Throughout the Nobel Prize Summit, presenters discussed the emergence of human-exacerbated challenges facing the planet and of human-created innovations to solve these challenges. “Science across disciplines and across borders can help solve the planet’s pressing problems at the speed and scale required,” Vidar Helgesen said, calling for the need to look forward and take action. Referring to comments made the previous day by John Kerry (see Chapter 3), science has established a “baseline of truth” about the state of the planet, but “advancing from that baseline is the domain of political decision makers.”
Progress in the future requires the involvement of policy makers and others, including artists, spiritual leaders, and business leaders. Helgesen reminded participants that the Nobel Prize recognizes not only science but also literature and peace. The humanities, including the “inspirational power of storytelling,” are critical in providing a “shared language to discuss important issues in new ways.”
This chapter highlights voices from these different domains, including President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, Nobel Prize laureate His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and performing artists in different genres. Highlights from the Solution Sessions and from panels on lessons from the pandemic and on equity and stewardship are also included in this chapter. A Call for Action and concluding comments shared at the end of the Academic Science session close the chapter.
“Every Nobel Prize celebrates one leap forward for humanity,” said Ursula von der Leyen, (President of the European Commission) and she particularly recognized the laureates who
conduct “science in the service of humankind.” While the pandemic has reinforced the value of science, international cooperation is needed to fight the virus in all corners of the world.
Von der Leyen focused her remarks on three reasons why and three ways how governments need science. The reasons why, she elaborated, are that (1) science is needed to make sense of the world around us, (2) science is needed as a guide, and (3) science finds new solutions to challenges and fuels innovation for a healthy planet. Prior to the pandemic, she pointed out scientists had warned that human health, animal health, and the planet’s health are unified in a One Health concept. They documented how contacts between wildlife and humans have increased with the destruction of forests, how loss of biodiversity has meant that buffering species are disappearing, and how new pathogens are crossing over between animals and humans. She also referred to the concept of planetary boundaries developed by Johan Rockström and others: that is, nine limits or boundaries that humanity should not cross to avoid setting off irreversible and devastating consequences.
Regarding how governments are basing decisions on science, von der Leyen first described the European Green Deal. This set of policy initiatives commits Europe to cutting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by at least 55 percent and protecting at least 30 percent of the land and sea in this decade. “We now want to broker the same ambition at a global level at the next United Nations (UN) biodiversity summit in Kunming,” she stated.
Second, Europe is working with three panels that bring scientists to policy making: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, and International Resource Panel on the circular economy. “Their advice has been essential to build an international consensus on our planet’s state of health,” she noted, and she urged more coordination and joint efforts across the panels “for more effective multilateralism guided by science.”
Third, for science to innovate and find solutions, scientists must have the resources to do their jobs. Governments must support pure science and basic research as the foundation for human progress, von der Leyen said. Alongside pure science, translational science is needed to connect researchers with business, customers, and civil society. She described Horizon Europe as the world’s largest publicly funded translational research program. It aims to transform the way people live and do business through five innovation missions: beating cancer, making Europe climate resilient, restoring oceans and waters, developing 100 climate-neutral cities by 2030, and caring for soils. Each tackles a grand challenge in a participative approach with citizens.
Besides technological transformation, cultural transformation is needed. “We need to be much better at bringing science into every home and community,” she urged. This includes investments in scientific education, including climate education, at all levels. She asked Nobel laureates and other scientists to communicate to reach the public in their homes through television, social media, and other platforms. “A new enlightenment begins there,” she concluded.
With widespread recognition about the need to cut carbon emissions by half by 2050, the question is how, stated James Liao (Academia Sinica). Some paths forward are known, such as increasing energy efficiency through renewable energy infrastructure. However, deep decarbonization is not possible everywhere, and in some sectors, such as aviation and heavy industry, complete electrification is not yet possible.
To reach net zero by 2050, Liao said, carbon management is a key technology. The challenge for carbon management encompasses capturing CO2 immediately after it is formed, capturing CO2 already in the air, and avoiding CO2 formation entirely. Next-generation technology inspired by photosynthesis must be developed to convert CO2 to chemicals, materials, and fuels. Once CO2 is captured, it must be stored or utilized through some combination of physical, chemical, and biological techniques, he added. Chemical agents and materials may also be promising, but they cannot currently be used at scale. He urged investments in research, development, deployment, and commercialization and for scientists, engineers, and others to collaborate to realize these ideas and generate new ones.
Science journalist Laurie Garrett facilitated a discussion on how confronting the pandemic can provide a guide to solving sustainability problems with science. She posed a series of questions to a panel that consisted of Nobel Prize laureate Jennifer Doudna (University of California, San Francisco), Nobel Prize laureate Peter Doherty (University of Melbourne), and Anthony Fauci (National Institutes of Health).
The first issue Garrett raised was the seeming lack of preparation in anticipating and quickly responding to the pandemic. Fauci identified several challenges, including logistical issues with testing and the overall political and social context. “The common enemy was the virus, yet we were fighting each other,” Fauci said. The U.S. federal-state structure further complicated development of consistent guidelines. “We were acting like we could act independently with a virus that spreads everywhere,” he said. Despite these missteps, Garrett commented, science delivered vaccines in record time. This success was due to decades of investment in biomedical research, Fauci clarified. “If we are ever going to make an argument to the general public about the value of investment in basic research, I think this is exhibit number 1,” he commented.
