’d really like to congratulate you for taking yourself through all the scientific updates, the insights, and all the work that we have been sharing, myself and my colleagues, during this intensive period. And I really hope that you feel that you have received a broad, comprehensive overview that also gives you the confidence that you’re standing on huge amounts of knowledge to move forward towards sustainable development I this very challenging era of the Anthropocene.

In this lecture I’d just like to give you a little bit of a wrap-up of what we’ve covered during these weeks.

And the first part is clearly the evidence that today there’s no virgin spot of untouched nature anywhere. So even though the Holocene interglacial era over the past ten thousand years that has enabled civilizational development as we know it, our modern world, has been an Eden’s Garden of stability, of beauty, of nature enabling economic growth and development, there’s no doubt that today we are in the driving seat. This is a biosphere shaped by humanity, for good or for bad. We often portray ourselves as the big culprits of environmental change.842

I would like to argue that let’s rather see ourselves as not those who consumed the planet, we’re now those who are stewards of the planet. We’re in the driving seat, we have a choice, if we want to thrive in the future it’s now time to recognize that the Anthropocene is the story of great risk, but it’s the story of the privilege of having this knowledge. And I hope you really feel that you’ve received all the evidence that we’ve tried to really load on you, that this is the case and therefore we need to act accordingly.

To summarize that in a very simple way, which we’ve tried to convey based on the science, is that just up until 20-25 years back you could actually argue that we were a relatively small world on a big planet. In fact conventional economic growth worked quite well, subsidized by the planet, meaning at we could have good economic growth, which could occur at the expense of biodiversity loss, eutrophication, fresh water pollution, air pollution, and destruction of the climate system, but the Earth system was not sending any invoices back. In fact, Mother Earth was very forgiving thanks to her remarkable resilience. So the model worked, in fact it worked remarkably well for a minority of the world that actually have been thriving tremendously well on this unsustainable growth model.

But now, over just the last 20 years, we’ve shifted into having a large world on a relatively small planet. It means we are in [at] saturation point; we’re hitting the ceiling of ecological capacity of the Earth system to support human development. And of course when Mother Earth starts sending her invoices it is time to react, and that’s the shift in paradigm. And often it’s said that well, you know, but environmental scientists have been warning for 50 years that this is something that will occur.843

And I argue, and I hope you’ve received the knowledge to convince you, that yes, the warnings came early but they came well, well before we had empirical evidence that we really were facing problems. In fact, Rachel Carson was a tremendously insightful person who well before the dangers warned humanity.

That was a proactive warning to help humanity. Now we’re reacting to the evidence we’re standing on. And that’s a very different situation.

Now why are we in this situation? Well we have mapped out the fact that it’s not only population growth, it is certainly affluence and well being in unsustainable lifestyles. We have a climate crisis that you wish would occur on a resilient planet, but unfortunately we’re undermining the ecosystem services and functions that build the resilience and the capacity of the Earth system to deal with a shock such as the energy disturbance we’re causing through climate change.

So we have this multiple, complex interactions of global scale changes not only in the climate system, but essentially all the components of the Earth system. And upon, on top of, all this we need to recognize that nature’s not behaving as we always thought, in an incremental and predictable way. No, nature has long periods of huge ability to dampen and even hide change, and then suddenly it can irreversibly shift abruptly when crossing tipping points when we push ecosystems too far.

And this quadruple squeeze creates the reality of the challenges we’re facing. Moreover it’s not as if the big, big changes occurred in the past.

No, I would argue what we’ve seen so far may just be the aperitif, the first course. We’re entering the main course now because it is now, right now, that two giants collide. The first giant being the fact that so far it’s a rich minority that has caused the major environmental problems we see, but we’re now having a future where we will most likely have not one but four, five, six billion co-inhabitants on Earth with an average income equivalent to the rich nations of today. This is a tremendously positive story, the right to development among all is now at reach. We can eradicate poverty in the world. But if we follow an unsustainable pathway this will take us much, much more rapidly and accelerate even further a journey in the wrong direction.

