Guest blog: Earth Commission to Identify Risks, Guardrails, and Targets for the Planet

Guest blog by Alistair Scrutton and Kelsey Simpkins of Future Earth

Three of the world’s foremost scientists will co-chair a commission of leading international experts to identify risks and develop a coherent suite of scientific targets to protect Earth’s life support systems.

Johan Rockström, Joyeeta Gupta, and Dahe Qin will co-chair the Earth Commission, comprising an initial 19 members, announced today by the international research organization Future Earth.

The group will begin immediately – and complete by 2021 – a high-level synthesis of scientific knowledge on the biophysical processes that regulate Earth’s stability and targets to ensure this stability. The commission will also explore social transformations required for sustainable development to reach these targets.

The goal, ultimately, is to translate these into tangible science-based targets for Earth, specifically tailored to cities and companies. This translational work will be undertaken by a new Science Based Targets Network (SBTN) comprised of leading NGOs, enabling cities and companies to reduce their impact on and restore our oceans, freshwater, land, and biodiversity.

The aim is to make this standard practice in leading companies and cities by 2025.

“This year’s fires in the Amazon, the rapidly warming Arctic, dying coral reefs, and unprecedented heat waves and floods across the world, are the clearest signals yet that human activities are pushing the planet further and further from the stable state we have enjoyed for 10,000 years,” says Prof. Johan Rockström, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and co-chair of Future Earth.

“To combat climate change, nations have agreed to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees,” says Prof. Qin, director of the Academic Committee of Chinese Academy of Sciences.

“What we lack are comparable objectives for other key climate systems and environmental components that regulate the state of the Earth system and underpin sustainability – water, land, food, biodiversity, chemicals, and others,” adds Qin, also the Co-Chair of Working Group I of the Fourth and Fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Reports.

“The Earth Commission will fill this critical gap, amassing the information needed to create science-based targets for these other essential parts of the Earth system,” Qin adds.

The Earth Commission and the Science Based Targets Network are parts of the Global Commons Alliance, a network of organizations aiming to transform our economic systems to ensure our planet remains habitable. The alliance, launched in June, includes Earth HQ, a media portal for the planet, which will share the big picture of how Earth Systems are performing and tracking progress towards solutions.

“We will work closely with SBTN to ensure our analysis is useful and implementable, and how our analysis can provide guidance for development at, for example, a river basin scale,” says Rockström.

Over 630 companies are already using science to commit how much and how quickly they need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions through the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) set up in 2014.

The Earth Commission will build on and complement existing assessments, such as those conducted by the IPCC and Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

Dr. Gupta, Professor of Environment and Development in the Global South at the University of Amsterdam: “The UN Sustainable Development Goals are largely aspirational. The Commission’s analysis will identify practical science-based targets that help realize these aspirations and deliver on Agenda 2030 to leave no one behind.”

“The Earth Commission’s work will also help inform intergovernmental treaty and/or policy negotiation processes such as those on biodiversity, desertification, and transboundary water,” adds Gupta, who also co-chaired the recent UN Environment’s Global Environmental Outlook-6.

The 19 commissioners include leading scientists in both natural and social sciences from 13 countries: Argentina, Australia (2), China (2), France, Germany (2), Ghana, India, Japan, Kenya, Netherlands (2), the United Kingdom, and the United States (4).

CO-CHAIRS

  • Johan Rockström, Professor in Earth System Science and Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Co-Chair of Future Earth’s Advisory Committee
  • Joyeeta Gupta, Professor of Environment and Development in the Global South, University of Amsterdam and IHE Institute for Water Education in Delft
  • Dahe Qin, Director of the Academic Committee of Chinese Academy of Sciences


MEMBERS

  • Xuemei Bai, Expert in urbanization and sustainability, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, Australia; co-chair Future Earth’s Urban Knowledge-Action Network
  • Govindasamy Bala, Expert in climate and the carbon cycle, Indian Institute of Science, India
  • Stuart Bunn, Professor and Director, Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University, Australia
  • Fabrice DeClerck, Expert in food systems and biodiversity, sustainable production and healthy consumption, France; Science Director EAT, Senior Scientist Alliance of Biodiversity, CIAT.
  • Sandra Diaz, Expert in biodiversity and plant ecology and ecosystems ecology. Professor at Córdoba National University and Investigador Superior at the Argentine National Research Council (CONICET), Argentina, and co-chair of the 2019 IPBES Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services
  • Kristie Ebi, Expert in health risks and climate change, University of Washington, USA; co-chair Future Earth’s Health Knowledge-Action Network
  • Peng Gong, Expert in Global environment monitoring, modeling and planetary health, Tsinghua University, China, member Future Earth Advisory Committee
  • Christopher Gordon, Expert in coastal wetland and integrated river basin management, CDKN, CEL Institute for Environment and Sanitation Studies, University of Ghana
  • Benjamin Halpern, Expert in marine conservation, National Center for Ecological Analysis & Synthesis, UC Santa Barbara, USA
  • Norichika Kanie, Expert in sustainable development goals, Earth system governance, Keio University, Japan
  • Tim Lenton, Expert in tipping points, climate modeling, Global Systems Institute, University of Exeter, UK; Future Earth’s Analysis, Integration and Modeling of the Earth System Project
  • Diana Liverman, Expert in climate vulnerability and adaptation, University of Arizona, USA
  • David Obura, Expert in coral reef ecology, CORDIO East Africa, Kenya
  • Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Expert in atmospheric sciences, air pollution, University of California, USA
  • Peter Verburg, Expert in land change, social-ecological dynamics, Vrije Universiteit, Netherlands, former Chair of Future Earth’s Global Land Programme
  • Ricarda Winkelmann, Expert in ice sheet dynamics, tipping points, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany


Future Earth will host the Earth Commission’s scientific secretariat in collaboration with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).

The Earth Commission and the Science Based Targets Network are parts of the Global Commons Alliance, a network of organizations aiming to ensure our planet remains habitable.

The Earth HQ (under construction at globalcommonsalliance.org), will serve as a media portal for the planet, sharing an overall picture of how Earth Systems are performing and track progress.

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