Disruptive Transformation: Humanity’s Great Opportunity – Johan Rockström at New Frontiers


(music) (applause) – Yes, thank you Mark
and Kia ora, dear friends, and let me just start by saying
that in the first day here I shared with you that there’s never been as much reason as today as
a scientist to be nervous, but there’s never been so
much reason to be hopeful, but I must actually say that
that balance has changed over the last two days thanks
to what has occurred here the hope is dominating and I’d like (applause)`
to thank you for that. It’s absolutely clear that we
have a window of opportunity. Secondly, I’d like to just flag
to you that I’ll be building this lecture now entirely
on what Yoseph said. This is an incubator of transformation. This is a place of thinking of
systemic new transformations. I’d like to share with you a few ideas on disruptive transformation. How can we accelerate? How can we amplify? How can we do the unexpected to really transition faster than ever into a safe and just safe operating space for humanity on earth? But I’d like to do that with
a little bit of repetition, you know, the mother of
learning is repetition, so I just very quickly like
to walk through with you the scientific evidence why Vicky is right but I’m trying to convince
that we have a decade to really, really turn things around because we’re facing such ample risks. I’d like to start just by this
little philosophical reminder that we are an embedded
part of the biosphere, which has been so central
to this discussion here. We depend on it, we influence it, we are a species among
species on Mother Earth, but, also, remember
that we depend entirely on this 20 kilometer
thin film of atmosphere that creates the biosphere
which is so thin as you know that if Mother Earth was a basketball, and if you layer it with a very thin, of course, degradable plastic film that is as thin as the atmosphere is. This is our biosphere
never, ever, you know, get cheated by us not being able to influence the entire earth system because we depend on such a thin layer, and the deepest insight, which
really is what I would argue we need to embed in all our values, is that we have shifted
just over the last 50 years from being a relatively
small world on a big planet, the belief that is still
predominating in the world today, the belief that developed all our current macroeconomic paradigms, our governance systems,
our consumer patterns, everything we see around us is based on the notion
that Mother Earth is so big and she’s able to absorb so
much unsustainable pressure because we’re so small. But dear friends, we have
so much scientific evidence that over the last generation, we’ve tipped over and
we’re now the dominant. We are the big world on a small planet, and now is the time to
really recognize that planetary stewardship is
not about the global action as opposed to the local. Oh, no, my core message to
you is let’s please, please, really recognize that all the
ingenuity, all the values, all the action locally is now to be embedded
within the global context that science and values,
the local and the global, are intimately interdependent. We live in this interconnected world where all of us are one collective on this small, small, little planet, and if anything I could
stop there, actually, because that is basically my story, but I like to do it in
an evidence-based way, typically academic, with
just laying out with you very quickly what’s the
evidence behind this. Well, the number one,
I’ve stated it before, we scientists, I would argue this is the most important message from
the scientific community across all disciplines, we welcome humanity to the Anthropocene. Now, this is based and Felix showed that not on simulations, not on models, it’s empirical data showing
the exponential rise of human pressures on planet earth that started in 1955, 10 years
after the Second World War. We are then just three
billion co-citizens, and we put into high gear
what has been called now, scientifically, the moment
of the Great Acceleration of the Industrial Metabolism. This is when we go to scale. This is, to put it simple, you can pick any
parameter in the biosphere that regulates our economy, that determines our human well-being, and our life happiness,
and they all look the same. You take from biodiversity,
over-eutrophication, overuse of water, land degradation, and, of course, the classic
carbon dioxide emissions. It’s a hockey stick pattern
of exponential rise. You know, the warnings came early. Rachel Carson warned in
1962 in Silent Spring. Limits to Growth came out in 1972, and warned if we continue on this path, we might get a draw-down on
the world economy by 2020. Well, you know, they were shot down by policymakers, business
leaders, macroeconomists. You could almost excuse them because Rachel Carson was such
an insightful woman, who had foresight. She had no data to stand on, she was just at the beginning
of the exponential curves. Today, dear friends, we
are the first generation to stand on the top of
a mountain of evidence of exponential rise of pressures. We’re the first generation with