Doherty lauded the speed with which highly efficacious vaccines were developed. However, he said, “a lot of work needs to be done in the long term to understand the disease in depth, rather than react to what it is doing to us. We are, whether we like it or not, part of an enormous global experiment.” He stressed that “what will be really important is that as we come out of this or continue through it, we look at every part—from the economic perspective to the social perspective to the medical research perspective—and see what lessons we’ve learned and take those lessons on board.”
CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) represents a particularly promising new area of science, but the advances have heightened public
expectations that this field will yield great results, Garrett commented to Doudna. She asked Doudna how to temper the excitement with the reality of the scientific process. “CRISPR is an ancient bacterial immune system that scientists began studying 10 or 15 years ago because of fundamental curiosity,” Doudna responded. Like the research that led to vaccines, it is another example of an advance in science that built on decades of experimentation. Fewer than 10 years elapsed from the initial publication of papers about how it can be used in genome editing to results from clinical trials, such as with sickle cell disease, she pointed out. Pandemic-related research using CRISPR includes work on potential diagnostic tools that can be deployed in real time.
Increased risks from pathogens are connected with climate change, Doherty said. As the planet warms, species are moving to new locations and catastrophic events are becoming more frequent. Infectious disease threats related to climate change include flooding, overwhelmed sewage systems, and mosquito-borne diseases, with the most severe effects on the poor. He noted that change relating to climate change will involve economic imperatives, such as those related to energy production, which will be difficult. “One of the hardest things for humans to do is once they have gained what they see as an advantage, to give it up or contemplate a change in the way they do it,” Doherty lamented. The Innovative Genomics Institute, a partnership between the University of California (UC), Berkeley, and UC San Francisco, is applying CRISPR to climate-related problems, Doudna said. Rice is the first focus with a comprehensive approach to work toward net-zero carbon farming by modification of rice to be drought and pest resistant, as well as more sustainable in terms of external fertilizers that would otherwise be necessary and use of microbes that can benefit fertility and carbon sequestration in the soil.
Climate change involves an interface between science and politics, Garrett commented. Fauci reflected on his experience working with U.S. presidents and members of Congress since the 1980s. “The most important thing is to maintain your integrity of sticking with the science,” Fauci said. “Sometimes the science leads to truths that make people very uncomfortable.” He recalled advice given to him that he should not be awestruck when talking to political leaders or he might temper his message. The overall lesson for scientists, he said, is “speak the truth, stick with the science, and don’t deliver happy talk.”
Victor Dzau (National Academy of Medicine) shared reflections as he listened to the panel. He noted how during the session, and throughout the summit, the role of science has been stressed and the need for investments in basic research to pave the way for breakthroughs and responses. Lessons from the pandemic include the recognition that climate change is a public health crisis, he added. To enable society to realize the benefits of science, science must reach the public and policy makers through translation and communication.
As Helgesen stated in welcoming remarks on the Main Stage, going beyond the boundaries of science is essential to work toward a sustainable future. Throughout the summit, in informal networking and conversation sessions, participants from around the world engaged with the presenters and each other as a way to build community. Spiritual and Indigenous wisdom were honored. In addition, musical and dramatic performances showed the power of the arts in providing inspiration and motivation for action.
Johan Rockström and Marcia McNutt interviewed His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. In welcoming His Holiness to the stage, Rockström said, “Your moral leadership and active advocacy for humanity’s future on Earth is recognized across the entire world. You stand up for people and planet, always clear about the urgency of the current climate emergency while being equally passionate and hopeful of a peaceful future for all people on Earth.” Rockström asked him to elaborate on the message of human-nature interdependence articulated in his book Our Only Home: A Climate Appeal to the World and in other teachings.
“The Buddhist tradition is based on a logical approach that goes very well with modern science,” the Dalai Lama replied. In addition to his reliance on faith, he noted he often has discussions with scientists. “The gap between the rich and poor at a global level is not only morally wrong, but practically, in the long run, the source of problems. Therefore, we have to pay more attention to equal distribution,” he said.
McNutt asked His Holiness how science could support his vision, especially when many people dismiss both science and spirituality. He suggested that scientists should pay more attention to the “inner science” of the mind and emotions. To maintain peace of mind and
reduce anger, hatred, and jealousy, he noted that scientists are studying Buddhist psychology, or what he termed the “hygiene of emotions,” alongside concerns about physical health.
Rockström commented that the Nobel Prize Summit was organized to recognize the interdisciplinarity between the social and natural sciences, and the concept of “hygiene of emotions” is part of what stewardship entails. He noted that a recent, large-scale opinion poll (conducted by the United Nations Development Programme) showed 60 to 70 percent of people are concerned about the undermining of life support on Earth and want climate action. Rockström asked about how to accomplish a transformation to a more harmonious relationship with the planet. “Scientists are saying global warming is getting more serious decade by decade. We need the concept of oneness: We all live on one planet and share the same basic way of life. According to that reality, we should no longer emphasize my nation, my country. We should think of our humanity,” the Dalai Lama replied.
