The Stockholm Memorandum

In May this year, the 3rd Nobel Laureate Symposium produced a document called The Stockholm Memorandum signed by 17 Nobel laureates, presumably from among these participants. It’s a clear call to action, so I’ll reproduce it all here.

I. Mind-shift for a Great Transformation

The Earth system is complex. There are many aspects that we do not yet understand. Nevertheless, we are the first generation with the insight of the new global risks facing humanity.

We face the evidence that our progress as the dominant species has come at a very high price. Unsustainable patterns of production, consumption, and population growth are challenging the resilience of the planet to support human activity. At the same time, inequalities between and within societies remain high, leaving behind billions with unmet basic human needs and disproportionate vulnerability to global environmental change.

This situation concerns us deeply. As members of the 3rd Nobel Laureate Symposium we call upon all leaders of the 21st century to exercise a collective responsibility of planetary stewardship. This means laying the foundation for a sustainable and equitable global civilization in which the entire Earth community is secure and prosperous.

Science indicates that we are transgressing planetary boundaries that have kept civilization safe for the past 10,000 years. Evidence is growing that human pressures are starting to overwhelm the Earth’s buffering capacity.

Humans are now the most significant driver of global change, propelling the planet into a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. We can no longer exclude the possibility that our collective actions will trigger tipping points, risking abrupt and irreversible consequences for human communities and ecological systems.

We cannot continue on our current path. The time for procrastination is over. We cannot afford the luxury of denial. We must respond rationally, equipped with scientific evidence.

Our predicament can only be redressed by reconnecting human development and global sustainability, moving away from the false dichotomy that places them in opposition.

In an interconnected and constrained world, in which we have a symbiotic relationship with the planet, environmental sustainability is a precondition for poverty eradication, economic development, and social justice.

Our call is for fundamental transformation and innovation in all spheres and at all scales in order to stop and reverse global environmental change and move toward fair and lasting prosperity for present and future generations.

II. Priorities for Coherent Global Action

We recommend a dual track approach:

a) emergency solutions now, that begin to stop and reverse negative environmental trends and redress inequalities in the inadequate institutional frameworks within which we operate, and

b) long term structural solutions that gradually change values, institutions and policy frameworks. We need to support our ability to innovate, adapt, and learn.

1. Reaching a more equitable world

Unequal distribution of the benefits of economic development are at the root of poverty. Despite efforts to address poverty, more than a third of the world’s population still live on less than $2 per day. This needs our immediate attention. Environment and development must go hand in hand. We need to:

• Achieve the Millennium Development Goals, in the spirit of the Millennium Declaration, recognising that global sustainability is a precondition of success.

• Adopt a global contract between industrialized and developing countries to scale up investment in approaches that integrate poverty reduction, climate stabilization, and ecosystem stewardship.

2. Managing the climate – energy challenge

We urge governments to agree on global emission reductions guided by science and embedded in ethics and justice. At the same time, the energy needs of the three billion people who lack access to reliable sources of energy need to be fulfilled. Global efforts need to:

• Keep global warming below 2°C, implying a peak in global CO2 emissions no later than 2015 and recognise that even a warming of 2°C carries a very high risk of serious impacts and the need for major adaptation efforts.

• Put a sufficiently high price on carbon and deliver the G-20 commitment to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, using these funds to contribute to the several hundred billion US dollars per year needed to scale up investments in renewable energy.

3. Creating an efficiency revolution

We must transform the way we use energy and materials. In practice this means massive efforts to enhance energy efficiency and resource productivity, avoiding unintended secondary consequences. The “throw away concept” must give way to systematic efforts to develop circular material flows. We must:

• Introduce strict resource efficiency standards to enable a decoupling of economic growth from resource use.

• Develop new business models, based on radically improved energy and material efficiency.

4. Ensuring affordable food for all

Current food production systems are often unsustainable, inefficient and wasteful, and increasingly threatened by dwindling oil and phosphorus resources, financial speculation, and climate impacts. This is already causing widespread hunger and malnutrition today. We can no longer afford the massive loss of biodiversity and reduction in carbon sinks when ecosystems are converted into cropland. We need to:

• Foster a new agricultural revolution where more food is produced in a sustainable way on current agricultural land and within safe boundaries of water resources.