absolutely no excuse to act. But in 1962, you could almost excuse those who said, “Look
here, we don’t really “believe that it has to go this wrong” because Rachel Carson was just at the beginning of the curve. We’re not in the beginning of the curve, we’re at the end of the curve. We’ve hit the ceiling. So dear friends, welcome
to the Anthropocene. Now, the good news is that this is starting to be understood. Around the world, you see ample, ample media, policy, business recognizing that we are on this new geological epoch. It started, actually, with The Economist, as you see the front page here, welcoming humanity to the Anthropocene. The Economist, as you may know, is this beautiful, eloquent, strict, British weekly, so influential in the economic business world. I’m a great admirer of The Economist. It has these kind of British
understatement-type language, which I find so convincing sometimes, and there’s a quote in here,
which reflected so well, and still reflects how
we scientists feel today. And it says as follows, “When things are changing faster “than science stipulates it should, “a certain degree of nervousness
is a reasonable response.” (audience laughs)
British understatement. And, you know, that’s
exactly what we’re seeing. Things are changing faster than science stipulates it should. Not a certain, but a significant
degree of nervousness is a reasonable response. So dear friends, welcome
to the Anthropocene. Number two is, of course if
we’re punching Mother Earth with exponential rise, the question is can we define the desired
state of the planet? And the answer is yes. We have so much data, from paleoclimatic ice core data, that can
tell us that we now know where the planet needs to
be to support humanity. I call this the Garden of Eden, and this is here shown
through the data set, in what I would argue is
the world’s second most important figure because
the first most important scientific figure will
come in the next slide. This is ice core data from Greenland. On the X-axis you have
hundred thousand years. It’s a perfect time span. You may have seen that we
normally present this as one million years, fluctuating
in and out of ice ages, going into glacials,
ice age into glacials, then Milankovitch Cycles of 100,000 years. Why is this one so good? Well, it’s because
we’ve been modern humans on Mother Earth for roughly 80,000 years. So we’ve had the same
intellectual and physical ability to build and develop civil
societies, as we have today. This was a very rough time for humanity. On the Y-axis, you have
temperature variability, and it was a jumpy ride, indeed. In fact, we were hunters and gatherers, we were a few million people, we had a very rough time
until we exit this period, and we enter what you see
here right at the end, the Holocene, the Eden’s
Garden, the last in the glacial period, when we
left the last ice age. You see that jumpy period,
you may see a drop point at roughly 75,000 years back. This is deep ice age,
minus four degrees Celsius, it’s actually minus ten at this point in the northern hemisphere. Sea levels are 70 meters lower than today. Humans are hiding up in
the Ethiopian highlands. It’s the only place where
there’s a little fresh water and some little biomass left to find food. The latest scientific data showed that we are less than 15,000, one five, 15,000 fertile adults on
Earth at that crunch point. We’re virtually extinct. Because it was such a jumpy, tough ride. Actually, there’s another
conclusion here by the way. It tells us something quite important in the world of rising conflict and geopolitical
difficulties in the world. It means we’re very close
relatives, all of us, 15,000 adults were the
source of all of us. So we should actually hold hands a little bit further
across different cultures. Now, we exit the last ice age, and we enter the Holocene,
and what do we do? Well, you all know the
most important invention of all time, much more
important that mobile phones and electric vehicles and
everything you can imagine. We go from hunters and
gatherers to become farmers. We domesticate animals and plants, and that’s so extraordinary
because it happens immediately when we enter the Holocene, and moreover, it’s not
like a Eureka moment when somebody wakes up in the morning, comes up, “Wow, I came up with this “brilliant idea of planting seed!” Oh, no, we know that it
occurred very differently because we domesticated
maize, teff, rice, and wheat on different continents
roughly at the same time. And the last time I checked, we had no mobile phones or internet at the time, so this was something that happened because Mother Earth settled down. She became so predictable,
she became so beautiful. Everything we’ve come to love, all the forests and
grasslands and coral reefs, of course the genetic
diversity has been there for a hundred million years, but it settles in the Holocene. Everything that we
identify ourselves with, everything that we love,
everything that is our identity, settles into the Holocene, and the most important thing, the rainy seasons become predictable. The growing seasons come back
year after year after year. So suddenly, it becomes worth
