Courtesy Johan Rockström

“We still have a chance to bring about a safe future”

We speak to one of the Nobel Prize Summit organisers, Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, about the summit and why it’s happening at such a crucial point in time.

What is the Nobel Prize Summit and why are you organising it?

Johan Rockström: “This is a unique event occurring at a critical juncture in time. We have ample scientific evidence that we’ve entered the Anthropocene – this new geological epoch, where we humans dominate the future of our planet, our home. We have more and more evidence that we are approaching potential irreversible changes in the life support systems on earth, and even in the stability of the entire planet. Today, if we look at climate science, biodiversity research, air pollution, or health related risks like pandemics, we show that we have entered a very decisive decade for humanity’s future.

That is why science now gathers in an unprecedented way together with Nobel Prize laureates – the most respected scholars and thinkers in the world – to express not only the role of science for a transformation towards an equitable and prosperous, sustainable future, but also to explore the solutions.

What can we do and what role can science play, not only in observing and monitoring the pathways towards a sustainable future, but also to find the solutions in agriculture, in construction, in energy, in transport, in food. In all the consumer areas, we need to shift to a new paradigm and find the solutions.

We believe that this is a moment for science to step up and engage much more together with experts, stakeholders, policymakers, civil society, business leaders across the world, in this momentous transformation that we not only need to perform, but that we have more and more evidence that we will gain so much from if we are successful.

Science is a global conference in itself. Knowledge is for all of us. To share that together for the future of humanity is a core purpose of the summit.”

Why is this moment in time so crucial? 

“Many stakeholders across the world recognise that 2020 was the super year.

Why was it baptised the super year? Well before the pandemic, science had shown clearly that it was the last year to start bending the global curves of emission of greenhouse gases, halting the loss of biodiversity. Why? Because we know that the safe landing zone is a net zero greenhouse gas emitting world economy by 2050. And we know that the only chance to land at zero in 30 years time, is if we start bending the curve now. In fact, it means we have to cut global emissions by half over the next 10 years.

That can be accomplished. We know it is possible to do it, but it requires such large changes that it has to start now. That is where the urgency comes from. It’s not urgent because we are about to fall off a cliff and see the planet just fall into disaster. It is because this is our potentially last chance to steer away from that catastrophic, potentially unstoppable future. We still have a chance to bring about a safe future.”

Can I take part in the summit myself?

“The fantastic unique feature of this meeting, which of course is a result of the virtual realities we’re all living in during the pandemic is that this is not only a virtual meeting, it’s an open meeting for everyone.

We have two days called the Main Stage that focus on our planet, breakthroughs, different technologies and solutions, and that also look at our future and our pathways to a safe future. It’s a really exciting programme that everyone can get involved in featuring everyone from David Attenborough to the Dalai Lama. As well as talks we’ll have performances, online networking sessions so it’s going to be really interactive two days. Alongside that we also have a deeper science session where Nobel Prize laureates will discuss a scientific statement coming out of the meeting. Then we have a third day with virtual events but hosted by NGOs, companies and different academic institutions, to take the science message coming out of the Nobel Prize Summit into different applied initiatives. Take a look and register, everyone is welcome to join.”

And our final question, what are your hopes about the summit and what will it will achieve for the future?

“We have a chance to start really communicating the story about sustainability as the pathway towards an equitable and prosperous future for humanity if we can take care of our home planet earth. This is not just rhetoric anymore. It’s applied practical solutions and Nobel Prize laureates represent both sides: the deep, basic science, but also the solutions and the innovations. I hope that the Nobel Prize Summit will be the moment where a gradually maturing new narrative on sustainability as a pathway to our future will become more established and mainstream.”

Register now for the Nobel Prize Summit, taking place on 26-28 April 2021.

To cite this section
MLA style: “We still have a chance to bring about a safe future”. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2023. Mon. 2 Oct 2023. <>

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