• A personal note on IGBP and the social sciences

    Humans are an integral component of the Earth system as conceptualised by IGBP. João Morais recalls key milestones in IGBP’s engagement with the social sciences and offers some words of advice for Future Earth.
  • IGBP and Earth observation:
    a co-evolution

    The iconic images of Earth beamed back by the earliest spacecraft helped to galvanise interest in our planet’s environment. The subsequent evolution and development of satellites for Earth observation has been intricately linked with that of IGBP and other global-change research programmes, write Jack Kaye and Cat Downy .
Published: March 26, 2012
Planet under Pressure organizers and Policy Brief authors are available for interviews. The Policy Briefs are accessible online and corresponding scientific White Papers are published in a special open issue of the journal Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability

Science for Policy: Recommendations for Navigating the Anthropocene

Nine Policy Briefs to help inform policy agenda in next decade


Mr. Owen Gaffney
+46 8 673 9556
+46 730 208 418

Ms. Anne Kathrin Raab
+44 792 160 9742
+49 228 815 0616

Press release |
International science community has published a series of Policy Briefs for the United Nations Rio+20 conference in June 2012.
“Rio+20 is an opportunity for progress. We commissioned these nine briefs to summarise scientific findings relevant to the Rio+20 agenda: the green economy and sustainable development.” says Nobel Laureate Professor Elinor Ostrom, the conference chief scientific advisor. “They cover a variety of topics, but a key feature of all briefs is the need for an interconnected approach to addressing our global challenges.”

The final four briefs for the series, released at the London Planet Under Pressure conference today, focus on energy security, green economy, health and wellbeing. Five Policy Briefs, published in late 2011, deal with interconnected risks and solutions, international governance for sustainable development, water security, food security and biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Key findings

Energy security and global environmental change
Global energy systems play a key role in the transformation to sustainability. “For a sustainable future, by 2050, between 60 and 80% of the world’s primary energy supply must come from low-carbon energy sources, either non-combustible renewables, nuclear power, hydropower, possibly bio-energy, and fossil fuels and bio-energy with carbon capture and storage. Currently, however, more than 80% of the energy comes from unabated fossil fuels” says one of the policy brief lead author Professor Detlef van Vuuren, Utrecht University.

Challenges include providing energy access for the poor, reducing environmental im-pacts of energy use while ensuring energy security. “Addressing these challenges si-multaneously will require a fundamental transformation of the energy system and organising the governance systems that could support such a transformation,” says co-lead author Professor Keywan Riahi, IIASA.

“This requires a long-term vision and associated short-term targets including more integrated policy-making, more effective and stronger policy incentives, and new, transparent decision-making that builds acceptance for major transformational changes in the energy systems at all levels.” says co-lead author Professor Nebojsa Nakicenovic, TU Wien and IIASA.

Pathways towards a Green Economy
A successful green economy will require more than technological innovation, it will need a societal transformation process, according to the policy brief on the green economy. Societies, the authors argue, need to draw up a new global social contract.

“We need to establish a common set of rules for the global economic system based on sustainability and wellbeing. We need new economic measures of progress beyond GDP,” said lead author Professor Anantha Duraiappah, Executive Director of the International Human Dimensions Programme (IHDP).

“We must move from GDP per capita to inclusive wealth, which measures the productive base of a country while keeping track of natural, social, human and produced capital,” he added.

The brief suggests the international scientific community should provide recommendations to redesign trade rules, financial flows and investment within the context of planetary boundaries and the wellbeing of all people. This includes the need to go beyond simply measuring the economic output or income of countries and to compute inclusive wealth accounts as a new macroeconomic indicator to guide economic development towards sustainability.

Human wellbeing as key for a more sustainable future
In times of unprecedented food, energy, economic and security crises, there is a strong need for urgent, innovative solutions on a global scale to enhance human wellbeing. The wellbeing policy brief sets out key messages to guide humanity on the road to a more sustainable socioeconomic and ecological future.

“Wellbeing goes beyond simple material prosperity and cannot be measured by income,” explains lead author Professor Anantha Duraiappah, Executive Director, IHDP. “It includes notions of security, spiritual health, personal freedom, and the surety to feel well - both physically and emotionally.”

To improve worldwide human wellbeing, reducing absolute poverty is essential, but not sufficient. Reducing inequality is a crucial step towards wellbeing. This will re-quire a paradigm shift: away from economic growth, competitiveness and personal gain towards shared wellbeing.

Health in a changing natural environment
"Human health is an important but under-recognised goal of sustainable develop-ment. We will bear the burden of ill health from global environmental changes well before we reach any obvious biophysical ‘tipping point’ in our Earth Systems. We al-ready have enough evidence to show that we can choose environmental policies, strategies and technologies that benefit health and benefit the environment - locally and globally." states lead author Dr. Sari Korvats, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

The original Rio Declaration stated that all people are "entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature". We know that health burdens from environmental pollution and environmental degradation are unequally distributed - and these inequalities are likely to get worse and not better, even with economic development. Eating less animal products, switching to active transport, providing clean energy, will all protect health and ensure progress towards sustainable development. Monitoring human health indicators will enable us to evaluate progress towards sustainable development.

All nine Policy Briefs will be officially presented by a high-level scientific panel moderated by Georgios Kostakos, Deputy Director of the UN Secretary General’s Global Sustainability Panel, at the Planet Under Pressure conference, Monday, March 26, 2012, 1.00-1.40pm British Summer Time, Plenary Hall.

A parallel suite of scientific white papers is published in a special issue of the Journal Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability Volume 4, Issue 1 – selected pp. 1-158 (February 2012).

Note to Editors

The research discussed in the press release, the conclusions drawn and the opinions offered are those of individual speakers or research teams at the Planet Under Pres-sure conference.

*The Anthropocene
The Anthropocene as a new geological epoch was first proposed in 2000 by Dutch Nobel Laureate Professor Paul Crutzen and US academic Professor Eugene Stoermer (1934-2012). Crutzen, Stoermer and others argued that the vast human enterprise now rivals the great geological forces of nature.

More information about Planet under Pressure Conference
The international science conference will be the biggest gathering of global environ-mental change specialists in advance of the United Nations Rio+20 Summit: 2,500 scientists, policymakers, industry and media representatives will meet to hear the latest research findings on the state of the planet and discuss concepts for planetary stewardship and societal and economic transformation towards global sustainability.

More information on the web:

Follow the conference via Live web streaming, daily news show and live audio feeds:


*Planet under Pressure Conference Organizers

International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme
IGBP provides essential international scientific leadership and knowledge of the Earth system to help guide society onto a sustainable pathway during rapid global change.

By linking biology, ecology and social sciences, DIVERSITAS produces socially relevant new knowledge to support sustainable use of biodiversity. www.diversitas-international.org

International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change
IHDP provides international leadership in framing, developing and integrating social science research on global environmental change, and promotes key findings of this research to help address these challenges. www.ihdp.unu.edu

World Climate Research Programme
WCRP improves climate predictions and our understanding of human influence on climate through observations and modeling of the Earth system and the policy-relevant assessment of climate conditions. www.wcrp-climate.org

Earth System Science Partnership
ESSP is a partnership of the four international global change programmes. It is an integrated study of the Earth System, the ways that it is changing, and the implications for global and regional sustainability. www.essp.org

International Council for Science,
scientific sponsor of the conference
ICSU is a non-governmental body with a global membership of national scientific bodies (120 Members, representing 140 countries) and International Scientific Unions (31 Members). Its mission is to strengthen international science for the benefit of society. www.icsu.org

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IGBP closed at the end of 2015. This website is no longer updated.

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