Antropoceno XLV- A ciência no antropoceno

Now the question  is science stepping up to this challenge? Because I would argue and many colleagues with me that the policy domain is making enormous advancement based to a very significant extent on the knowledge provided by science, but that’s been largely diagnostics. Is science now prepared to also step up in contributing solutions? And the exciting answer is yes.

There’s a lot happening in science to now step into much more interdisciplinary approaches where natural science and social sciences work together for solutions, and to engage much more in what we call co-design and co-development of knowledge, together with businesses, together with community stakeholders, together with policymakers.821

Now where does this arise from? Well it arises from science reacting on the nervousness of its own evidence. The diagnostic is now so dire that we can truly talk of a planetary crisis. And science is getting nervous sitting on this enormous amount of evidence that humanity is putting its own future at risk.

This has led to very significant movements towards engaging more from science in exploring solutions. There’s also a deep emerging recognition that the science, policy, business, particularly partnership, is beneficial also for academic research, what we call co-design and co-development. So this is quite interesting and these are key features of the moving and advancements in what I call sustainability science; the emerging field of an integrated research for sustainable development.822

Out of this comes, for example, a new initiative, the world’s largest initiative on global sustainability research where Earth system science is moving towards solutions for global sustainability. It’s called Future Earth, it is an integration and a merger of the large global environmental change programs that have been around for 30 years and that actually are the source of the bulk of insights that, for example, led us to the conclusion that we are now in the Anthropocene.

In a very important large conference a few years back called Planet Under Pressure the scientific community came together and launched the idea of Future Earth, which is now becoming a reality in 2014-2015.823

So this is a large endeavor of thousands of scientists working together across social and natural sciences to not only focus increasingly on solutions, but also to learn more about the risks we’re facing, of how the Earth system operates, improve the definitions of planetary boundaries, and work much, much more together with different stakeholders in society.

Now what will then Future Earth do? And what is science increasingly excited about doing in general? And in a very simple way to illustrate that we can say that of course this is not true for all science, but you know, the large, large thrust after all has been that the science on global environmental change has largely focused in the past on understanding how the Earth system works as a self-regulating complex system, so we’re starting to understand more and more how climate interacts with the biosphere, that tipping points occur, etc., and also how we humans impact the system, which has been tremendously important to understand the pressures we’re posing. Future Earth is about adding two social dimensions.824

One is how does it impact on our own well being and what are the implications for livelihoods and development? And of course, perhaps the most exciting, what’s the response? How can we as scientists engage in finding the pathways towards a transformation to global sustainability?

Another very important advancement that we all are so well aware of is the bridge between science and let’s say the most accessible form of knowledge for decision making, namely assessments.

So we have a very, very long engagement in climate with United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which has recently released its fifth assessment, the basis upon which decisions are made on climate change. But I’d just like to remind us all that we also have the sister of the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, IPBES, which is now in place to do the same type of knowledge synthesis on ecosystems and biodiversity as a support for decision making.825

And Finding Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which is a broad global platform of knowledge for change. So these are very profound large examples of how science is stepping up to the challenges in the Anthropocene.

So to conclude, initiatives like Future Earth and alliances such as the Earth League, which is another coalition of top, top knowledge institutions gathering together to serve society with better risk analysis, better understanding and solutions, is in my mind a very, very strong signal that science sees not only the risks in the trajectory and the paths we’re following today but also enormous opportunities in a transformation to a world within a safe operating space.

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.


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.