The two-day dialogue, on 17-18 June, brought together top scientists and thinkers; eminent political, scientific, and civil society figures, and senior officials representing their countries at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development.
The dialogue, hosted by the organizers of the Nobel Symposium series, the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Global Sustainability (GSP), and the Fundação Brasileira para o Desenvolvimento Sustentável, began with a full day of private discussions.
On the second day, after a keynote statement by HRH King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, the organizers issued a declaration, “The Future We Choose”, which they presented to Brice Lalonde, executive coordinator of Rio+20, and to the public.
“The scientific evidence is unequivocal,” warns the declaration, which SEI Research Director Måns Nilsson helped draft. “We are on the threshold of a future with unprecedented environmental risks. The combined effects of climate change, resource scarcity, loss of biodiversity and ecosystem resilience at a time of increased demand, poses a real threat to humanity’s welfare.”
With leadership and determined action, the declaration continues, “a transition to a safe and prosperous future is possible,” but “time is running critically short.”
The signatories urge world leaders to “move beyond aspirational statements and exercise a collective responsibility, seizing the historic opportunity offered by the Rio 2012 summit to set our world on a sustainable path”, and they identify four key areas for action:
- Ensuring responsible planetary stewardship by strengthening the multilateral assessments and institutions for sustainable development at all levels and taking an integrated approach to equity, the economy and the environment.
- Taking urgent action to meet global needs for food, water and energy in a sustainable manner that avoids dangerous climate change, safeguards biodiversity, and manages oceans sustainably.
- Rethinking the economic model by moving beyond GDP as a measure of progress, decoupling growth and prosperity from resource use, encouraging innovation and sustainable long-term investments, and putting a price on natural resources, including carbon.
- Starting a global transformation by fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals, adopting new Sustainable Development Goals, and securing a climate deal that is aligned with the latest science and offers the prospect of a viable and equitable future.
Along with the event organizers, signatories include Tarja Halonen, former President of Finland and co-chair of the High-level Panel on Global Sustainability; Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway, former Director-General of the World Health Organization, and member of The Elders and the GSP; and Yuan-Tseh Lee, Nobel laureate in chemistry and President of the International Council for Science.
A broad-based dialogue
The declaration set the tone for a full day of conversations, hosted by SEI Executive Director Johan L. Kuylenstierna, about sustainable development, the challenges of the Anthropocene, and what world leaders should seek to accomplish in Rio.
Johan Rockström, director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and former director of SEI, moderated a panel discussion with Halonen, Lee, former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and other senior figures from both industrialized and developing nations.
In the afternoon, there was a press conference, followed by a screening of the video “Voices of the Future” – a message for Rio+20 from youth and top thinkers worldwide – and an intergenerational dialogue that brought together veteran leaders in environmental talks, such as Brundtland, with representatives of several youth groups.
Two prominent voices from the original UN Earth Summit, in 1992, joined that conversation: Severn Cullis-Suzuki, who addressed the Rio conference as a child, and Maurice Strong, Secretary-General of the conference.
An ongoing conversation
The Rio+20 events built on the achievements of the Nobel Laureate Symposia on Global Sustainability, which have become a forum for the world’s most respected ambassadors on knowledge and universal values to provide science-based advice on the environmental challenges and opportunities facing humanity.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel hosted the first symposium in Potsdam in 2007, and the second and third symposia were hosted by the Prince of Wales and the King of Sweden, respectively. The results of these three events are three Nobel Memoranda that have been signed by more than 80 Nobel Laureates.
The Nobel Laureates also held a high-level dialogue at the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban last December, co-hosted by South African President Jacob Zuma.
Watch the video ‘Voices of the Future’ (external link to YouTube)