The second giant is that so far nature actually has responded relatively in incremental and predictable ways. But it is now we start seeing the first signs of abrupt tipping points. It is now we see the first evidence of potentially irreversible melting in parts of Antarctica, irreversible and accelerated melting in Greenland, the real risk of collapse of large parts of tropical coral reefs, the real risk of a flip in tipping point from rainforests to savannahs.

This was not in the past. It’s a giant wakening up right now. So this is the juncture where we need to urgently move towards a safe operating space. That’s why scientists stepped forward and gathered all the knowledge we have to ask this biggest of all questions, what is our desired state for the planet?

And if we can answer that question what are the environmental processes that regulate that stability? What are the planetary boundaries that can enable us to stay safe? And that led to the planetary boundary framework.

And as you’ve seen in the lectures we’ve given here, science can answer the first question, what’s our desired state, which is defined by the Holocene equilibrium that is the interglacial period we’ve had over the past ten thousand years which has enabled civilizational development and our modern world as we know it.

This is the period where all the nature, all the ecosystems, the climate system, rainfall systems, everything that we nurture, love and depend upon from nature for human well-being, settles in in the Holocene.

This leads to a very simple but very dramatic conclusion, that the Holocene is the only state of the planet we know that can support the modern world as we know It. That is the basis upon which this transition to a new sustainable development paradigm evolves. But it’s so helpful because we know the Holocene. We have a lot of knowledge on the carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle, the phosphorus cycle, hydrological cycle, how the biosphere, the cryosphere, the atmosphere, the stratosphere, and the hydrosphere all interact and processes that help regulate the resilience of the Holocene, so we can use that knowledge to define boundaries.

Planetary boundaries, though, I want to emphasize in this summary also is different to earlier historic concepts of how we deal with rising environmental risks. We have talked through the lectures, of the concepts around limits to growth, carrying capacities, different analyses of tipping elements, tipping points, which are all tremendously important. In fact, so important that the planetary boundary work stands upon the shoulders of these advancements.

But the difference is distinct and very important to move forward on seeing the usefulness of planetary boundaries. Because most of these concepts in the past were based on efforts of trying to not only assess the resources and ecosystem capacity of the planet, but also made assumptions on human innovation capacity, basically our ability to develop technologies and practices to develop and exploit nature, but also on human needs. And the analysis of limits basically based on an assessment of when human needs exceed the capacity of the planet to supply those needs, we are in a situation of overshoot, and thereby a situation of great, great risk.

The planetary boundary analysis changes that profoundly by simply taking away humanity for a little while, not making any assumptions on our ability to be more efficient, more clever, and have technological breakthroughs, we even avoid making an assumption on human needs. We simply try to answer the question for the planet to stay stable what will it take? And once we’ve defined those biophysical boundaries we put humanity back into the safe operating space.

A quite simple way of understanding this is that it’s equivalent to playing football or soccer. You know, that game you would never, ever think of playing if you wouldn’t have a line that shows exactly what the playing field is. You put a line and then you have a referee that says very clearly when the ball transgresses the boundary and the ball is out of game. You’re not allowed to play outside of the boundary. But inside the playing field, inside the safe operating space, you can actually play like Zlatan, you can play fantastic economic growth or football. Or you can play as lousily as I would do in that safe operating space. Nothing hinders you to prosper inside the playing field.

And that is the challenge and opportunity with a framework like planetary boundaries. It means we’re shaping sustainable development, it means moving towards a paradigm where the economy serves society, which evolves within planetary boundaries. It means recognizing that the biophysical ceiling actually has a social floor where we need to now, for the first time ever, recognize that we’re in the wrong of sharing absolute global budgets with carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, fresh water, biodiversity, which means a true equity dimension to the planetary boundary analysis in terms of distributing in a fair way the remaining ecological space on Earth.

