Students demonstrate holding signs reading "There is no Planet B" during the Fridays for Future climate strikes in May 2019.

Students demonstrate holding signs reading "There is no Planet B" during the Fridays for Future climate strikes in May 2019. (Photo: Kay Nietfeld/picture alliance via Getty Images)

126 Nobel Laureates Warn 'Humanity Taking Colossal Risks With Our Common Future'

Ahead of G7, coalition of luminaries says "new relationship with the planet" and "transformational action this decade" absolutely necessary.

A group of 126 Nobel laureates and other experts on Thursday called on the leaders of the G7 nations and the United Nations secretary-general to help put the global community on a path to establishing "a new relationship with the planet," as the world continues to battle the Covid-19 pandemic and faces a coming decade which will be "decisive" in determining whether the Earth remains habitable.

Nobel Prize laureates including Leymah Gwobee, May-Britt Moser, and Joseph Stiglitz signed a statement titled "Our Planet, Our Future: An Urgent Call to Action" ahead of the G7 Summit and following the first-ever Nobel Prize Summit, where winners of the annual awards discussed what can be done between now and 2030 "to put the world on a path to a more sustainable, more prosperous future for all."

The laureates met amid the pandemic, a global crisis of inequality which was exacerbated and brought into stark relief by the public health emergency, ecological and climate crises, and an "information crisis."

"It is an inescapable conclusion that inequality and global sustainability challenges are deeply linked," the letter reads. "Reducing inequality will positively impact collective decision-making."
--126 Nobel Prize laureates

"These supranational crises are interlinked and threaten the enormous gains we have made in human progress," said the signatories. "It is particularly concerning that the parts of the world projected to experience many of the compounding negative effects from global changes are also home to many of the world's poorest communities, and to indigenous peoples."

At the G7 Summit taking place in Cornwall, England starting on June 11, the laureates said, the leaders of some of the world's wealthiest and most powerful nations must consider how all the current global crises are intertwined and how they can be mitigated during the Anthropocene--the current geological epoch in which "human societies are now the prime driver of change in Earth's living sphere" and which is "likely to be characterized by speed, scale, and shock at global levels."

As the G7 nations prepare to meet, the world--especially developing nations--is still facing "the greatest global shock since the Second World War"--the Covid-19 pandemic--the letter stated. Reducing the risk of fast-spreading future zoonotic diseases requires a "one health" approach to global wellbeing--one that recognizes "the intimate connections between human health and the health of other animals and the environment."

"Rapid urbanization, agricultural intensification, overexploitation, and habitat loss of large wildlife all promote the abundance of small mammals, such as rodents," the laureates said, echoing the recent warnings of experts including Jane Goodall. "Additionally, these land-use changes lead animals to shift their activities from natural ecosystems to farmlands, urban parks, and other human-dominated areas, greatly increasing contact with people and the risk of disease transmission."

While threatening global health, the pandemic has also been calamitous for inequality around the world--with people in poor nations unable to access vaccines that are currently protecting large segments of the populations of wealthy nations. Some of the richest people on Earth have accumulated more wealth since the pandemic began as workers suffer from unemployment and financial insecurity.

At the same time, the laureates wrote, "climate change is expected to further exacerbate inequality. Already, the poorest, often living in vulnerable communities, are hit hardest by the impacts of climate, and live with the damaging health impacts of energy systems, for example air pollution. Furthermore, although urbanization has brought many societal benefits, it is also exacerbating existing, and creating new, inequities."

"It is an inescapable conclusion that inequality and global sustainability challenges are deeply linked," the letter stated. "Reducing inequality will positively impact collective decision-making."

The laureates demanded a "decade of action," noting that the world's carbon budget for not exceeding 1.5degC global warming is currently expected to be exhausted by 2030.

"The next decade is crucial: Global greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut by half and destruction of nature halted and reversed. An essential foundation for this transformation is to address destabilizing inequalities in the world. Without transformational action this decade, humanity is taking colossal risks with our common future," the letter read. "We must act on the urgency, the scale, and the interconnectivity between us and our home, planet Earth."

The experts credited 193 countries with adopting United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which are due to be completed by the end of this decade, and noted that sustainable energy sources "are similar in price to fossil fuel alternatives or cheaper--and getting cheaper."

"The question at a global systems level today is not whether humanity will transition away from fossil fuels," they wrote. "The question is: Will we do it fast enough?"

The laureates offered seven proposals for the G7 leaders to consider this month as they convene for a summit which officials have claimed will take seriously the threats posed by the climate and ecological crises:

  • Policy: Complement GDP as a metric of economic success with measures of true well-being of people and nature. Recognize that increasing disparities between rich and poor feed resentment and distrust, undermining the social contract necessary for difficult, long-term collective decision-making. Recognize that the deteriorating resilience of ecosystems undermines the future of humanity on Earth.
  • Mission-driven innovation: Economic dynamism is needed for rapid transformation. Governments have been at the forefront of funding transformational innovation in the last 100 years. The scale of today's challenges will require large-scale collaboration between researchers, government, and business -- with a focus on global sustainability.
  • Education: Education at all ages should include a strong emphasis on the nature of evidence, the scientific method, and scientific consensus to ensure future populations have the grounding necessary to drive political and economic change. Universities should embed concepts of planetary stewardship in all curricula as a matter of urgency. In a transformative, turbulent century, we should invest in life-long learning, and fact-based worldviews.
  • Information technology: Special interest groups and highly partisan media can amplify misinformation and accelerate its spread through social media and other digital means of communication. In this way, these technologies can be deployed to frustrate a common purpose and erode public trust. Societies must urgently act to counter the industrialization of misinformation and find ways to enhance global communication systems in the service of sustainable futures.
  • Finance and business: Investors and companies must adopt principles of recirculation and regeneration of materials and apply science-based targets for all global commons and essential ecosystem services. Economic, environmental, and social externalities should be fairly priced.
  • Scientific collaboration: Greater investment is needed in international networks of scientific institutions to allow sustained collaboration on interdisciplinary science for global sustainability as well as transdisciplinary science that integrates diverse knowledge systems, including local, indigenous, and traditional knowledge.
  • Knowledge: The pandemic has demonstrated the value of basic research to policymakers and the public. Commitment to sustained investment in basic research is essential. In addition, we must develop new business models for the free sharing of all scientific knowledge.

"Humanity is waking up late to the challenges and opportunities of active planetary stewardship. But we are waking up," the laureates wrote. "Politicians and scientists must work together to bridge the divide between expert evidence, short-term politics, and the survival of all life on this planet in the Anthropocene epoch."

"The long-term potential of humanity depends upon our ability today to value our common future," they concluded.

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