McNutt commented that the pandemic drives home the importance of his message. “If we consider only people’s physical well-being and do not consider mental well-being, we will find people fare poorly,” she said. “And when you speak of oneness, it is nonsensical for any nation to think they can address the pandemic within their borders without dealing with it on a global basis. No nation is so isolated that it can wall itself off for the indefinite future.”
She then asked about how to balance the push for climate and nature protection with closing the wealth gap. “Is it possible to maintain an equitable climate and protect nature while reducing inequality?” she asked. How can people be motivated to act in accordance with these principles, given that so many take the short-term view. To these concerns, the Dalai Lama stressed that education is key.
Nobel Prize laureate Robert W. Wilson (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) spoke of linkages between science and art. He and Arno Allan Penzias were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation using a large horn antenna as a radio telescope. Many years later, he collaborated with artist and innovator Beatie Wolfe when she used the antenna to transmit her music into space. “My work is about reminding people about the value of art for our humanity and also the value of nature. Both art and nature are core to our humanity,” she said. She presented her work From Green to Red, an environmental protest piece that combines music, images, and 800,000 years of historic data, specifically atmospheric CO2 levels. She explained her goal in the piece was to transform data into something that everyone can absorb.
Later in the Summit, Tara Houska, a member of the Couchiching First Nation and Indigenous rights activist and attorney, introduced musician and activist Gingger Shankar. Shankar premiered a piece titled Promises of Our Grandmothers1 with an international group of musicians. The piece explored the roles of grandmothers, and their relationship to the land and environment.
Nobel Prize laureate and physicist Saul Perlmutter (UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) spoke with Bryan Doerries (Theater of War Productions) before the performance of the Oedipus Project, which Doerries conceived of and directed. Perlmutter noted he is involved in an education project to teach students critical thinking, and he wondered whether Greek tragedy offers an opposite message about shaping one’s future and trust in science. Doerries countered that ancient Greek tragedy serves as a valuable framework for scientific truth. He said while characters are often depicted as “learning too late,” the effect on audiences is to raise awareness of the possibility of change before it is too late. As they watch characters make choices, according to Doerries, they are brought into consciousness about what it takes to change when the stakes are high. “Watching characters make choices that are about life and death seems like an appropriate thing to be doing right now at this juncture in our planet’s history and our humanity,” he posited.
“Tragedies are also plays in which everyone believes they are justified, yet someone is going to die,” Doerries explained. “That’s also an appropriate lens to look at our current predicament. Can we step back from the roles we are playing and from our sureness, and acknowledge our fallibility and mistakes? That’s what tragedy does.” He observed that Perlmutter had offered, in an earlier conversation, that making mistakes also stands at the heart of scientific discovery. “The fun and heart of science is often the hunt for what we have misunderstood or gotten wrong, whether large or small,” Perlmutter agreed. “In the end, if you are going to trust science, it’s because you’re watching people try to make mistakes to then take the next step.” And yet, Doerries noted, this scientific ideal takes place in a broader context that often devalues learning from mistakes.
Doerries asked Perlmutter about a common perception that scientists are trained not to express emotion. Perlmutter agreed that along with teaching scientists the tools of rationality, it is vital for them to know how to consider values, fears, and desires. “If you don’t come up with a principled way to weave all this together, the part that will be left behind is the rationality,” Perlmutter said.
The discussion led into the performance of scenes from Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and a discussion open to all attendees. “One of the reasons we perform an ancient Greek tragedy to talk about science, to talk about the environment is to bring emotions into a rational and ethical discussion,” Doerries said. He noted at most of their events, the post-performance discussion lasts longer than the performance itself.
An important goal of the summit was to turn discussions into practical solutions. On April 28, summit partners convened 12 sessions on interrelated topics encompassing education, corporate investment, collaboration and empathy, and more (see Box 4-1).2
2 For videos of the solution sessions, see https://www.nobelprize.org/our-planet-our-future-day-three.
The Club of Rome held a session to explore new economic thinking that will contribute to building fairer, resilient societies on a resilient planet and the role of philanthropy in funding transformation. Sandrine Dixson-Declève (Club of Rome) opened the session with Johan Rockström (Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research), who introduced the EarthforAll project,3 and Andrew Steer (Bezos Earth Fund), who discussed the need for a new measure to fit for purposes of the future. Per Espen Stoknes (Norwegian Business School) moderated a panel with Carlota Perez (University College London), Jayati Ghosh (Jawaharlal Nehru UniVersity), Sharan Burrow (International Trade Union Confederation), Ilona Otto (University of Graz), and Jennifer Hinton (Stockholm Resilience Centre), which called for a new, post-COVID-19 Marshall Plan.4 Dealing with inequality between the Global North and South is urgent to promote a paradigm shift; a greener, more sustainable and inclusive recovery; and global solidarity. The session emphasized the need for a new economic model, global standards and digitalization, universal social protection, preparedness, diversity and inclusion, and long-term thinking to protect future generations.
