"Get away from short term and narrow interests"

High-level dialogue at COP17 urges 'new mindset' in climate negotiations.

In a high-level dialogue held during the climate negotiations in Durban (COP17), a broad-based group of political leaders, scientists and policy experts called for strong, immediate and integrated response to climate change, sustainability and development challenges.

Key participants included Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa and Co-Chair of the UN Secretary General's High-level Panel on Global Sustainability; Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, COP17 President and Minister of International Relations and Cooperation; and Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Listen to the voice of science
The event, a follow-up from the recent Nobel Laureate Symposium on Global Sustainability, was hosted by centre director Johan Rockström and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Schellnhuber initiated the Symposium series in 2007.

"COP 17 and climate negotiations in general need to listen to the voice of science on sustainability, and get away from short term and narrow interests," said IPCC Chair Rajendra Pachauri.

"We can never meet the climate challenge with such a sterile approach. We need to spark interest in the science of climate change and on knowledge that has been developed in the field, and let them inform the negotiations."

A world transition needed
A key point of agreement was that efforts to address climate change must be guided by a broader focus on global sustainability, because the two are inextricably linked.

"The science clearly shows us that a safe climate future will not be achieved through emission reductions alone," said Johan Rockström, who has led an international team of scientists who developed the planetary boundaries framework, which defines a safe operating space for humans on Earth. The framework has been embraced by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his High-level Panel on Global Sustainability.

"We now urgently need a world transition to global sustainability. 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. It is thus critical that the climate negotiations support these goals and connect with other UN-led efforts to promote sustainable development."

Sustainability and human well-being fully compatible
The event participants stressed that none of their statements should be mistaken for a call to slow or stop development, especially in the world's poorest countries.

"When scientists call for sustainability and stewardship of ecosystems, many people feel threatened and presume that it will be done at the expense of development and human well-being," says Youba Sokona, coordinator of the African Climate Policy Centre (ACPC) based in the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

"This is simply not true. We believe that sustainability and human well-being can be fully compatible, but only with large-scale, transformative changes in how we approach development, agriculture, energy production, and the overall use of our natural resources."

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