So this is an enormous challenge for humanity, but also provides large opportunities. And we’ve been discussing quite profoundly in the course whether this is in contradiction with economic growth. Our conclusion is that that is certainly not the case. Rather it’s an opportunity to now explore economic growth within the safe operating space of our planetary boundaries. And we’ve been illustrating that in form of this planetary soufflé where the growth of the economy can occur within a space, and we have to be careful to avoid collapses in that economy.

So all this knowledge, all the different, new concepts we’ve been discussing during this course; from planetary boundaries, to resilience, and tipping points; can actually be condensed down to one very nice statement put forward by my dear friend and colleague Carl Folke who’s been lecturing on the course, and our Science Director at the Stockholm Resilience Centre that “people are embedded parts of the biosphere, and now shape it in the Anthropocene, from the local to global scale, today and in the future, and at the same time, we need to now recognize, that people, we are fundamentally dependent on the capacity of the biosphere to sustain human development in the future.”

And this to me is an operational strategy for our economy, for our businesses, and for our policy, and for communities in the future. It also has a very profound philosophical dimension, ethical dimension.

The ethical dimension we’ve have been discussing so profoundly, that we’re now one interdependent connected world, community that needs to share the ecological space on earth.

But the philosophical side, to me, is that is all boils down to they very, very simple recognition that if we can become truly successful stewards of the remaining beauty on Earth, we will be very successful also in being able to secure economic growth and development.

Because everything that matters for the economy resides in the nature around ourselves. Outside our window, locally where we live, to the large systems that regulate Earth resilience.

So when we say that a fundamental strategy is to reconnect our selves, reconnect our societies, reconnect our economies to the biosphere. That’s not just rhetoric. That is truly the core and the new paradigm of development within a safe operating space on Earth.

And I really hope that you feel that during this course you not only received the tools to go out there and act towards this endeavor, but that you have also been able to get the knowledge where you feel that, yes, science now tells us a profoundly important story based on empirical evidence, which gives us the confidence to move forward along these lines.

Of course, it is tremendously challenging, it’s an enormous project to start changing the course of world development, but I will also end by reminding us that the situation is urgent. We just have 5-10 years to transition towards a safe operating space if we want to avoid the unacceptable risks that science is now showing clearly that we face.

So the knowledge that this course provides needs to be shared and discussed, so that we can all as a global community start the pathway towards a safe future for humanity.

Antropoceno XLIV – O Antropoceno e os Objetivos de Desenvolvimento Sustentável

Is the world of policy and science responding to the latest advancements in science that we’ve entered the Anthropocene; that we can no longer exclude catastrophic tipping points; that we need a transition to a world within the safe operating space of planetary boundaries?

That’s the core question in this lecture, focusing first of all on the major global policy development within the United Nations of transforming the current Millennium Development Goals into the Sustainable Development Goals, which emerges out of the latest Earth summit in 2012. The big question is, what’s happening across the world in terms of how we address this?811

And I’d like to start first, unfortunately just reminding us, of how are the current discussions on this area predominantly flavoured. Well, there seems to be three conventional choices to our future, which is debated in all the negotiation; from climate change, to biodiversity, desertification, chemicals, trade; and the first perception is that the rich nations, the rich minority in the world, largely the industrial countries, have had this fantastic journey of wealth and economic growth occurring at the expense of the Earth system. And now we’re waking up to the science, and the rich world is telling the poor world that, “Sorry guys, the party is over. You came too late. We’re pushing you off the ladder, and now we all have to chew the sour pill, and simply lock ourselves into a much, much less attractive future in terms of economic growth.” This is clearly causing a lot of the friction in many of the negotiations in, for example, on climate change.

The second approach seems to be that, “Well, things are going really bad. We all need to contract and converge, and this will be painful. It’s a burden-sharing pathway. Even the language in the negotiations uses this term.” Moving towards sustainability is a burden. In fact to the extent that many politicians say that, “Well, now that we have economic problems, we can not afford to take on this burden of taking care of the environment or the climate system,” which clearly violates everything that science is telling us.812

And the third one is to say, “Well, let’s simply put the head in the sand, cross our fingers. Tipping points, probably something that hopefully cannot be correct,” and just move along and hope for the best.