3 The project, led by the Club of Rome, the Norwegian Business School, and Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, will explore transformational political and economic solutions for the 21st century along five pathways: energy, food, inequality, poverty, and population (including health and education). See https://www.clubofrome.org/impact-hubs/reframing-economics/new-initiative-on-transformational-economics-earth4all-launched.
4 The Marshall Plan was a post–World War II U.S. government funding initiative to help rebuild war-torn Western Europe. See, for example, https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured-documents/marshall-plan.
Leslie Johnston (Laudes Foundation) facilitated a discussion on the role of philanthropy to promote structural transformation, with Ellen Dorsey (Wallace Global Fund), Felicitas von Peter (Active Philanthropy), and Tom Steinbach (Sea Change Foundation). Five principles were laid out: (1) radically collaborate at scale, (2) fund and advocate an intersectional approach, (3) support disruptive movements, (4) align investments with priorities, and (5) spend more during a climate emergency. Participants urged philanthropies to ensure public investments drive equity and create high-quality jobs by understanding communities’ needs.
DICCE, GenZ Girl Gang, and Project LETS hosted a session to explore individual actions to increase empathy. This youth-led session began with a guided meditation with three students, Phoebe Omonira (GenZ Girl Gang), Lyne Odhiambo (DICCE), and Zoë Jenkins (DICCE), followed by an introduction to the importance, and lack, of empathy in policy and society at large. Julie Fratantoni (University of Texas at Dallas) and Gary A. Hoover (Tulane University) discussed new ways of measuring social progress.
The session highlighted reasons a lack of empathy in policy and society at large affects everyone. For example, Citigroup estimates that the U.S. economy has lost $16 trillion from racism against African Americans over the past 20 years. Policies are created without consulting affected stakeholder groups, such as the Keystone XL pipeline and Native American communities, while at the individual levels, people are increasingly feeling lonelier.5 The facilitators emphasized the importance of active listening, defined as nonjudgmental listening with entire focus on the speaker, as a first step for participants to increase their own empathy. Panelists closed the session by discussing different types of empathy and how empathy affects their research. The session defined empathy as “a faucet, not a switch” and referenced the Interpersonal Reactivity Index to understand different types of empathy.6 A participant cautioned about approaching data without empathy, reminding the group that real people are behind the numbers that inform policy making. The session concluded that no matter one’s field, there is room for more empathy in places of work and education.
The Embassy of Sweden in the United States, in collaboration with the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, hosted a session on the role of science for industries’ ongoing sustainability efforts. H. E. Karin Olofsdotter (Ambassador of Sweden to the United States) opened the session with Johan Rockström (Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research). Tuula Teeri (Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences) facilitated a discussion with Carl Folke (Stockholm Resilience Centre), Cristian Samper (Wildlife Conservation Society), Emma Nehrenheim (Northvolt), and Florian Schattenmann (Cargill), which emphasized the importance of “togetherness” for addressing the climate emergency, biodiversity loss, rising
5 Other examples relating to a lack of empathy resulting in impacts on society could include loss of health and life. See https://www.physiciansweekly.com/nonwhite-patients-get-less and https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-55009228.
inequalities, and the COVID-19 pandemic, and for creating a more sustainable future. Sweden has set a goal of becoming the world’s first fossil-free welfare state by 2045, and the industry is taking a leading role, such as through the Fossil Free Sweden initiative. A systems approach is crucial for a carbon-neutral, nature-positive, and more equitable future, participants stated. Corporate biosphere stewardship,7 a broader concept than corporate social responsibility, is needed, they said, as is portfolio management, education and public awareness.
Gayle Schueller (3M), Theodor Swedjemark (ABB), Heather Johnson (Ericsson), and Lena Hök (Skanska Group) discussed the importance of embedding sustainability across value chains, partnering with a wider range of organizations, and scaling up existing partnerships by identifying clear goals. Anna Sjöström Douagi (Nobel Foundation) emphasized the urgent need for global collaboration. The session also presented a photo exhibition titled “Dreamland” by Swedish artist Helene Schmitz, which is on display at House of Sweden in Washington, DC.8
“The lesson: speak the truth, stick with the science,
and don’t deliver happy talk.”
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine organized a session that highlighted its 2020 report Strengthening Sustainability Programs and Curricula at the Undergraduate and Graduate Levels.9 Marcia McNutt (National Academy of Sciences) and Marilu Hastings (Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation) provided opening remarks, with Vaughan Turekian (National Academies) as moderator. Anne Kapuscinski (University of California, Santa Cruz) summarized insights from the report on the role of U.S. higher education institutions in research, collaborative action, and workforce development.
Arun Agrawal (University of Michigan) facilitated a discussion on the future of sustainability education with Shamila Nair-Bedouelle (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization [UNESCO]), Ellen Stofan (Smithsonian Institution), Dan Higgins (Ernst & Young Global Ltd.), Sajitha Bashir (World Bank), Jeffrey Sachs (Sustainable Development Solutions Network), Zohra Yermeche (Ericsson), and Nobel Prize laureate Sir Richard Roberts (New England BioLabs, Inc). Their perspectives included the need for accelerated capacity building in higher education in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, the role of universities in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the importance of digital learning, and creative pathways and K-12 pipelines in sustainability education. A dialogue on young people focused on the need to teach truth versus misinformation on social media, encourage youth to take action, and reduce a digital gap in developing countries. Participants discussed how to support teachers, with the use
7 See http://www.bluepearl.green/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/biosphere-stewardship-SRC.pdf.
of UNESCO’s microscience kits as an example.10 The session concluded that it is essential to involve women and children to support sustainable education for sustainable development as one of the most important global agendas for the 21st century.
