Rockström is an internationally recognized scientist for his work on global sustainability issues. He helped lead the internationally renowned team of scientists that presented the planetary boundaries framework, first published in 2009, with an update in 2015. The nine planetary boundaries presented in the framework are argued to be fundamental in maintaining a “safe operating space for humanity.” This framework has been embraced as an approach to sustainable development, and has been used to help guide governments, international organizations, NGOs, and companies considering sustainable development.
Before focusing on the planetary scale, Rockström’s research aimed to address building resilience in water scarce regions, and is an expert on water resources. After completing a PhD at Stockholm University’s Systems Ecology Department in 1997, he spent nearly two decades working on applied water research in tropical regions. He has also published research on with agriculture systems, land use, and ecosystem services.
Aside from his research helping to guide policy, Rockström acts as an advisor to several governments and business networks. He also acts as an advisor for sustainable development issues at noteworthy international meetings, such as the United Nations General Assemblies, World Economic Forums, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conferences (UNFCCC, also known as COP).
He is chair of the steering committee for CGIAR’s Research Program on Water, Land, and Ecosystems; a member of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN); as well as a member of several other committees and boards.
Rockström acts as chair of the advisory board for the EAT Foundation, a network that integrates knowledge on food, health, and sustainability to work towards providing environmental limits for healthy diets of the growing global population. He is one of 20 international scientists working on the EAT-Lancet Commission, an assessment of the global food system, and whether a transformation towards healthy and sustainable diets is possible. This assessment is the first systematic analysis of the food system at the global scale, and is due for completion in 2017.
Rockström has published over 100 research articles, including articles in Science and Nature, as well as 20 book chapters. He has also published four books: The Human Quest (2012) and Big World Small Planet (2015) with National Geographic photographer, Mattias Klum; co-authored Water Resilience for Human Prosperity (2014); and Bankrupting Nature (2012) co-authored with Swedish writer and politician, Anders Wijkman.
As a compelling speaker, he engages with popular media on issues relating to sustainable development. Most notably:
Awards and achievements (selected)
Research news | 2020-11-19
Stephan Barthel, Oonsie Biggs, Örjan Bodin, Thomas Elmqvist, Carl Folke, Per Olsson, Garry Peterson and Johan Rockström on exclusive list of world’s most influential researchers
Research news | 2020-10-27
Study identifies thresholds for when rainforests in South America and Africa transition into savannas
Research news | 2020-02-17
Trying to reach the goals under current business-as-usual will come at a heavy price on the planetary boundaries
Research news | 2020-01-22
Supplying a sufficient and healthy diet for 10 billion people whilst keeping our biosphere intact will require radically different ways of farming, reduction of food waste, and dietary changes
Presentation by Johan Rockström during World Economic Forum 2017
Johan Rockström and Friedman discuss governance, global sustainability and why everything changed during a game show in 2011
New initiative will help establish pathways to attain the UN Sustainable Development Goals
Clear message from Side event to the UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals
2020 - Journal / article
Global agriculture puts heavy pressure on planetary boundaries, posing the challenge to achieve future food security without compromising Earth system resilience. On the basis of process-detailed, spatially explicit representation of four interlinked planetary boundaries (biosphere integrity, land-system change, freshwater use, nitrogen flows) and agricultural systems in an internally consistent model framework, we here show t...
2019 - Journal / article
The planetary boundary framework presents a ‘planetary dashboard’ of humanity’s globally aggregated performance on a set of environmental issues that endanger the Earth system’s capacity to support humanity. While this framework has been highly influential, a critical shortcoming for its application in sustainability governance is that it currently fails to represent how impacts related to one of the planetary boundaries affec...
2019 - Journal / article
Politicians, economists and even some natural scientists have tended to assume that tipping points1 in the Earth system — such as the loss of the Amazon rainforest or the West Antarctic ice sheet — are of low probability and little understood. Yet evidence is mounting that these events could be more likely than was thought, have high impacts and are interconnected across different biophysical systems, potentially committing th...
2019 - Journal / article
Resilience is increasingly recognized as an imperative for any prospect of sustainable development, as it relates to our ability to sustain human well-being and progress under the planetary and societal changes that we face now and into the future. Yet, we are ill-prepared to meet this challenge. We neither fully understand nor manage consistently for resilience of the human and natural systems that we must steward through ext...