So these seem to be the current conventional options, and I would argue, and many of my colleagues, and certainly Jeff Sachs at the Earth Institute, that this is, neither of these, are nor attractive, nor the pathway for the future. Instead the future lies in redefining sustainable development as a trajectory for growth and human well-being within a stable Earth system. And this is profoundly new opportunity, and a new way to address the pathways to the future.

Now, are we seeing anything like this fourth realm in the area of policy, and I would argue that yes, we are. Science is increasingly connecting between the Earth system science and the policy domain by putting forward analyses, such as this one, which indicates clearly how we could envisage a transition towards a sustainable development paradigm where the economy serves society within a safe operating space, where we can even define global sustainable development goals.813

Here suggesting six broad goals on livelihoods, on sustainable food security, on sustainable water, on universal access to clean energy, on healthy and productive ecosystems, and on transparent and efficient governance on urban societies, and that we can actually today, from science in dialogue with different stakeholders of society, define science-based global planetary boundaries, which would be the outer component of this circle. Inside we can have very, very aspirational social goals, such as ending poverty. And inside that we can put in place the economic instruments that will provide the incentives to steer markets, innovations towards these goals. What you see here is a big change. It means that the planet defines the boundaries within which we can develop.

Now the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the knowledge platform in the world set up by UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon to support the implementation of the SDGs, has suggested a set of Sustainable Development Goals entirely in line with planetary boundary thinking.

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Yes, ending poverty. Yes, securing economic growth. But look at goal two: achieving development within planetary boundaries. Truly setting humanity on a pace where people and planet operate together.

Now, this has been fed in to the open working group of the United Nations, the general assembly collation of nations working on designing the new Sustainable Development Goals. And this is the latest outcome of that work, which has been shared with all nations in July 2014. And so far the general assembly is suggesting 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

A large number one could argue, and lets not dwell whether these are too few or too many, but just to single them out in terms of different categories. And what you see here is that of those 17, 13 in fact are social-economic aspirational goals to secure a world where all citizens have a good development and lifestyle for the future.815

So you have, for example, goals of ending poverty; ending hunger; ensuring health; inclusive and equitable educational access, etc. They are aspirational, and very ambitious, and very concrete.

Four of the goals define planetary boundaries. There’s one on water, one on oceans, one on ecosystems, and one biodiversity. And this is actually a great, great advancement compared to the Millennium Development Goals, which had only social goals, and quite abstract rhetoric statement on environmental sustainability on its seventh goal.816

So this is an example of how the world is gradually moving towards a paradigm of development within planetary boundaries. Now the question is: are though, these 17 goals matching up to the science?

And here unfortunately I would argue that the answer is so far no. And just to give you a stark example of how this looks like. Here I’ve just taken a few examples of the social goals and the targets that are set up. And look at these targets: ending poverty, the target is for example, very concrete; by 2030 to eradicate extreme poverty for all people in the world living less, or eradicate all people living less than $1.25 US per day.817

For hunger, very concrete goals on exact number of people that will be lifted out of hunger by 2030. And so it goes for essentially all the social goals. Very quantified, aspirational targets that can be monitored, that can be evaluated, and that the world can be kept accountable to.

Let’s now look at the sister goals on planetary boundaries. Here we have all four of them, and I’ve taken the most concrete targets under these goals. And if you read carefully, you’ll see there’s nothing like a quantification. There’s no attempt to set quantified science-based targets. Good language, but not putting us on a trajectory that we need, because we all know that what we measure is actually what gets operationalized and taken seriously.818

So this is one of the gaps where science has an opportunity, and where we need to truly need to put more effort in terms of matching the targets on planetary boundaries type goals with quantifications, just as the social goals.

