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Top scientists urge end to policy and governance failures to tackle social and environmental crises

Top scientists urged governments to replace GDP as a measure of wealth, end damaging subsidies, and transform systems of governance to set humanity on a new path to a better future — or risk climate, biodiversity and poverty crises that will spawn greater problems worldwide.

These are among the messages from a new paper by 20 past winners of the Blue Planet Prize — often called the Nobel Prize for the environment.

Bob Watson, the Uks chief scientific advisor on environmental issues and a winner of the prize in 2010, will present the paper to government ministers from around the world at the UN Environment Programme’s governing council meeting in Nairobi, Kenya on 20 February.

“The current system is broken,” says Watson. “It is driving humanity to a future that is 3-5°C warmer than our species has ever known, and is eliminating the ecology that we depend on for our health, wealth and senses of self.”

“We cannot assume that technological fixes will come fast enough. Instead we need human solutions. The good news is that they exist but decision makers must be bold and forward thinking to seize them.”

Watsons co-authors include James Hansen of NASA, Emil Salim, former environment minister of Indonesia, Susan Solomon of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and José Goldemberg, who was Brazil’s Secretary of Environment during the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.

Their paper comes ahead of the 20th anniversary of that summit the Rio+20 conference in June this year when world leaders have an opportunity to set human development on a new, more sustainable path.

The paper urges governments to:

  • Replace GDP as a measure of wealth with metrics for natural, built, human and social capital — and how they intersect.
  • Eliminate subsidies in sectors such as energy, transport and agriculture that create environmental and social costs, which currently go unpaid.
  • Overconsumption, and address population pressure by empowering women, improving education and making contraception accessible to all.
  • Transform decision making processes to empower marginalised groups, and integrate economic, social and environmental policies instead of having them compete.
  • Conserve and value biodiversity and ecosystem services, and create markets for them that can form the basis of green economies.
  • Invest in knowledge — both in creating and in sharing it — through research and training that will enable governments, business, and society at large to understand and move towards a sustainable future.


The Blue Planet prize laureates who contributed to the paper are:

  • Professor Sir Bob Watson, Chief Scientific Adviser of the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
  • Lord (Robert) May of Oxford, former Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government and President of Royal Society of London
  • Professor Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University
  • Professor Harold Mooney, Stanford University
  • Dr Gordon Hisashi Sato, President, Manzanar Project Corporation
  • Professor José Goldemberg, former secretary for the environment of the State of São Paulo, Brazil and Brazil’s interim Secretary of Environment during the Rio Earth Summit in 1992
  • Dr Emil Salim, former Environment Minister of the Republic of Indonesia
  • Dr Camilla Toulmin, Director of the International Institute for Environment and Development
  • Mr Bunker Roy, Founder of Barefoot College
  • Dr Syukuro Manabe, Senior Scientist, Princeton University
  • Dr Julia Marton-Lefevre, Director-General of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
  • Dr Simon Stuart, Chair of the Species Survival Commission of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
  • Dr Will Turner, Vice President of Conservation Priorities and Outreach, Conservation International
  • Professor Karl-Henrik Robèrt, Blekinge Institute of Technology, Founder of The Natural Step
  • Dr James Hansen, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
  • Lord (Nicholas) Stern of Brentford, Professor, The London of Economics
  • Dr Amory Lovins, Chair and Chief Scientist, Rocky Mountain Institute
  • Dr Gene Likens, Director of the Carey Institute of Ecosystem Studies
  • Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway and Director-General of the World Health Organization, now Special Envoy on Climate Change for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
  • Dr James Lovelock, independent scientist and proponent of the Gaia Hypothesis


In 1992, the year of the Rio Earth Summit, the Asahi Glass Foundation established the Blue Planet Prize, an award presented to individuals or organizations worldwide in recognition of outstanding achievements in scientific research and its application that have helped provide solutions to global environmental problems.

The Prize is offered in the hopes of encouraging efforts to bring about the healing of the Earth’s fragile environment. A full list of its past winners is online here.

The award’s name was inspired by the remark “the Earth was blue,” uttered by the first human

in space, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, upon viewing our planet. The Blue Planet Prize was so named in the hopes that our blue planet will be a shared asset capable of sustaining human life far into the future.

2012 is the 20th anniversary of the Blue Planet Prize. The Asahi Glass Foundation wishes to mark this anniversary with a fresh start in its efforts to help build an environmentally friendly society.


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