Halcyon and the S&R Foundation hosted a session with social enterprise founders who have integrated both profit and purpose into their business models. Joshua Mandell (Halcyon) moderated the session with Svanika Balasubramanian (rePurpose Global), Sam Teicher (Coral Vita), Phil Wong (Misfit Foods), and Sandhya Murali (Solstice). He noted startups provide nimble, adaptive, and fast-paced business solutions to many environmental and sustainability challenges. rePurpose Global is a plastic-credit platform that reduces waste and restores nature’s balance through accessible, circular innovation in South America, Africa, and Asia. Coral Vita aims to preserve the coral reefs and restore coastal ecosystems, while Misfit Foods focuses on a healthier planet through reduced meat consumption and more plant-based diets. Solstice expands community solar panels in the Boston, Massachusetts, area, including underserved communities.
Participants pointed out consumers are increasingly aware of companies that are doing the right things for the environment and societies. Regarding barriers to scaling up, they said fundraising is a challenge for early-stage social entrepreneurs, and there is a need for streamlined business processes. They also stressed the importance of engaging young people and populations of color. While the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a business model shift, they concluded that focusing on what is going right and leveraging partnerships with municipalities, larger corporations, and other companies would be useful to bring about needed changes.
The Global Solutions Summit hosted a session to focus on how to translate cutting-edge scientific innovations into tangible change.11Alfred Watkins (Global Solutions Summit) moderated the session with Maurizio Vecchione (AdAstral and Washington Global Health Alliance), Ramesh Mashelkar (formerly Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and Indian National Science Academy), and Theresa Kotanchek (Evolved Analytics). They discussed new methods to translate science into marketable innovations and new ways of partnering with the private sector. Speaking from slightly different vantage points and professional experiences, the three panelists discussed the following:
- Developing moonshot solutions to planetary problems will entail the shift to an interdisciplinary, problem-oriented approach to scientific inquiry. This reverses the business-as-usual process of inventing something first and then searching for a market.
- The resulting high-impact innovations will be good for the world and an outstanding business opportunity. As a result, the private sector will be more likely to finance, adopt, and deploy at-scale solutions to well-defined, carefully curated problems.
- This is true for solutions pertaining to global health and planetary sustainability, solutions addressing the needs of the billions of people at the bottom of the pyramid, and new industrial processes and materials.
The National Academies Committee on Human Rights hosted a chat to examine the role of digital disinformation and media manipulation in entrenching societal inequalities, driving polarization, and eroding public trust. Sam Gregory (WITNESS) moderated the session with Safiya Noble (University of California, Los Angeles) and Kate Starbird (University of Washington). The session began with definitions for disinformation, media manipulation, and misinformation, and it examined examples of these harms. Documents discussed included the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework and the UN report Disinformation and Freedom of Opinion and Expression: Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Irene Kahn (see OHCHR, 2011, and Kahn, 2021, respectively).
Gregory emphasized that human rights provide a globally recognized framework for grappling with the competing claims at play when considering the phenomenon of online disinformation, and participants considered possible rights-based approaches to addressing this problem. Noble noted that reforming online platforms will be a challenge due to current business models, and alternative models are needed to differentiate propaganda from research and informed journalism. Globally, disinformation has been employed as a tool by regimes perpetrating rights abuses. At the same time, Starbird emphasized, authoritarian regimes sometimes use accusations of disinformation to shut down oppositional voices. Participants emphasized the importance of linking discussion of online disinformation
11 For a summary and synthesis of the discussion, see https://www.globalsolutionssummit.com/nobelprize.html.
and human rights with examination of structural issues such as climate change, global inequality, and problems with access to education and information, rather than just focusing on technological issues.
The Embassy of Italy in the United States hosted a session on urban sustainability inspired by the three pillars of the Italian G20 Presidency (“People, Planet, Prosperity”), the 160th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the United States and Italy, the Italian co-presidency of the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Scotland in November 2021, and Italian Research Day in the World (celebrated on April 15). Alexander Kaufman (Huffington Post) moderated the session that began with Marcia McNutt (National Academy of Sciences) and Armando Varricchio (Ambassador of Italy to the United States). Other participants included Maria Cristina Messa (Minister of Universities and Research, Italy), Nobel Prize laureate Stanley Whittingham (Binghamton University [National Academy of Engineering]), Chris Greer (National Institute of Standards and Technology), Debra Lam (Georgia Institute of Technology), Carlo Ratti (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), and Paola Malanotte-Rizzoli (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
Participants outlined European urban sustainability efforts, such as achieving 100 climate-neutral cities by 2030, and discussed the multidisciplinary challenges to create smart, sustainable cities. An estimated 90 percent of reported COVID-19 cases are connected to cities, so local governments play a critical role in crisis response, recovery, and rebuilding (see UN, 2020). Main sectors to consider include smart grid, microgeneration, mobility, information management systems, e-teaching, e-learning, telemedicine, and home automation and artificial intelligence. Participants discussed the need for collaboration across disciplines and cultures, localized supply chains, and recycling. They emphasized the importance of an interdisciplinary approach, smart governance and leadership by understanding local context, and citizen empowerment.
