HUMAN IMPACT ON THE PLANET

We are taking astounding risks, warn researchers

Rising greenhouse gas emissions means that within the coming 50 years one-to-three billion people are projected to experience living conditions that are outside of the climate conditions which have served civilizations well over the past 6,000 years, states a new analysis in Ambio. Photo: World Meteorological Organisation/Flickr

New report summarises recent research on the scale of human activity. Inequality and environmental challenges are deeply linked, this must be a transformative decade 

Story highlights

  • “This decade must bend the curves on emissions and biodiversity loss”
  • Humanity must become effective planetary stewards
  • Lack of trust due to gross inequality directly linked to societies’ struggle to make long-term decisions

“Wake Up!": Human actions are threatening the resilience and stability of Earth’s biosphere – the wafer-thin veil around Earth where life thrives. This has profound implications for the development of civilizations, say an international group of researchers in a report published for the first Nobel Prize Summit, a digital gathering to be held in April to discuss the state of the planet in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Humanity is now the dominant force of change on planet Earth,” according to the analysis published in Ambio, a journal of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

“The risks we are taking are astounding,” says co-author Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and co-author of the analysis.

We are at the dawn of what must be a transformative decade. The Nobel Prize Summit is really the scientific community shouting “Wake Up!"

Johan Rockström, co-author

Making the biosphere more fragile

“In a single human lifetime, largely since the 1950s, we have grossly simplified the biosphere, a system that has evolved over 3.8 billion years. Now just a few plants and animals dominate the land and oceans,” says lead author Carl Folke, director of the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics and chair of the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

“Our actions are making the biosphere more fragile, less resilient and more prone to shocks than before. ”

The report summarises recent research on the scale of human activity:

  • “75% of Earth’s ice-free land is directly altered as a result of human activity, with nearly 90% of terrestrial net primary production and 80% of global tree cover under direct human influence.”
  • Rising greenhouse gas emissions means that “Within the coming 50 years one-to-three billion people are projected to experience living conditions that are outside of the climate conditions, which have served civilizations well over the past 6,000 years,” depending on how population and climate scenarios play out, according to the report’s summary.

Co-author Line Gordon, director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre says, “This is a decisive decade for humanity. In this decade we must bend the curves of greenhouse gas emissions and shocking biodiversity loss. This means transforming what we eat and how we farm it, among many other transformations.”

New narratives needed

Instead of listing the well-known solutions such as wind power, solar or plant-based diets, the researchers tackle the barriers stopping progress. Two of the biggest barriers are unsustainable levels of inequality and technology that undermines societal goals. New narratives that reconnect development to the biosphere are in demand, say the authors.

The report concludes that inequality and environmental challenges are deeply linked. Reducing inequality will increase trust within societies. Trust is essential for governments to make long-term decisions, the report argues. Social media and access to reliable knowledge is also highlighted as a barrier to progress.

The risks of the next generation of technologies are brought into focus throughout the report.

Co-author Victor Galaz, the deputy director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, says: “As the pressure of human activities accelerates on Earth, so too does the hope that technologies such as artificial intelligence will be able to help us deal with dangerous climate and environmental change. That will only happen however, if we act forcefully in ways that redirects the direction of technological change towards planetary stewardship and responsible innovation.”

Link to publication

About the Nobel Prize Summit Our Planet, Our Future

The first Nobel Prize Summit, Our Planet, Our Future, a digitial three-day event between 26-28 April, will bring together Nobel Prize laureates and other renowned leaders in the sciences, policy, business, the youth movement, and the arts to explore actions that can be achieved this decade to put the world on a path to a more sustainable, more prosperous future for all.

Registration is free and open to the public.

Hosted by the Nobel Foundation, and organized by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in partnership with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, the summit will draw upon lessons learned in the global response to the COVID19 pandemic to mobilize action on:

  • fighting climate change and biodiversity loss
  • reducing inequality
  • advancing technologies with the power to transform the way we live and work

Summit speakers include:

  • Al Gore, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former U.S. vice president
  • Dalai Lama, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Tibetan spiritual leader
  • Xiye Bastida, climate activist and youth leader
  • Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the U.S. president and executive director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
  • Jennifer Doudna, Nobel Prize laureate and professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California
  • Peter Doherty, Nobel Prize laureate and patron of the Doherty Institute, University of Melbourne
  • Sandra Diaz, professor of ecosystems, Universidad Nacional de Cordoba, Argentina
  • Tom Lovejoy, professor of ecosystems, George Mason University, Washington DC

Read more about the summit

Published: 2021-03-22