• Fund appropriate sustainable agricultural technology to deliver significant yield increases on small farms in developing countries.

5. Moving beyond green growth

There are compelling reasons to rethink the conventional model of economic development. Tinkering with the economic system that generated the global crises is not enough. Markets and entrepreneurship will be prime drivers of decision making and economic change, but must be complemented by policy frameworks that promote a new industrial metabolism and resource use. We should:

• Take account of natural capital, ecosystem services and social aspects of progress in all economic decisions and poverty reduction strategies. This requires the development of new welfare indicators that address the shortcomings of GDP as an indicator of growth.

• Reset economic incentives so that innovation is driven by wider societal interests and reaches the large proportion of the global population that is currently not benefitting from these innovations.

6. Reducing human pressures

Consumerism, inefficient resource use and inappropriate technologies are the primary drivers of humanity’s growing impact on the planet. However, population growth also needs attention. We must:

• Raise public awareness about the impacts of unsustainable consumption and shift away from the prevailing culture of consumerism to sustainability.

• Greatly increase access to reproductive health services, education and credit, aiming at empowering women all over the world. Such measures are important in their own right but will also reduce birth rates.

7. Strengthening earth system governance

The multilateral system must be reformed to cope with the defining challenges of our time, namely transforming humanity’s relationship with the planet and rebuilding trust between people and nations. Global governance must be strengthened to respect planetary boundaries and to support regional, national and local approaches. We should:

• Develop and strengthen institutions that can integrate the climate, biodiversity and development agendas.

• Explore new institutions that help to address the legitimate interests of future generations.

8. Enacting a new contract between science and society

Filling gaps in our knowledge and deepening our understanding is necessary to find solutions to the challenges of the Anthropocene, and calls for major investments in science. A dialogue with decision-makers and the general public is also an important part of a new contract between science and society. We need to:

• Launch a major initiative on the earth system research for global sustainability, at a scale similar to those devoted to areas such as space, defence and health, to tap all sources of ingenuity across disciplines and across the globe.

• Scale up our education efforts to increase scientific literacy especially among the young.

We are the first generation facing the evidence of global change. It therefore falls upon us to change our relationship with the planet, in order to tip the scales towards a sustainable world for future generations.

12 Responses to The Stockholm Memorandum

  1. Speed says:

    In May this year, the 3rd Nobel Laureate Symposium produced a document called The Stockholm Memorandum signed by 17 Nobel laureates, presumably from among these participants.

    Actually it’s not signed and only 13 Nobel laureates are listed as participants … out of 50 total. Not as many as promised in the pre-symposium PR.

    The Symposium will take place at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm between 16-19 May and will gather some 50 of the world’s most renowned thinkers and experts on global sustainability – half of them Nobel Laureates.
    (my bold)

    • John Baez says:

      Okay, thanks—I didn’t count ‘em, I just took the press releases at their word.

      Clearly having those laureates around is a way to get people to pay attention. However, what I really like is how this document clearly and tersely states the big problems and the things we need to do to solve them: things we’ve been gradually bumping into here on this blog since its inception last August.

      What we need now are lots of nitty-gritty details answering the question “how to get it done?” And here nothing will be quick or easy; instead, a thousand niggling details, each requiring years of hard work by devoted people.

      • Curtis Fromke says:

        Energybulletin.net has a lot of details. People who have thought about this for some time and offer tangible actions that will be of value. It seems that the role of interest in our money system will be the real bugaboo. The right of money to demand more (ie interest) was dealt with in the Lord’s prayer by mutual forgiveness.

      • Speed says:

        My point is that they are using the Nobel Laureate name to add weight and importance to the symposium when in fact from approximately 280 living Nobel Laureates they were unable to attract 25 and had to make do with just 13. There were 267 Nobel Laureates that found more important things to do on those dates.