PeaceTech Lab hosted a session to explore creation of an Intergovernmental Panel on the Information Environment (IPIE), modeled after the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, to analyze the global information environment and provide governments with science-based recommendations for a healthy global information environment. Sheldon Himelfarb (PeaceTech Lab) moderated a discussion with Vint Cerf (Google), Phil Howard (Oxford Internet Institute), Ian Goldin (University of Oxford), Nobel Prize laureate Tawakkol Karman (journalist and human rights activist), and Katherine Maher (Wikimedia Foundation and Wikipedia) to address threats posed by false information across online and offline media.
Participants described the severity and complexity of the issues (Howard, 2020). In the midst of a paradigm shift, new governance is needed to support internet norms and standards, improve trust in institutions by identifying credible actors and incentives, and promote citizen engagement. A Wikipedia model was offered as an unbounded network that enables people to self-organize based on priority areas. Panelists also emphasized the
need for a regulatory framework and suggested the IPIE could encourage actions through a cross-sector, cross-discipline, and cross-national approach. They noted the need to incorporate social, neurological, and psychological components to address the challenge while engaging industry to support implementation. Panelists agreed that the proposal for an IPIE is a sound idea worth pursuing further.
The Peace Department hosted a session focused on how economic, political, and social sectors can collaborate to address climate change and systemic inequality. Bobby Kia (Peace Department) opened the session. James Sternlicht (Peace Department), Martin Wainstein (Open Earth Foundation), Aude de Montesquiou (BRAC Institute), Pierre Ferrari (Heifer International), Richard Zimmerman (WE Family Offices), Zoe Knight (HSBC), William Sonneborn (International Finance Corporation), and Mary Robinson (former President of Ireland) discussed pathways that included sustainably focused research and scientific theory to craft deployable solutions. R. P. Eddy (Ergo) moderated a final discussion.
Participants outlined activities addressing Goal 1 of the SDGs to end poverty, such as the Graduation Approach from extreme poverty to sustainable livelihood12 and the importance of digital innovation. They also discussed the current state of impact investing with the need for clear, overarching principles,13 performance management, and public-private partnerships to support sustainable investing. Other topics discussed included financing a low-carbon transition, environmental, social, and governance (ESG) and institutional investment, risk reduction, and global initiatives such as the Net-Zero Banking Alliance. Solutions that mobilize private capital can create new and stronger markets at significant scale in developing countries, a participant noted. Participants emphasized five layers of injustice in addressing the climate crisis: (1) social inequality, (2) gender dimension and racial injustice, (3) intergenerational injustice, (4) inequality between developed and developing countries, and (5) injustice to nature. There is a need to “build forward” with equality, justice, and sustainability while making the climate crisis personal by increasing recycling and reducing waste, a participant suggested.
3M hosted a session on how corporate commitments are a driving force toward a brighter future. Gayle Schueller (3M) facilitated the session with John Banovetz (3M), Chris Coulter (GlobeScan), and Peter Lacy (Accenture) to discuss more ambitious commitments, action grounded in data, and broader cross-sector collaboration. They stressed that clarity and simplicity around strategies, goals, and science-based targets, aligned with investments, are critical. Stakeholders include employees, communities, investors, and customers. While customers are key stakeholders, they noted it is essential to understand diverse stakeholders’ views and understand changing expectations through surveys, studies, and performance reviews. Other examples discussed included ESG communications with investors and engaging customers on reducing carbon footprint in supply chains.
13 A panelist suggested that the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment and the International Finance Corporation’s Operating Principles for Impact Management are two excellent guidelines. For more information, see “What Are the Principles for Responsible Investment” at https://www.unpri.org/pri/what-are-the-principles-for-responsible-investment and “The 9 Principles” at https://www.impactprinciples.org/9-principles.
Participants pointed to proven technologies to deliver the SDGs, but the configuration of those technologies and their interaction across domains are key to achieve innovation and better business outcomes for sustainability. The session also discussed opportunities to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy around COP26, examples of public-private partnerships such as the World Economic Forum’s circular economy initiative, and the importance of embracing disruptors (e.g., entrepreneurs and start-ups) into the mainstream to create scale and speed in sustainability.
The National Academies and Arizona State University (ASU) hosted a session on international research collaboration for achieving the SDGs by 2030. Peter Schlosser (ASU) opened the session, and Andrew Steer (Bezos Earth Fund) moderated a discussion with Tateo Arimoto (Japan Science and Technology Agency and National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies) and Daya Reddy (International Science Council and University of Cape Town).
While the pandemic has demonstrated the ability of effective scientific collaboration, lessons learned include a lack of capacity in research and development in developing countries and limited scientific capacities for international organizations to develop effective and timely responses, they said. The speakers discussed a need for partnerships and networks beyond traditional disciplinary and sectoral boundaries, to include the financial sector. They also discussed a need for a science-policy interface, effective governance, integrated approaches with more communications with diverse sectors, and localization of the SDGs through local knowledge, advanced technologies, and open science. Harnessing science, technology, and innovation is crucial for achieving the SDGs and for building capacity.
