Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Earth Agonistes

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Earth Agonistes

Article excerpt

Our generation is the first to understand the risks facing humanity. We must act decisively.

On Wednesday, world leaders will gather in Rio de Janeiro to review progress made in the 20 years since the 1992 U.N. Earth Summit and hopefully to chart a new path toward a more sustainable future. Protecting the planet and its people must be their first priority.

Our central concern is that governments are currently refusing to make the transformative changes needed to resolve the global sustainability crisis.

The scientific evidence is clear that the environmental dangers are rising quickly. Based on current trends, we are likely to move toward a world warmer by 3 degrees, and we may well cross tipping points with potentially catastrophic consequences.

Human activities are likely propelling the planet out of the climatically and ecologically stable state, the Holocene, which has sustained human development over the past 10,000 years. Science reports that we are now instead entering a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, where humans have become the most potent force.

With our current growth and development model we are indeed changing the earth system, and as a result rapidly undermining the resilience of the planet and the future of humanity. The pressures of ecosystem decline, pollution and resource depletion have become immense, drawing down on the economic prospects of present and future generations.

We are the first generation with scientific understanding of the new global risks facing humanity. We must respond decisively, equipped with the best available evidence as a basis for decisions.

This new predicament is recognized in the report by the United Nations secretary general's High-level Panel on Global Sustainability, of which I am a member, which maintains that tinkering at the edges will not do the job. If its recommendations are fully and rapidly implemented, we would be well on our way toward a more sustainable world.

Results from the Nobel Laureate Symposium Series on Global Sustainability also show that nothing less than a fundamental transformation will be needed, where human societies are reconnected with the biosphere to reverse global environmental change and move toward fair and lasting prosperity.

Twenty years after the Earth Summit it is clear that humanity has been a poor steward for the Earth.

Institutions must be developed and strengthened at all levels in order to integrate the climate, biodiversity and development agendas and help address the legitimate interests of future generations. Global governance must focus on ensuring that economic and social development evolves within a safe range of the carrying capacity of the planet.

A new contract between science and society is urgently required. World leaders are urged to support new integrated Earth-system research, which can facilitate the transition to global sustainability. …

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