  2. My only complaint at the moment is the measure the Symposium gives to describe extreme poverty: to “live on less than 2$ per day”. Without wishing to blur the undeniable fact that people live in extreme poverty, the cash drain that is living in certain regions is not a useful measure of that poverty: instead it means that, on average, folk from the prosperous west wouldn’t willingly move into such living conditions, even if it meant their expenses were reduced to only 2$ a day.

    A more useful measure of poverty would be the balance of labour needed to live vs. the accessible food supporting that labour; or the accessibility of sound housing suitable to local climate and geology.

    • Having read a little further… I have to complain about the second half of II.6: “access to reproductive health services, education, and credit” (what’s the “and credit”, btw?) — in this context, “reproductive health services” strikes me as something between euphemism and oxymoron. At best, the proposal is to provide a personal escape from natural consequences while still encouraging intemperate habits — burning the candle at both ends, if you will, or running to stand still, and unnecessarily.

      Just so you understand where I’m coming from, I’m a Catholic who loves my Church’s ancient tradition and constant teaching; notably, believing that people are naturally capable of self-control and virtuous behaviour, given the right encouragement. You needn’t be Christian of any sort, of course, to agree with those propositions.

      • Speed says:

        Reproductive health is a large and complex topic. Just two aspects:

        Reduction of maternal mortality: A reduction of maternal mortality rates and a narrowing of disparities in maternal mortality within countries and between geographical regions, socio-economic and ethnic groups.

        Access to reproductive and sexual health services including family planning: Family planning counseling, pre-natal care, safe delivery and post-natal care, prevention and appropriate treatment of infertility, prevention of abortion and the management of the consequences of abortion, treatment of reproductive tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases and other reproductive health conditions; and education, counseling, as appropriate, on human sexuality, reproductive health and responsible parenthood. Services regarding HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, infertility, delivery, hormone therapy, sex reassignment therapy, and abortion should be made available. Active discouragement of female genital mutilation (FGM).

  3. Robert Smart says:

    The line that gets me is “we call upon all leaders of the 21st century to exercise a collective responsibility of planetary stewardship”. This belief that leaders can just act is a fundamental misunderstanding of reality. Even in fiercely anti-democratic imperial China the Emperor could only go so far in defiance of public opinion without losing the mandate of heaven. What leaders can do is lead, which can involve getting a bit ahead of public opinion, but mostly involves using their position to turn the ship of state slowly around by convincing the public. The key to convincing the public is a vigorous open investigation of the facts, where the people who want the voters to pay a huge price to save the world are forced to justify their position using open data and open source code. The people might not understand the arguments but they understand that the people running the investigation have the mathematical skills needed to evaluate the points of both sides. It would also be a great educational opportunity to showcase the application of mathematics to clear thinking.

    • John Baez says:

      Robert wrote:

      What leaders can do is lead, which can involve getting a bit ahead of public opinion, but mostly involves using their position to turn the ship of state slowly around by convincing the public.

      In the United States I’d have to say the leaders are lagging behind the people they’re supposedly leading—when it comes to doing something about climate change, that is. See for example this.

      The key to convincing the public is a vigorous open investigation of the facts, where the people who want the voters to pay a huge price to save the world are forced to justify their position using open data and open source code.

      And what about the people who want to keep the status quo going as long as possible, regardless of whether it leads to a disaster in the long run? Do they have any responsibilities?

      One thing I wish is that all taxpayer-funded scientific research were required by law to be made freely available—as most research funded by the US National Institutes of Health already is:

      The Director of the National Institutes of Health shall require that all investigators funded by the NIH submit or have submitted for them to the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central an electronic version of their final peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication, to be made publicly available no later than 12 months after the official date of publication…

      Right now many of the most important papers on climate change, mass extinction and so on appear in Science and Nature, where ordinary people can’t get to them.

      Unfortunately it seems that the National Science Foundation is not moving to copy the National Institutes of Health; the journals have been fighting hard to prevent such a move.

  4. I was glad to see this and had actually planned to go when i found out it was a closed session, except for the last half day. But I think any action on this level is important and still more plans to action is maybe better than no plan at all !

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