Planet Under Pressure (IGBP)
  • Date submitted: 31 Oct 2011
  • Stakeholder type: Major Group
  • Name: Planet Under Pressure (IGBP)
  • Submission Document: Download
Keywords: Growth (1 hits),

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Interconnected risks and solutions for a planet under pressure

Transition to sustainability in the context of a green economy and institutional frameworks for sustainable development

Rio+20 Policy Brief produced by the scientific community to inform the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). These briefs were commissioned by the international conference Planet Under Pressure: New Knowledge Towards Solutions ( The conference is sponsored by the International Geosphere Biosphere Programme, DIVERSITAS, the International Human Dimensions Programme and the World Climate Research Programme. Email for full document.

The 2012 United Nations Rio+20 Summit must be seen in the context of a significant expansion of the scientific knowledge base since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.

We now know definitively that humans have become a prime driver of change at the planetary level, significantly altering Earth?s biological, chemical and physical processes. There is increasing evidence that humans are driving the Earth system towards dangerous thresholds or tipping points. The functioning of the Earth system as we know it is at risk. We know that solutions exist, but, as the international community contemplates action, the natural resource in shortest supply is time.

The urgent global risks and challenges facing all nations are interconnected: poverty alleviation; the financial crisis; economic development; political stability; pollution; food, water and energy security; health; wellbeing; climate change; ocean acidification; and loss of biodiversity, to name just some. Understanding this interconnectedness is crucial for tackling these challenges and improving the wellbeing of all societies.

This policy brief outlines key interconnections at a global level and makes six recommendations for lowering the risk of catastrophic change to the Earth system, achieving sustainable prosperity and wellbeing for all, and protecting natural capital (land, water, soil, biodiversity and ecosystem services). These actions underpin the shift to a green economy and the transformation of the world?s institutional frameworks for sustainable development.

Summary of key points and policy recommendations from the Planet Under Pressure policy brief on interconnected risks and solution.

1 Reduce risk. Concerted, global and immediate action is needed to reduce the risk of fundamentally disrupting the stability of the Earth system, with consequences for global economic and political systems. The immediate priority is to stabilize the global climate at a temperature of no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels. We must reduce the carbon intensity of the global economy, undertake a massive decarbonisation of the energy sector and effectively manage Earth?s carbon and radiant energy budgets. Other immediate challenges include: massive biodiversity loss, ocean acidification and disruption of the nitrogen cycle, all of which need coordinated action.

2 Transform global governance to address the interconnected nature of today?s challenges. While our global societal systems are increasingly interconnected, our governance systems often act independently and are slow to respond. Nations must work together to devise effective ways of protecting such globally common resources as the atmosphere, oceans, freshwater, biodiversity, the ice sheets and natural cycles for the benefit of all societies, present and future.

3 Engender strong leadership. Leadership is a powerful catalyst for action. This includes:

Broaden accountability and empowerment from global to local levels to improve all people?s access to and participation in international decision making.

Establish an international high-level consultative body on global sustainability. Such a body would include a chief scientific advisor or ?planetary ecologist? and broad representation from the UN General Assembly, UN system, G20, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Trade Organization, business and civil society, as well as science and technology organizations. Part of its role would be to review regular global sustainability assessments.

Strengthen and upgrade the Commission on Sustainable Development; upgrade the UN Environment Programme to agency status and strengthen its links to sustainable development policy and the global economic system.

4 Halt unsustainable production and consumption and value natural capital. Economic systems ignore global-scale costs and benefits to humanity (e.g. the cost of disrupting the climate system). The world?s biggest market failure is to exclude the value of the stable functioning of the Earth system. Nations must adopt new measures of well-being that go beyond financial metrics to include quality of life. The successor to the Millennium Development Goals must have global sustainability at its foundation.

5 Develop global knowledge systems for interconnected challenges. This includes:

Deploy modern communications infrastructure across all nations. Communications infrastructure has become as important to quality of life and prosperity as our transport, water and power infrastructures.

Launch a major international research initiative for global sustainability. This collaborative endeavour will challenge the research, policy and business communities to provide the resources, knowledge and tools required to manage global risks and navigate an increasingly interconnected world.

Bring cohesion to the international science?policy interface. Establish an Intergovernmental Panel on Global Sustainability to ensure scientific coherence. This would produce a regular ?State of the Planet? assessment that includes socio-economic dimensions and brings together and expands upon existing assessments, strengthening links between science and policy.

Develop an international approach for tackling emerging technologies eg. synthetic biology, geoengineering and nanotechnology.

Ensure international treaties are dynamic enough to respond to new information effectively.

Invest in tertiary education in developing countries. Education builds endogenous capacity to address global challenges, improves well-being and generates economic Growth.

Create a global integrated monitoring system for global sustainability.

6 Build resilience and prepare for unavoidable changes. The great acceleration in human activity, seen largely since the 1950s, has committed the Earth system to substantial change, some of which is not reversible on human timescales. All nations must be ready to adapt to inevitable environmental and social changes.

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