The statement was released at the culmination of the High-level Dialogue and Adaptation Round Table: Global Sustainability in a Changing Climate, held in Durban, 6 December 2011.
Key participants included Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa and Co-Chair of the UN Secretary General's High-level Panel on Global Sustainability; Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, COP17 President and Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, and Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The event was hosted by centre director Johan Rockström and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who initiated the Nobel Laureate Symposium series.
Download the Durban Vision Statement here.
Listen to the voice of science
Seldom does such a broad-based, high-level group come together to discuss the world's most urgent problems. Thirty-five people participated, including scientists, NGO representatives, and senior officials from both developed and developing countries, including several climate negotiators and African heads of state. Dozens more observed the discussion.
"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," says 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 to global sustainability
A key point of agreement is that efforts to address climate change must be guided by a broader focus on global sustainability, because the two are inextricably linked. Stewardship of our ecosystems will strengthen and enhance both mitigation and adaptation efforts and ensure their long-term viability.
"The science clearly shows us that a safe climate future will not be achieved through emission reductions alone," says Rockström.
"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 negotations support these goals and connect with other UN-led efforts to promote sustainable development."
Staying below 2°C is crucial
Rockström 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 a High-level Panel on Global Sustainability appointed by the UN Secretary General — and co-chaired by President Zuma — as a reminder of the interconnectedness of planetary systems and of the need to shift toward more sustainable practices.
"Staying below 2°C global warming is not just an environmental goal, but a crucial development goal," says Schellnhuber.
"Beyond that line, the world could move into climate chaos, crossing many tipping points, like the meltdown of the big ice sheets and the disruption of the Asian and African monsoon systems."
All countries must seek to do their part
Lord Nicholas Stern, whose work on the economics of climate change has helped reshape the global climate debate, also participated in the discussion.
"Climate change and global sustainability are urgent issues that require immediate action — they cannot be delayed by endless political wrangling," he says.
"All countries must seek to do their part, and move away from unsustainable development and carbon-intensive energy production and consumption. Given the disparities in wealth and resources in our world, however, it is clear that developed countries will have to take the lead in terms of finance, technology and investment, recognising that doing so benefits them as well; it will help secure the future of our planet and our species."
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 UN 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."
Details of the High-level Dialogue and Adaptation Round Table
This event builds on the 3rd Nobel Laureate Symposium on Global Sustainability, held at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm between 16 and 19 May, 2011.
It concluded with the signing of The Stockholm Memorandum by the Nobel Laureates, which was handed over in person to the High-level Panel on Global Sustainability appointed by the UN Secretary General.
The goal of the High-level Dialogue and Adaptation Round Table was to position climate change adaptation and the COP17 negotiations within the broader agenda of sustainable development.
Along with those listed above, participants included Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner for Climate Action; Lena Ek, Sweden's Minister for the Environment; Mohamed Gharib Bilal, Vice President of Tanzania; Peter Kent, Canada's Minister of the Environment; and some of the best minds in climate science, sustainable development and policy.
The event was supported by United Postcode Lotteries and Sekunjalo Development Foundation.
Interviews with the hosts may be arranged through the contacts below.
Robert Watt, SEI Director of Communications
Mobile: +46 73 707 8589
Marion Davis, SEI Climate Change Communications
Local mobile: +27 72 908 9430
Ylva Rylander, SEI Press and Communications
Mobile: +46 73 150 3384
The event in Durban has been made possible by support from the United Postcode Lotteries and Sekunjalo Development Foundation.
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