June 27, 2011

ASU faculty issue sustainability call at Nobel Symposium

Posted: June 27, 2011
Headshot of Dean van der Leeuw
School of Sustainability Dean Sander van der Leeuw
Headshot of Elinor Ostrom
Distinguished Sustainability Scientist Elinor Ostrom

ASU scientists sign Stockhold Memorandum, call for global sustainability action

ASU’s Sander van der Leeuw and Elinor Ostrom joined Nobel Laureates, policymakers, and leading sustainability experts at the Third Nobel Laureate Symposium on Sustainability held at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm May 16-19, 2011. The symposium was hosted and supported by HM King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.

The four-day meeting culminated in the Stockholm Memorandum: “Tipping the Scales Toward Sustainability.” This document was signed by key Nobel laureates and handed over to the High-level Panel on Global Sustainability appointed by the UN Secretary General. Conclusions from the UN Panel will feed into the preparations for the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro and into ongoing climate negotiations.

The Stockholm Memorandum noted that humans are now the most significant driver of global change and are transgressing important planetary boundaries that have kept civilization safe for the past 10,000 years. It called for coherent global action to reverse negative environmental trends and redress inequalities while also creating long-term structural solutions that gradually change values, institutions, and policy frameworks.

Among the top priorities cited by the memorandum were changing people’s mindset into a sustainability-oriented one, reaching a more equitable world, managing the climate-energy challenge, creating an efficiency revolution, ensuring affordable food for all, moving beyond green growth, reducing human pressures, strengthening Earth System Governance, and enacting a new contract between science and society.

ASU's van der Leeuw, dean of the School of Sustainability, co-authored one of the symposium’s three key working papers that provided the basis for talks leading to the Stockholm Memorandum. That paper addressed using social and technological innovation to mobilize action toward sustainability. He also participated at the symposium as one of about 30 invited scientists.

Ostrom, a 2009 Nobel Prize winner, co-authored another key working paper, “Reconnecting to the Biosphere,” which analyzes the role of ecosystems and the services they provide as the basis for society. She also participated in a panel discussion on planetary opportunities for global sustainability.

Both van der Leeuw (who is Dean of the School of Sustainability) and Ostrom are Distinguished Sustainability Scientists in the Global Institute of Sustainability and members of the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences — van der Leeuw as director and professor and Ostrom as research professor and founding director of the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity.

The Third Nobel Laureate Symposium continued a series of biannual meetings on global sustainability initiated in 2007. The first meeting was held at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and was hosted by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The second meeting followed in 2009 at St. James Palace under the auspices of the Prince of Wales.

“At this third meeting,” said van der Leeuw, “the Nobel Laureates were able to shift the agenda from being primarily focused on climate mitigation and adaptation to a more encompassing look at how we can transform the physical and social world by linking innovation and incentives to sustainability.”

For this goal, participants took a transdisciplinary and systems approach to the sustainability challenges of the world.

Among the topics discussed at the symposium were how societies can be innovative while boosting (rather than reducing) the planet’s resilience, and how to increase biodiversity, be stewards of ecosystems, and increase the options for human welfare on Earth.

Rick Heffernon, RICK.HEFFERNON@asu.edu
Global Institute of Sustainability