Another challenging issue is actually the narrative. To recognize, and this is illustrated in this graph, that among the 17 goals for Sustainable Development Goals, they’re not playing the same role in terms of serving humanity. I believe that now is the time to take the planetary boundary thinking seriously and acknowledge that the goals setting global and environmental resilience in place, shown here as the floor for human development, forms actually a prerequisite, the basic conditions on oceans, ecosystems, climate, nitrogen, phosphorous, to enable us to achieve the social goals.

So to put it very simple, there is no possibility for us to eradicate poverty, to eradicate hunger, unless we meet the global sustainability goals on climate, oceans, and ecosystems. And this hierarchy, where the Earth system is a prerequisite to reach our social goals, is something that has to be recognized, because today the discussion is still on the pillars that there is trade-offs and contradictions between environment and development. Of course there are challenges, but we need to seek the synergies and realize that there is no negotiation with the Earth system. The planet cannot be negotiated with.819

Efforts have been made and this illustration is from a recent analysis by Kate Raworth, who development the Doughnut Model of social-equity within planetary boundaries, trying to see: are the current Sustainable Development Goals meeting up with the planetary boundaries framework? And that analysis shows quite neatly that yes, in fact, there are basically opportunities to match up all the boundaries. So even though there are only goals stated for oceans, water, ecosystems, and climate, there is text under the food security goal regarding nitrogen and phosphorous, there is text under the industrial development with regards to chemical and aerosols, so we have an opportunity now to set quantifications for all the goals within the UN framework that we are today seeing being developed.

The challenge is to get science-based quantifications right. And as shown by Kate’s analysis here on the social floor, essentially we have everything we need in place with regards to equity, with regards to education, hunger, poverty, etc. So this quite an exciting opportunity to take the analysis to a new level.

Antropoceno XLI – Caminhos da Transição: novos caminhos das cidades

What’s actually happening in the city ? When talking about the Anthropocene and about the future challenges, there are so many challenges and negative things we have to deal with. But I discovered when actually coming to the urban and the city there are also fantastic opportunities to solve these problems, and that is what really excites me.

We’re going to go through both some of the challenges because they are there, but also we’re going to particularly look at what are the opportunities here to solve some of these big problems we have had?

So talking about the challenges of course. Urban areas are expanding; more people live in cities than in rural areas in the world. And we also know that urban areas are expanding actually much faster than the urban population, and this is called urban sprawl. So we’re consuming a lot of land. And this is particularly worrisome because we’re also consuming a lot of prime agricultural land, which would then would have knockout effects on forests and savannahs and biodiversity in other areas.751

So this is something we need to deal with. But urbanization is diverse. So we have on the one hand megacities we have by now around 30 megacities in the world with a population of more than 10 million. By 2030 we will have maybe fifty. So there is a huge expansion of these really large cities. But there is also another pattern that we need to think of, and that is the most of population growth in the world the next 20 years will happen in small and medium size cities. And there’s a lot of land that’s going to be consumed when these cities expand and grow. And that we should also not forget that in this diversity of urbanization we also have shrinking cities, and particularly in eastern Europe, parts of Japan, eastern North America, we can cities that actually are shrinking, they are losing population, and we have a city-to-city migration, which also opens up opportunities when it comes to biodiversity, ecosystem services and managing land.

So some of the key challenges are looking ahead with organization is that we will need more resources for a growing population, and also that when people move into cities they become more affluent, and they will increase their consumption of red meat, for example. So the dependence on land is going to increase. And just as an example, London today is requiring an area a 125 times the size of the city. And that’s the size of the UK’s entire productive land surface. And this dependence on land is going to increase and that’s why we need to understand and manage this is a way that we could actually have a sustainable production.752

So the first point I want to make is that local governments need to address this land consumption and land management in a very active way in the future. And that’s one of the keys for sustainable development. And examples of what will happen when land is consumed is that urban areas will infringe into biodiversity hotspot areas, for example.