Amanda Ellis (ASU) facilitated a dialogue with Nobel Prize laureate Ada Yonath (Weizmann Institute of Science) on the need for more attention relating to antibiotic resistance in developing countries, science education at an early age, and providing opportunities for young people. They described the need for transdisciplinary approaches to predict and prevent the next pandemic crisis and innovative partnerships, such as the SDG 5 Training for Parliamentarians and Global Changemakers between ASU and international organizations on gender equality.14
A message throughout the summit was the need to reduce inequality in order to create a sustainable future. Science and technology alone will not create the necessary conditions for transformation, stressed Rosina Bierbaum. She returned to facilitate a panel on governance, inclusivity, and stewardship with Nobel Prize laureate Joseph Stiglitz (Columbia University), Gretchen Daily (Stanford University), Eduardo S. Brondizio (Indiana University), and Jane Lubchenco (advisor to the U.S. president, Oregon State University).
Stiglitz began by stressing that issues of international equity are relevant within countries, between countries, and, particularly in a sustainability context, across generations. This cross-generational equity issue is behind a lawsuit by 21 children against the U.S. administration that is based on the public trust doctrine and due process provisions of the U.S. Constitution.15 Similar suits have been brought in other countries. Bierbaum drew from a statement issued at the UN that youth constitute 25 percent of the population but 100 percent of the future.16
Brondizio identified three enabling conditions for biosphere stewardship: recognition of the scale of the problem, empathy and equity to address injustices, and cooperation to face the complexity of current issues. In terms of recognition, the IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) global assessments report (2019)17 shows that humans have reconfigured the biosphere and become the main force behind the deterioration of nature and the decline in nature’s ability to support human well-being. Those suffering the most have contributed the least to these problems, so that the benefits and burdens are very unequally distributed within and across countries, and such burdens are projected to increase. “Cooperation, from local to global levels, is necessary because individuals and communities are coevolving within an inescapable lattice of interdependence on our common-pool resources,” he said, quoting Elinor Ostrom. “The lattice is now global, but our institutions are still working at specific levels of governance, many times undermining each other.” The social and ecological complexity in front of us calls for governance approaches that are integrated and polycentric; able to deal with policy incoherencies, uncertainties, and abrupt changes; and able to address social-environmental issues in cross-sectoral, adaptive, and inclusive ways.
Daily said the move from knowledge to action requires methods that value ecosystem goods and services. She noted two promising revolutions. The first is the development of engaged science codeveloped with other users, including decision makers, communities, financial institutions, corporations, and nongovernmental organizations. This science is shining a light on humanity’s place in the web of life, and on our dependence and impacts on nature, she said. Second, new ways to collect and share data are making the science more accessible and actionable for decision makers. Through a global partnership inspired by work at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, hundreds of scientists are contributing to an open-source global data and software platform supported by the Natural Capital Project. The platform’s InVEST software reveals where, how, and how much nature benefits people—in cities, along coastlines, and across regions and countries.18 Together with about 300 implementing partners, it has been used in more than 185 countries to illuminate how to achieve environmental and social goals, harmonize conservation and regeneration of ecosystems with improved livelihoods, and track progress. These two revolutions offer great promise for accelerating transformations, Daily suggested, and are already having an impact.
15 Juliana et al. v. United States of America et al. Doc. 369, U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, Case No. 6:15-cv-01517-AA. For information on the lawsuit, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juliana_v._United_States. For information on the public trust doctrine, see https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/public_trust_doctrine.
Lubchenco reflected on progress since 1997, when she called for “20 by 2020,” that is, to protect 20 percent of the ocean by 2020. Protected areas have been used for centuries by people around the world to protect and regenerate nature. They are recognized as important today, but, she said, a tension has developed that focuses attention on protected areas but loses sight of larger spaces not in those areas. A dual focus is needed to conserve protected areas but also to ensure more sustainable use outside the protected areas. Science is showing that not just quantity but also quality of the protected areas matters in the level of protection and enabling conditions under which the areas are created or managed. Equal attention must be given to social and economic outcomes so there is recognition that protected areas bring not only biodiversity benefits but also benefits to people through ecosystem services and through climate adaptation and resilience. Lubchenco referred to new methodology showing the multiple benefits from protected areas that can spill over to adjacent areas.
Bierbaum noted place-based initiatives are important, but scaling is needed, which may require different theories of change. To scale up during this decade, Brondizio called for mutually supportive actions at three levels. First, in the here and now, thousands of sustainability-oriented initiatives at the local level are making a difference in people’s lives and the environment. Supporting these initiatives, as well as implementing existing national policies and international agreements will contribute to start shifting our current trajectory of unequal environmental degradation. Second, we have a decadal challenge to implement both structural and regulatory changes as well as new societal narratives recognizing and addressing a fast-evolving environmental and climate crisis. New narratives, in society, government, and businesses, are already recognizing that moving away from our current destructive development trajectory offers opportunities for more inclusive and sustainable development. He noted the UN meetings scheduled this year, particularly the post-2020 biodiversity agreement and on climate change, are key elements to promote an enabling framework for more sustainable futures. Third, on a longer time frame, reverting these trends calls for a commitment toward a deeper transformation of social norms and our economic systems, so that we acknowledge and internalize our inescapable dependence on nature and moral obligations toward both nature and future generations.
