NEWS 2021-04-29

First science session of the Nobel Prize summit

The digital Nobel Prize Summit brought together Nobel Prize Laureates, scientists, policymakers, business leaders, and youth leaders to explore what can be achieved to put the world on a path to a more sustainable, more prosperous future for all of humanity. The first of two science sessions focused on the role of science in supporting transformations towards global sustainability.

© Nobel Prize Outreach. Photo frontpage: Clément Morin

Designed for Nobel Prize Laureates and other scientific experts, the science session focused on the role of science in supporting transformations towards global sustainability and resilient societies.The broadcast started in Stockholm University’s grand lecture hall Aula Magna with strong opening remarks from Göran K. Hansson, secretary general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and HRH Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, UN ambassador for global sustainability.

“We need to mobilise all sectors and all strata of society”, Göran Hansson urged. “It’s a daunting task to transform towards global sustainability, but it can be done,” he concluded.

The Crown Princess invoked the image of the giant ship recently blocking the Suez canal, and how after days of tugging and digging with, in comparison, tiny escavators, it was the tide that finally came to the rescue.

“Despite all our human efforts, in the end we depend on nature to help us”, she said.

Four keynotes setting the stage

The first keynote presentation was held by Beijer Institute director Carl Folke, summarizing the key messages from a White Paper commissioned for the Nobel Prize Summit.

Professor Folke, also chair of the Stockolm Resilience Centre board and member of the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS), as well as it’s Swedish counterpart, was the lead author of the paper, recently published in Ambio.

Read the White Paper

“We need to shift development pathways of society”, he said, pointing out that biosphere stewardship” also includes how we organise our societies. Not least when it comes to battling inequality. “To really be able to collaborate we need trust and social capital. Inequality is a counter force in this space”, Carl Folke emphasised.

The second keynote was from professor Pamela Matson at Stanford University, who listed six capacities that need to be in place to enable sustainability: Capacity to adapt to shocks, to transform systems, to measure progress, to govern collaboratively, to turn knowledge into action, and to foster equity.

Sir Partha Dasgupta from University of Cambridge, Beijer Fellow and first chair of the Beijer Institute board, focused on the economics of biodiversity.
He called for three broad and interconnected transitions based on his recent report “The Dasgupta Review”:

1) balance humanity’s demand with nature’s supply, and increase supply relative to its current level
2) change our measures of economic success
3) transform our institutions and systems.

Read the review

Furthermore, Partha Dasgupta called to abolish misguided subsidies that harm the environment:
“It is a institutional failure”, he said, “Nature is our home, but we pay ourselves to exploit rather than protect our home.”

Jane Lubchenco, marine ecologist and newly appointed Deputy Director for Climate and Environment in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, pointed to the importance of narratives to take the right actions:

“The ocean narrative that have existed for thousands of years is that the is so vast that it is too big to fail. ” “This mindset persists today. And drives even greater and unsustainable exploitation.” “We are seeing graphic evidence of the folly of this narrative.”
However, Jane Lubchenco, who also is a Beijer Fellow warned that a second and equally harmful narrative about the ocean has emerged, that the depletion has gone too far and the ocean is too vast to fix. This narrative is also applied by many on the climate issue, and risks leading to inertia.

“But a much needed third narrative, building on the powerful solutions that already exists, is on the rise”, Lubchenco said.

“The ocean is so central to our future, it is too important to neglect.”

The keynotes speeches were then commented by the editors-in-chiefs from three of the most prestigious science journals in the world, Richard Horton of The Lancet, Magdalena Skipper of Nature and Holden Thorpe of Science.

Panel dialogue with the sight set on solutions

Professor Rosina Bierbaum of University of Maryland moderated a panel dialogue that touched upon a broad set of issues such as existential risks, systems thinking, leapfrogging technologies in developing countries, the need for new narratives, clean electricity and other global solutions.

Below are some selected quotes from the panellists:

Yuan Tseh Lee, NAS and Nobel Laureate in chemistry:

“We are citizens of a global system. We face global problems and we will need global solutions, like a global carbon tax.”

McNutt, President NAS:
“must help developing nations go towards solutions that are cheaper, better for the environment and better for the people themselves.”

Brian Schmidt, NAS and Nobel Laureate in physics:
“We have huge opportunities looking at how to make cities more liveable for humans and nature”.

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK):
“There are many existential systemic risks in the pipeline, and science has to look for them.”

Finally, Yuan Tseh Lee, reflected on several philosophical issues, and he emphasised one seemingly simple solution that may be the most difficult of all:

“Encourage people to live better with less. “