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News and Media
South African President Jacob Zuma addresses participants in the High-level Dialogue, held 6 December in the Africa Pavilion at COP17. ALL PHOTOS: Kathryn Gullason / SEI
A broad-based group of political leaders, scientists and policy experts calls for strong, immediate and integrated response to climate change, sustainability and development challenges.
The High-level Dialogue and Adaptation Round Table: Global Sustainability in a Changing Climate was held on 6 December in the Africa Pavilion at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre (ICC) in Durban.
Key participants included Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa and Co-Chair of the UN Secretary General’s High-level Panel on Global Sustainability; Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, COP17 President and Minister of International Relations and Cooperation; and Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The event was hosted by Johan Rockström, Executive Director of the Stockholm Environment Institute and the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who initiated the Nobel Laureate Symposium series.
Seldom does such a broad-based, high-level group come together to discuss the world’s most urgent problems. Thirty-five people participated, including scientists, NGO representatives, and senior officials from both developed and developing countries, including several climate negotiators. Dozens more observed the discussion.
“COP 17 and climate negotiations in general need to listen to the voice of science on sustainability, and get away from short term and narrow interests,” said IPCC Chair Rajendra Pachauri. “We can never meet the climate challenge with such a sterile approach. We need to spark interest in the science of climate change and on knowledge that has been developed in the field, and let them inform the negotiations.”
Looking at the big picture
A key point of agreement was that efforts to address climate change must be guided by a broader focus on global sustainability, because the two are inextricably linked. Stewardship of our ecosystems will strengthen and enhance both mitigation and adaptation efforts and ensure their long-term viability.
“The science clearly shows us that a safe climate future will not be achieved through emission reductions alone,” said Rockström. “We now urgently need a world transition to global sustainability. Conserving biodiversity, sustainable management of our landscapes and seascapes, reduction of pollution and nutrient overload – all of these goals need to be integrated with our responses to climate change. It is thus critical that the climate negotiations support these goals and connect with other UN-led efforts to promote sustainable development.”
Rockström has led an international team of scientists who developed the “planetary boundaries” framework, which defines a safe operating space for humans on Earth. The framework has been embraced by a High-level Panel on Global Sustainability appointed by the UN Secretary General – and co-chaired by President Zuma – as a reminder of the interconnectedness of planetary systems and of the need to shift toward more sustainable practices.
A dangerous threshold to cross
“Staying below 2°C global warming is not just an environmental goal, but a crucial development goal,” said Schellnhuber. “Beyond that line, the world could move into climate chaos, crossing many tipping points, like the meltdown of the big ice sheets and the disruption of the Asian and African monsoon systems.”
Lord Nicholas Stern, whose work on the economics of climate change has helped reshape the global climate debate, also participated in the discussion.
“Climate change and global sustainability are urgent issues that require immediate action – they cannot be delayed by endless political wrangling,” he said. “All countries must seek to do their part, and move away from unsustainable development and carbon-intensive energy production and consumption. Given the disparities in wealth and resources in our world, however, it is clear that developed countries will have to take the lead in terms of finance, technology and investment, recognising that doing so benefits them as well; it will help secure the future of our planet and our species.”
The event participants stressed that none of their statements should be mistaken for a call to slow or stop development, especially in the world’s poorest countries.
“When scientists call for sustainability and stewardship of ecosystems, many people feel threatened and presume that it will be done at the expense of development and human well-being,” says Youba Sokona, coordinator of the UN Economic Commission for Africa. “This is simply not true. We believe that sustainability and human well-being can be fully compatible, but only with large-scale, transformative changes in how we approach development, agriculture, energy production, and the overall use of our natural resources.”
This event builds on the 3rd Nobel Laureate Symposium on Global Sustainability, held at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm between 16 and 19 May, 2011. Learn more about the Symposium.