Daily commented on the capacity for nature-based solutions across different international agreements. Nature-based solutions, she explained, provide a lens through which to strengthen action for ecosystems, undertake conservation and regeneration at scale, and target investments in an integrated way. Citing Belize’s green and inclusive development plan as an example, nature-based solutions also open cross-sector, nontraditional partnerships and new financing. She added that public-facing multilateral banks stand out as leading many of these innovations at scale but cofinancing from private-sector institutions is urgently needed.
Public-private partnerships are needed because public money is not enough, Bierbaum observed. For scaling up, the leading role of government is still needed in public investment, regulations, incentives, and price signals, Stiglitz said. To motivate to scale, integrated assessment models that bring together economics and the environment must be improved; he said the most commonly used models were a step forward but do not
fully account for costs, projected temperature rises, or values for future generations. Lubchenco commented COVID-19 provides a potentially transformation moment in time, and “we dare not squander it.” She suggested using economic and social incentives to change behaviors to take advantage of the current situation and scale. Complex adaptive systems in the oceans that pay attention to feedbacks are important, she said, noting that governments have used changes of incentives that have led from overfishing to sustainable fisheries. Incentives matter, and understanding how to use them to get to more sustainable practices and policies.
In closing comments, Brondizio stressed that biosphere stewardship cannot be considered without supporting and including Indigenous Peoples and local communities. “There are almost a half-billion Indigenous Peoples in the world. They manage over 25 percent of the Earth’s land surface. That’s where the most conserved ecosystems are. That’s where almost 40 percent of the protected areas are. Their contributions to agrobiodiversity, to food production, to managing fisheries, and to managing watersheds broadly impact society. Their ways of understanding and interacting with nature are sources of inspiration for the larger society. We need to bring them front and center to this conversation.” Daily called attention to Gross Ecosystem Product, recently approved by the United Nations as a metric for global use. Now being deployed in an experimental phase, it can help measure, report, and manage natural capital to connect with policy incentives and other mechanisms to drive investments in nature. Stiglitz reinforced the need for incentives that are transparent and encompass social norms. He also warned about a K-shaped recovery after COVID-19, in which the gap between rich and poor grows wider.19
“The long-term potential of humanity depends upon our ability today to value our common future. Ultimately, this means valuing the resilience of societies and the resilience of Earth’s biosphere.” This excerpt comes from a statement signed by more than 125 Nobel Prize laureates and other experts titled “Our Planet, Our Future: An Urgent Call for Action.” The statement was not a consensus document issued by the summit, but members of the steering committee drafted it and presented it to Academic Science participants for discussion. It offers proposals in seven areas: policy, mission-driven innovation, education, information technology, finance and business, scientific collaboration, and knowledge (see Appendix D for the full statement).
The sessions closed with remarks from the same representatives who opened the summit on April 26 (see Chapter 1). Vidar Helgesen observed that, from his background in politics, he used to think of science as long term and slow, and governance as short term and more responsive to immediate demands. However, he said, science and innovation are now outpacing public decision-making. “In this time of profound planetary crisis and the complexity of the solutions, we don’t have time to waste,” he said. Scientific leadership is needed, he said. To him, a takeaway challenge from the summit is the need for a more continuous relationship between scientists and policy makers.
19 For a description of K-shaped recovery, see, e.g., https://www.investopedia.com/k-shaped-recovery-5080086.
Marcia McNutt agreed with the need for a connection between science and policy, but expanded the point to emphasize a need for a connection between science and the public. “We have seen time and again, politicians are a reflection of their electorate. They will not make decisions that they feel do not have the backing of their constituents,” she commented. She echoed the comments made during the summit that scientists must avoid jargon and talk plainly with the public. Without public support, she said, innovation tools that have been developed will not be able to be deployed, citing GMO (genetically modified organism) crops to deal with pests and climate change as an example. “This summit can be a great platform for better communication not just to policy makers but to everyone on the globe that we have big problems, but we also have awesome solutions. If we don’t engage with them from the beginning, the narrative will be taken away from us,” she stated.
Johan Rockström pointed to the evidence discussed during the summit about the need to reboot humanity’s relationship with planet Earth. “Our only way to reconnect with planet Earth is through science,” he said. “And we have to do it at speed. That is the challenge. How do we reboot humanity at speed for transformation? The summit has provided some insights.” He expressed hope that the partnership among the organizations continues in the future.
Carl Folke thanked the presenters and participants in the Main Stage and Academic Science sessions. He noted the different entry points and perspectives that converged toward a consensus about the big challenges. “That was a breakthrough,” he said. “We are clear that some kind of profound transformation in our relation with the planet is deeply required. We as scientists have a critical role to play—not just by delivering the knowledge but as active parties in collaborating and producing it together with other actors. That’s a fascinating insight that is emerging and is triggered by the urgency of the situation.”
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