it, the risk becomes so low, it’s worth to invest in planting the seed. In fact, most likely,
cultivating was known before, probably by women in nomadic cultures, but it was not worth doing it in that jumpy ice age period. So we invent agriculture,
we start differentiating, we become innovators, we
start developing villages, cities, modern societies,
we’re three and a half billion people at the Great Acceleration. We’re 7.6 today, we’re
committed to nine and a half, and the scientific conclusion is as simple as it is dramatic. The Holocene is the
only state of the planet we know for certain can support humanity. And that is, of course,
a punch in the stomach, but I argue it is
something beautiful as well because it gives us, for the first time, a reference point of a
desired state of the planet. And we know the Holocene so well. There’s so much science behind it. There’s even a scientific
journal called The Holocene. So this is such an opportunity for us to define a safe operating space of how can we keep Mother
Earth in a Holocene state? Insight two, the Garden of
Eden, is the Holocene state. Insight three then, finally, is that if we punch Mother Earth, the big question of course,
is how does she respond? And she is fantastic, she’s so resilient. You know, it’s like a boxer, you’ve probably
seen the Rocky movies, perhaps, you know, he can take a 1st round and a 2nd round and a 3rd round, punching and punching, and he just stands. Mother Earth is like Rocky, the boxer, just taking the punches
because she’s so resilient, and she’s so forgiving,
and she’s our best friend. And she has been so, and in fact, she continues to be so. Can you imagine, we emit today, 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning every year? Which leads to global warming. But is it all of that that
remains in the atmosphere and raises temperature?
Oh, no! Mother Earth is so
forgiving, so resilient, that she’s absorbing still half of those in the oceans and in natural ecosystems. Why does she do this? Well, you see, she does
it because she’s applying all the geophysical and
biological processes that are there to remain
in a Holocene state. We have proof of this, and
you know what the proof is? The proof is that when
we were emitting only 20 gigatons, roughly, some 30 years back, Mother Earth was absorbing
half of that, 10. But now as we are punching
her harder and harder, in the 8th and 9th round
of the boxing match, she’s actually absorbing more and more. She continues to do everything she can to remain stable. And we have so much proof of this, which actually gives us the various deep, deep insight that we have to keep the Earth system resilient. Now, the trouble is the science evidence shows today that that’s at risk because we have tipping points, because a certain period of time Mother Earth is strong, she’s standing in the boxing ring, she can take punches, up
until a certain point, when she becomes so weak that the risk is that a little extra punch
takes her across the threshold, and she shifts over from
one equilibrium state, through a bifurcation, to another state. These are the tipping
points, when you are at risk of losing rainforests or savannas, losing ice sheets to darker
areas of only liquid, and all of these thresholds
are increasingly documented, and they are separated by feedback shifts. And those feedbacks are what scientists are most nervous about, that we have feedbacks that today reduce and dampen, and they can tip over to become self-reinforcing. You probably heard of the
risk of forest dieback, releasing carbon dioxide,
permafrost thawing, ice melting, the Earth gets
darker and absorbs more heat. These are feedbacks. And we have today, and here comes the most important graph, scientifically, the most important graph,
which goes as follows: This is what you see here is the endpoint of that beautiful exit from the Ice Age into the Garden of Eden, so on the X-axis is time,
the last 20,000 years, and you see temperature on the Y-axis, and you see that beautiful line
of extraordinary stability, which actually is within
plus/minus one degree Celsius. Now, this is the Paris Agreement. This is the agreement to
stay below two degrees, aiming for one and a half degrees Celsius. A reminder, actually, that
even the Paris Agreement, though being ambitious, is actually outside of the Holocene range. But here comes the very important insight. Here are the IPCC trajectories of where we’re at risk of going. We’re actually heading toward this three, four degrees Celsius
warming, as you know. That’s why we need so much action quickly. But here comes the layering of
the knowledge we have today, at what temperatures we
risk crossing tipping points of systems on Earth that regulates the state of the planet
and which therefore determines human well-being, be it in an African rural village, in New Zealand, or in Sweden. And I just want to focus briefly
on this little square here, which are the systems that are
at risk that dip into Paris. So the width of these columns here is the uncertainty range in science. We are uncertain, we don’t know exactly at what point systems tip. But look at this, the point
