Johan Rockström, Humanitas Visiting Professor in Sustainability Studies 2014, gave a series of three public events entitled Earth Resilience and World Development: Pathways towards global sustainability in an era of rapid global changes. This is the first of his lecture.
Humanity is at a new juncture. We have entered the Anthropocene, a new geological epoch, where the World (the aggregate impacts of the global human entreprise) constitutes a geological driving force of change on Earth. We now face real risks of large and irreversible changes in the environmental living conditions on Earth. This redefines world development. Now, rising evidence shows that global sustainability is a prerequisite to attain social and economic development at all scales, from local communities to the global economy. A new paradigm for sustainable development is therefore needed, defined by the new challenge of attaining long term human prosperity within the safe operating space of a resilient and stable planet. “Planetary boundaries” constitute a scientific framework that enables the definition of this safe operating space, defined to provide the world with a high chance of safeguarding a stable planet for future generations. These insights are increasingly recognized by the world community, reflected, e.g., in the development of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) after 2015. The challenge is that nobody knows whether the world in fact can meet the twin objectives of meeting human needs of a rapidly growing and wealthier world population within a safe and just operating space on Earth. It seems clear though that it will require that we become planetary stewards of a grand transformation to global sustainability.