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Top scientific meeting urges coordinated response to economic and environmental crises

A fix for the economy must address ecological threats, a top international scientific meeting here has urged. Human society is moving dangerously beyond the planet's natural limits in a striking parallel to the financial debt crisis.

“We're running the planet like a subprime loan,” Dr. Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Centre said. A coordinated response would reduce the risks of both kinds of crises in the future.

Climate change, water and food scarcity, energy security and dangerous pollution are among urgent and accelerating problems across all aspects of the Earth system, the summit of high profile experts from 22 countries confirmed. Convened by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) and the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP), summit participants noted the alarming fact that global carbon emissions have been increasing faster than any of the IPCC's scenarios from just 5 years ago, according to recent measurements.

“The consequences of the financial breakdown threaten the economic system. The consequences of the breakdown of the ecological system will be far worse in just a slightly longer time frame. Now as you're going to fix a short-term problem, take the opportunity to fix these long-term problems,” said Prof. Thomas B Johansson, a Lund University energy expert who is also Co-Chair of the Global Energy Assessment.

New economic agreements can and should heed natural limits and put the global recovery on a less carbon and resource intensive pathway. Recent economic trends were on course to raise global temperature by 4 to 6 degrees by the year 2100, levels considered catastrophic, according to IPCC projections.

Greener societies would lower risks while providing better quality of life, eliminating poverty and enhancing social coherence. In contrast, using the conventional measure of GDP growth as the lead indicator of national policies “has been badly misleading us,” Prof. Robert Costanza, an ecological economist at the University of Vermont, noted here.

New policies must tackle problems using an integrated Earth systems approach, including all human-environment interactions. Dr. Jill Jäger, senior researcher at the Sustainable Europe Research Institute, explained that what is missing are flexible processes that allow both multi-part dialogue and higher rates of learning to link expert knowledge to action effectively.

“The situation requires urgent action, the equivalent of war-time mobilisation. We need to drive solutions together, through best policies from governments, best practices from industry, and best behaviours from consumers,” commented Mr. Anthony Simon, a former senior Unilever executive now active in networks including the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

The summit, an activity of IGBP’s “The Planet in 2050” research initiative, tasked 4 working groups on energy technology, land-use, culture-development-economy, and interchanges with the Earth system, to define desirable visions of the planet in 2050 and identify pathways, obstacles and opportunities. It will soon publish a public report. “A plan for a sustainable planet is doable,” Prof. Guy Brasseur of the US National Center for Atmospheric Research and one of the meeting's initiators, said. “It requires immediate measures. Long term, it will require different education systems that are conceived around the need to reconcile human beings with the rest of nature.”

Mary Ann Williams | alfa
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