to the furthest right, there with our coral reefs. According to the scientific knowledge we have today, the
entire uncertainty range is within Paris, which
means that unfortunately, we’ve come to a point
where it’s very likely, even probable, that we’ll
be losing all tropical coral reefs, even below
two degrees Celsius. Now we’re heading very
rapidly in that direction, but you see also that green on here, which holds seven meters
in sea level rise, despite the wide uncertainty, there’s also dipping into Paris. Today we are not certain that we can keep the Greenland ice sheet
stable at two degrees Celsius. And of course, it doesn’t
mean that Greenland would melt overnight. Oh, no, it would probably
take two or three hundred, perhaps even 400 years. But the point is that we are at risk of putting our finger on an on button, and if we push the on button, we cannot turn back. Nobody knows how to refreeze
the Greenland ice sheet. So this is the challenge of
really incorporating precaution and new values of
reconnecting to the biosphere for us to become planetary stewards. So these, dear, dear friends, is, in my mind, the journey
that science now offers that the Anthropocene,
plus the Garden of Eden, plus the insight of tipping points, leads us to planetary boundaries. We need a new framework. We need to ask ourselves how can we stay in a Holocene-like condition? What are the processes
that really regulates the state of the Earth’s system? And what are the
quantitative science targets that can give us a
boundary that provides us a safe operating space within which we can have safe and just
future for humanity on Earth? And that’s what led to the
Planetary Boundary Framework. You’ve see it, perhaps, it is a guide to be able to kind of chart our future at the global scale but increasingly also being adopted by businesses and countries around the world as a framework to be
able to go beyond climate to really recognize, just
like Vicky pointed out, it’s equally important
with land, with water, with biodiversity, nitrogen, phosphorous, the stratospheric ozone
layer, and chemicals. We have to have a systemic,
integrated approach, what the new frontiers
represents so eloquently. We see businesses taking
up this framework today and trying to implement it. We see business networks around the world, like the World Business Council, operating more according
to this framework, trying to get science-based
targets for the Earth’s system, some quite enthusiastic, actually. Things are changing, and
there’s a very deep recognition that is starting to
emerge, particularly within the global environment
facility, that biomes like this that we have often
talked about in terms of conservation and protection, of course that is important. There are intrinsic values
here for communities and cultures and nature itself that are infinite. That’s why I’m not so enthusiastic about putting a price on nature. But also, dear friends, let’s recognize that these are actually now integral to our prosperity on Earth. Irrespective of where you live, we depend on these beautiful systems for the prosperity, for
jobs, for the economy, for the welfare of any
scale, at any community, or any nation on Earth. That’s again, this connection
between local and the global. And in the last 10 minutes,
let me now give you two examples of disruptive transformations that emerged from this science. The first one is called
the Global Carbon Law. We recognize that the only
chance to really deliver a future within the
safe boundary of climate is an exponential journey to
decarbonize the world economy. It builds on a new, scientific idea of connecting the science and
what we have to accomplish with Gordon Moore’s law
from the 1960s, early 1960s, where Gordon Moore stipulated, you know the founder of Intel, that as a self-fulfilling prophecy, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy, that the speed of
conductors and transistors on computers would double
the speed on computers every 18 to 24th month,
which is actually a path that we’ve followed as
an innovation pathway in the whole ICT
industry, perhaps the most disruptive industry in the world. Well, we published, half a year back, something that we call
the Global Carbon Law, which we hope can be the
equivalent of the Moore’s Law, and it goes as follows: This is what we have to
accomplish to deliver Paris. This is a summary of the IPCC, Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change, curves. On the Y-axis you have
emission of greenhouse gases, in terms of carbon dioxide, and on the X-axis is time, from
today until end of century. The first insight is we have
to bend the curve of emissions, no later than 2020, and
the rush down in a pace of six, seven percent
reductions per year of emissions to become, essentially, a fossil fuel-free world economy by mid-century. But that’s not enough. To achieve Paris, we
also have to transform the brown line you may see there, which is agriculture,
from being the single largest net source of greenhouse gases to becoming, in the next
half of the century, the single largest sink of carbon. This is nothing less than
