Rockström is an internationally recognized scientist for his work on global sustainability issues. He helped lead the internationally renowned team of scientists that presented the planetary boundaries framework, first published in 2009, with an update in 2015. The nine planetary boundaries presented in the framework are argued to be fundamental in maintaining a “safe operating space for humanity.” This framework has been embraced as an approach to sustainable development, and has been used to help guide governments, international organizations, NGOs, and companies considering sustainable development.
Before focusing on the planetary scale, Rockström’s research aimed to address building resilience in water scarce regions, and is an expert on water resources. After completing a PhD at Stockholm University’s Systems Ecology Department in 1997, he spent nearly two decades working on applied water research in tropical regions. He has also published research on with agriculture systems, land use, and ecosystem services.
Aside from his research helping to guide policy, Rockström acts as an advisor to several governments and business networks. He also acts as an advisor for sustainable development issues at noteworthy international meetings, such as the United Nations General Assemblies, World Economic Forums, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conferences (UNFCCC, also known as COP).
He is chair of the steering committee for CGIAR’s Research Program on Water, Land, and Ecosystems; a member of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN); as well as a member of several other committees and boards.
Rockström acts as chair of the advisory board for the EAT Foundation, a network that integrates knowledge on food, health, and sustainability to work towards providing environmental limits for healthy diets of the growing global population. He is one of 20 international scientists working on the EAT-Lancet Commission, an assessment of the global food system, and whether a transformation towards healthy and sustainable diets is possible. This assessment is the first systematic analysis of the food system at the global scale, and is due for completion in 2017.
Rockström has published over 100 research articles, including articles in Science and Nature, as well as 20 book chapters. He has also published four books: The Human Quest (2012) and Big World Small Planet (2015) with National Geographic photographer, Mattias Klum; co-authored Water Resilience for Human Prosperity (2014); and Bankrupting Nature (2012) co-authored with Swedish writer and politician, Anders Wijkman.
As a compelling speaker, he engages with popular media on issues relating to sustainable development. Most notably:
Awards and achievements (selected)
Research news | 2019-01-17
New Lancet report demonstrates why diet and food production must radically change to improve health and avoid potentially catastrophic damage to the planet
Research news | 2019-01-14
Amid global environmental change, water becomes both the victim and the instigator for irreversible damage
Research news | 2019-01-11
Environmental policy instruments must be used to deal with global environmental problems
Research news | 2018-11-28
The seventh in a series of seven "deep dives" looking into the connections between resilience and development
Presentation by Johan Rockström during World Economic Forum 2017
Johan Rockström and Friedman discuss governance, global sustainability and why everything changed during a game show in 2011
New initiative will help establish pathways to attain the UN Sustainable Development Goals
Clear message from Side event to the UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals
2019 - Journal / article
Food systems have the potential to nurture human health and support environmental sustainability; however, they are currently threatening both. Providing a growing global population with healthy diets from sustainable food systems is an immediate challenge. Although global food production of calories has kept pace with population growth, more than 820 million people have insufficient food and many more consume low-quality diet...
2019 - Journal / article
Water is indispensable for Earth resilience and sustainable development. The capacity of social-ecological systems to deal with shocks, adapting to changing conditions and transforming in situations of crisis are fundamentally dependent on the functions of water to e.g., regulate the Earth’s climate, support biomass production, and supply water resources for human societies. However, massive, inter-connected, human interferenc...
2019 - Journal / article
Today, more than ever, ‘Spaceship Earth’ is an apt metaphor as we chart the boundaries for a safe planet. Social scientists both analyse why society courts disaster by approaching or even overstepping these boundaries and try to design suitable policies to avoid these perils. Because the threats of transgressing planetary boundaries are global, long-run, uncertain and interconnected, they must be analysed together to avoid con...
2018 - Journal / article
We explore the risk that self-reinforcing feedbacks could push the Earth System toward a planetary threshold that, if crossed, could prevent stabilization of the climate at intermediate temperature rises and cause continued warming on a “Hothouse Earth” pathway even as human emissions are reduced. Crossing the threshold would lead to a much higher global average temperature than any interglacial in the past 1.2 million years a...