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 | 2018-10-17
The first in a series of seven "deep dives" looking into the connections between resilience and development
Research news | 2018-10-17
Club of Rome report states that inequality reduction and new economic models are necessary for long-term economic and planetary stability
Research news | 2018-10-10
But it requires a global shift towards healthy and more plant-based diets, halving food loss and waste, say researchers
Research news | 2018-09-13
Digital revolution and market forces poised to drive economic transformation away from fossil fuels, but not without the right policy mix and bold climate leadership
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
2018 - Report
The dual adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) together with the Paris Climate Agreement, both in 2015, represents a global turning point. We have never before had such a universal development plan for people and planet. For the first time in human history the world has agreed on a democratically adopted roadmap for humanity’s future, which aims at attaining socially inclusive and highly aspirational socio-e...
2018 - Journal / article
Target 6.4 of the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) deals with the reduction of water scarcity . To monitor progress towards this target, two indicators are used: Indicator 6.4.1 measuring water use efficiency and 6.4.2 measuring the level of water stress (WS). This paper aims to identify whether the currently proposed indicator 6.4.2 considers the different elements that need to be accounted for...
2018 - Journal / article
Changes to climate–carbon cycle feedbacks may significantly affect the Earth system’s response to greenhouse gas emissions. These feedbacks are usually analysed from numerical output of complex and arguably opaque Earth system models. Here, we construct a stylised global climate–carbon cycle model, test its output against comprehensive Earth system models, and investigate the strengths of its climate–carbon cycle feedbacks ...
2017 - Journal / article
In the past three years, global emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels have levelled after rising for decades. This is a sign that policies and investments in climate mitigation are starting to pay off. The United States, China and other nations are replacing coal with natural gas and boosting renewable energy sources. There is almost unanimous international agreement that the risks of abandoning the plan...