an agricultural revolution. The interesting thing is,
and we’ve been discussing it so much the last few days, we know how to do it. But that’s not enough. The third insight is
that, I’m sorry to say, there are no climate science scenarios that takes us to Paris that do not include what you see on the screen here, which is major investments and scaling of carbon capture and storage. This assumption that we can engineer ourselves to add sucking up carbon dioxide and retro-fitting coal fire plants to take up carbon dioxide, we have no proof that this happening. I would argue that this
is something that is very dangerous to rely too deeply on. But not even that is enough. Because finally, and
perhaps most importantly, we have to maintain ecosystem integrity. We have to be guardians of our ecosystems to maintain their resilience
and the negative carbon sinks on land and in oceans, shown
here in green and blue. And if we do all of this, decarbonize energy system,
transform agriculture, scale CCS and really become
stewards of ecosystems, we have a 66% chance of staying under two. So, dear friends, it is a global sustainability transformation. We’re in a disruptive point where we have everything to win, to really take an integrated approach. Never isolate Paris to just
being an energy transition. Now, the exciting thing is that this great curve you see there happened to translate into a carbon law, which is very simple,
and it goes as follows: The carbon law equivalent
of the Moore’s law is halving emissions every
decade can take us to Paris. It means bending the curve
by 2020 at 40 gigatons, reaching 20 by 2030, 10 by 2040, and the residual of 5 by 2050. That pace, halving emissions every decade, is the pathway we need to follow. This is now starting to be adopted by businesses around the world. We’re discussing it with governments. We’re taking it to the
Global Climate Action Summit that Jerry Brown, governor
in California, is hosting in San Francisco in September. Getting the CEOs of the large,
disruptive ICT industries to adopt the carbon law and
spread it around the world with the idea of really
making it a global, manifested campaign journey towards halving emissions every decade. So this is one example of something that, that could really start taking us, disruptively, in the right direction. Now, you may, of course, think
well, isn’t this just Utopia? Perhaps even completely unrealistic? And let me just try to
convince you that it’s not, that this is absolutely possible because there’s something very unexpected and exciting happening right now. This graph, which may look
a little bit complicated, but it’s very simple, comes from International Energy Agency data. It shows, on the Y-axis, the
total energy mix in the world. You may see in the gray
shade here, 30% is coal, another 30% is oil, you have
gas, nuclear, and hydro, and then there’s a little
sliver on the bottom. It’s renewable energy in the world, which goes from 0.8% to roughly 2.8% over the last 15 years. This is why, by the way, that
oil companies tend to say, “Of course we trust
science, but what can we do? “We have an obligation to
provide modern energy systems “to lift people out of poverty. “We must continue digging up coal.” But that is wrong because you see, that little curve, for any one of you who remember your old, high school math knows that when you are
on an exponential journey, it starts slow, but
then it goes very fast. And can you imagine the pace
by which renewable energy’s increasing in the world
over the last 15 years is doubling every 5.5 years. Doubling every 5.5 year,
renewable energy in the world, not only electricity,
the entire energy mix. Now, the first curve you see there, the first one to the left, is just prolonging business as usual, meaning if you continue doubling every fifth point five years,
we would actually reach a fossil fuel-free world economy 2045. We’re actually, if we
follow business as usual, going faster than a carbon law. So to put it simple, let’s just continue what we’ve been doing the last 15 years and just keep it going
and not allow it to halt. So it seems to me that
something can happen disruptively if we adopt
a global carbon law. Let me, then, jump to a
completely different sector, where we’re also experimenting with disruptive transformations. The seafood industry in the world, you all know that,
particularly those living in this part of the Pacific Ocean, that we have unsustainable fisheries, we’ve overexploited 70% of the oceans, we have actually, risk of collapse of large parts of fisheries in the oceans across the entire planet, despite the increased protein demand. Now, we did a mapping a few years back of all the seafood industries in the world with the hypothesis
that what if the seafood industry is equivalent,
roughly, to an actual ecosystem, that in the ecosystem you
have different species, but some species we call keystone species, what are the species that
determines the fundamental outcome of the state of the ecosystems. You know, the caribous,
and the high predators that really determine, finally,