And just to take an example, 25% of the world’s protected area today are within 17 kilometers of a city. In 10 years it will be less than 15 kilometers. Data around this [has] been developed in a large global study called the Cities of Biodiversity Outlook, which was requested by the UN and looking at the challenges but also the opportunities. And Ban Ki-Moon writes in the preface of this study that as he viewed it the principal message is that urban areas must offer better stewardship of the ecosystems on which they rely.

And this is actually what we’re going to explore for the rest of this lecture on what are these opportunities and what does this stewardship actually mean? Because there are opportunities. Looking ahead until 2030 we could see that all the urban land we expect to have in 2030, 60% has yet to be built. There’s an enormous investment ahead of us for the next two decades in all types of infrastructure. And we need to get that investment right to get on a sustainable pathway for the planet.753

And I would argue that this is the key for a sustainable planet, that we actually get urban development into a greening path. These investments are going to be made anyway. If we turn them into a green, more sustainable direction that’s the key. And we will show you some examples.

Humans living in urban areas are dependent on clean air, on clean water, food, and many resources. And urban ecosystems, the living world of urban area could actually promote and provide some of these benefits. These are called ecosystem services that could clean the air, help clean the water, and integrating living systems with a built environment in these ways I think open up fantastic opportunities to create urban areas that are livable, healthy, and prosperous, and would actually – are providing an environment for people that they enjoy and create a rich life, but also in a sustainable way.754

So giving an example. One of the challenges we have ahead of us is of course climate change. And one of the most likely effects of climate change that would affect people is urban heat waves. We’re going to see a lot of these examples in the future where very hot temperature will prevail in cities. And just as an example the consequences of these are immense. In Europe we had a huge heat wave in 2003 and it’s estimated we had 70,000 excess deaths.

So how are we going to deal with urban heat waves? One way of doing it is actually to start planting trees in the city, because there is a very clear effect – cooling effect of trees. If you increase the canopy cover from 10 to 20% you would decrease the ambient temperature with anything between 3 and 8 degrees C, which is substantial.755

And while you’re planting a tree in the city, you’re planting many, you would also get a lot of other benefits that are related to culture, to air cleaning, to reducing peak and precipitation, all other benefits. Which we just started to value and started to understand.

So here are lots of opportunities that combining the built environment with a living environment to actually address and solve a lot of these challenges we have ahead.756

And just as an example where this is actually taking into action and implementation, Mexico City has launched a huge program where they will build 10 000 square meters of green roof to provide cooling, and regulate humidity, and also provide sites for biodiversity in Mexico City. And they also have a program for conserving land with the similar purpose of contribute to cooling the city and contribute to maintaining some of the very rich biodiversity in the city area.

And another important challenge when we look ahead is that we will have a growth of cities and a growth of population, but the average age, or the age of this growing urban population will be there will be young people. So the majority of people living in the world and in the cities in the future will be below the age of 20.

And there is a huge educational challenge here, but also opportunities. If we could find ways of engaging young people in managing, and restoring, and enjoying the living world in the urban area I think that’s one of the most fundamental keys for a sustainable pathway.

So just as an example of hundreds and hundreds of exciting projects going on around the world in cities, here’s one from New York City, in [the] Bronx where a group call themselves Rocking the Boat have engaged with disadvantaged kids in [the] Bronx and engaged them in restoring oyster banks and learning about the river, and how to clean up the river, how to create an environment in [the] Bronx that is actually beautiful which people would enjoy, and also learning about how nature actually could be an asset and something you could actually use in a very constructive, positive way to create a livable environment.

So my final message here is that cities have the unique potential to generate the innovation and governance tools that we need, and can and must take the lead in sustainable development. Most action in the world happens at the local scale. So if we could bring citizen NGOs, local governments together, with support from national governments, with support from regional government structures, like the European Union and others, and with support from the UN, I think there is so many things, so many exciting things, we could do at the local scale, where we could bring in already knowledge we have, and bring in new creativity and new thinking, new ideas to solve these problems. And I think it’s absolutely possible. It’s just that we have to come together, sit down and say we’ve got to do it. Thank you.