The Durban Vision Statement – unprecedented transformation required for global sustainability

December 15th, 2011 by Stockholm Environment Institute

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Looking ahead to Rio+20 and future climate negotiations, four of the world’s leading research institutes on global sustainability have released a statement calling on world leaders to “adopt a new mindset to listen to the voice of science and knowledge and address the unavoidable interconnections between global sustainability, poverty eradication, social justice and economic development in an environmentally constrained world.”

The four research institutes are: Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC), Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).

The Durban Vision Statement formed the backdrop to a high-level dialogue between top leaders in climate science and policy, co-hosted with South African President Jacob Zuma and Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, the COP17 President, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference.

“It’s significant that COP17 concluded that there should be a globally binding agreement to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. But the pace and ambition of the deal in Durban does not match the scientific evidence.

The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report clearly shows that if we wish to limit temperature increase to between 2.0–2.4 °C, along a least cost trajectory, we would have to ensure that carbon dioxide emissions peak no later than 2015,” says Johan Rockström, Executive Director of the Stockholm Environment Institute and the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

“What is more, scientific research is demonstrating that a safe climate future will not be achieved through emission reductions alone. In this context, we cannot wait for a global climate deal. We urgently need a world transition to global sustainability.”

The discussions during the high-level dialogue, which drew more than 100 people, including negotiators from developed and developing countries, highlighted the gap between what the science shows is needed to keep global warming under 2°C and what has been achieved so far in international climate negotiations.

“I believe we should spark interest in the science of climate change and on knowledge that has been developed in the field. Climate negotiations need to listen to the voice of science on sustainability, and get away from short term and narrow interests. We can never meet the challenge of climate change in the Anthropocene with such a sterile approach,” said IPCC Chair Rajendra Pachauri.

“The recently released IPCC report on extreme events has demonstrated that a delay in action could lead to more frequent heat waves and extreme precipitation events as well as other extreme events, including in some of the most vulnerable areas and among some of the world’s poorest communities. The global community has to be sensitive to these scientific realities.”

“Humanity has never been so profoundly aware of climate change and of the necessity of reducing emissions to save the next generation,” South Africa’s President Zuma said during the dialogue. “The level of ambition on climate change should meet the demands of science.”

Participants in the dialogue also emphasized the importance of taking an integrated approach to climate change, development, poverty reduction, and global sustainability, and of recognizing them as closely connected, not competing, priorities. “Climate and development go hand in hand,” said Nkoana-Mashabane, COP17 President and South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation.

“Staying below 2°C global warming is not just an environmental goal, but a crucial development goal,” says Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “Beyond that line, the world could move into climate chaos, crossing many tipping points, like the meltdown of the big ice sheets and the disruption of the Asian and African monsoon systems.”

“Global sustainability is a prerequisite to avoid a human-induced temperature rise of more than 2°C. Conserving biodiversity, sustainable management of our landscapes and seascapes, reduction of pollution and nutrient overload – all of these goals need to be integrated with our responses to climate change”, says Johan Rockström. “It is thus critical that future climate negotiations support these goals and connect with other UN-led efforts to promote sustainable development.”

Lord Nicholas Stern, whose work on the economics of climate change has helped reshape the global climate debate, also participated in the discussion.

“Climate change and global sustainability are urgent issues that require immediate action – they cannot be delayed by endless political wrangling,” Stern says.

“All countries must play their part, and move away from unsustainable development and carbon-intensive energy production and consumption.

Given the urgent challenge of overcoming world poverty, we must follow the Cancun principle of ‘equitable access to sustainable development’ which guided discussions in Durban. Thus, given the disparities in wealth and resources in our world, it is clear that developed countries will have to take the lead in terms of finance, technology and investment.

It is only by finding our way to low-carbon growth and development that we can secure the future of our planet for all and overcome the challenge of world poverty.”

The goal of the High-level Dialogue and Adaptation Round Table, held in Durban on 6 December 2011, was to position climate change negotiations within the broader agenda of sustainable development.

Along with those quoted above, participants included Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner for Climate Action; Lena Ek, Sweden’s Minister for the Environment; Mohamed Gharib Bilal,Vice President of Tanzania; Peter Kent, Canada’s Minister of the Environment; and some of the best minds in climate science, sustainable development and policy. The event was supported by United Postcode Lotteries and Sekunjalo Development Foundation.

The Durban Vision Statement builds on ideas discussed at the 3rd Nobel Laureate Symposium on Global Sustainability, held in Stockholm in May 2011 and hosted by Johan Rockström, Executive Director of the Stockholm Environment Institute and the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who initiated the Nobel Laureate Symposium series.

The Symposium concluded with the signing of The Stockholm Memorandum by the Nobel Laureates, which was handed over in person to the High-level Panel on Global Sustainability appointed by the UN Secretary General, Co-Chaired by President Zuma.


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