how the food chain operates. Well, not surprisingly, we found exactly this behavior in the seafood industry. So what you see here are the 13 companies that are outliers in terms of profit, in terms of fishing the world’s oceans, in terms of influencing
the whole value chain, in terms of dominating
markets across the world, and these 13 we identified,
and four of them in Japan, four in Norway, actually, in
the whole agriculture industry, two more in Asia, one in
the U.S., one in Spain, and what we then decided
after publishing this research was something quite unusual for science, we invited the CEOs of these companies. We said, what if you could
sit around the table? What if we could share
the science that we have? What if we could have a
discussion of the fact that you are at risk of
cutting off your branch because you’re destroying the
basis for your own business? What if we could get the keystone actors to adopt a completely new
logic around ocean stewardship? And the hypothesis, you may call it naive, but the hypothesis being
that if the keystone actors start behaving in a new way, could they change the ecosystem? So we invited the CEOs,
and to our big surprise, 10, and the 10 biggest, came. Now we sat down on an
island, out of Thailand, and spent four days with these CEOs, just bashing the science to get… Not pointing fingers,
but just really, really discussing together a new
strategy for ocean stewardship. Out of this has come an
initiative that we now call Sea-BOS, Seafood Business
for Ocean Stewardship, where they commit to take on
a new logic of stewardship of the oceans and to become,
you know, the leading keystone actors in this whole space. We will be meeting in
Tokyo in just a few months, which is unique because
the Japanese giants, the biggest in the world, normally operate entirely under the radar screen. They never, ever present themselves, under any circumstances, but
now things are happening. And we’re hoping that this could be a disruptive transformation, equivalent to, you know, this hope that
David could knock over Goliath, that you gather large enough minorities of significant keystone
actors in different sectors, and if they want to
move in that direction, they could perhaps knock over Goliath and really change the
logic in the big majority across the whole market. So these are examples of kind
of disruptive transformations that we may be able to explore
at the planetary scale. Now, I just, to close, to
say that I would then argue, as a wrapping up, that
the science now supports that we do have to become
planetary stewards. I’m so glad that that has been a core of the thematic discussion here. Planetary stewardship is clearly about recognizing the sustainable
development goals. We’ve never had, can you imagine? We’ve never had a roadmap. For the first time, with
aspirational socio-economic goals, based on equity,
based on universality for all co-citizens of the world, within planetary boundaries. And that is quite extraordinary. The millennial development
goals were about poverty, and were not
about sustainability, and did not put pressure on
us to live way, way beyond our means of exploiting,
unsustainably, planet Earth. But we as scientists have recognized that there’s a risk with this chart. It looks like a Swedish smorgasbord, to be honest, you know. You can kind of cherry pick your favorites and then go off and deliver on it. So we have translated this to
a new, integrated framework, which we call the wedding cake, (audience laughs)
which is, stating very clearly that there are some non-negotiable sustainable development goals. Goal 6 on water, Goal 13 on climate, Goal 14 on oceans, Goal
15 on biodiversity, and that these are the
safe operating space within which we can
have a just, equitable, socially-inclusive development, attaining the social aspirational goals, the economy and those goals being means of achievement, and that governance is the way to get our partnerships together. So we think that there is
something tying together what has been so
beautifully represented here with the local ownership and kind of culture around ecosystems,
all the way to the planetary stewardship level. We are now gathering
scientific communities, and we call it The World in 2050, which is exploring disruptive pathways to attain the SDGs by 2030 and then continue the journey within a safe and just… Safe operating space and
planetary boundaries of 2050. We need help here because these will be, as you say, very messy journeys. New Zealand can be one full-scale example of this enormous
transition into a desired, equitable future on Planet Earth, but we need to do it in multiple scales, in multiple domains across the world, and become a planetary force because fundamentally, it is about this: We are the big on the small planet. We are embedded in the biosphere. We are the biosphere and that if we do not recognize this as a value shift, which again, I think the new frontiers
has been such a strong voice for getting this across the
world is one way to succeed. So thank you very much for this opportunity to engage with you, and looking forward to continue together. Thank you.
(applause)

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