Highest distinction in Dutch science for University of Amsterdam professor and Earth Commission co-chair Joyeeta Gupta

The Dutch Research Council (NWO) has awarded the Spinoza Prize, the highest distinction in Dutch science, to Joyeeta Gupta, professor of Environment and Development in the Global South at the University of Amsterdam and co-chair of the Earth Commission.

Gupta receives the prize, sometimes called the ‘Dutch Nobel Prize’, for her outstanding, pioneering and inspiring scientific work in which she focuses on a just and sustainable world. She will receive 1.5 million euros to spend on scientific research and activities related to knowledge utilisation. The official presentation will take place on 4 October.

The NWO selection committee was deeply impressed by the scientific impact of Gupta’s knowledge and called her research ‘incredibly broad and interdisciplinary’. Gupta researches how we can solve issues arising from climate change through good governance. At the core of her research is an attempt to unravel the connections between the climate crisis, water problems, possible solutions and justice. To this end, her work brings together various scientific disciplines, from international law and economics to political science, development studies and environmental studies.

‘I am extremely honoured,’ says Gupta. ‘The scientists who have won this award in the past represent the absolute best of Dutch academia, so I’m proud to be considered alongside them.’

Professor Joyeeta Gupta

In a recent project that Gupta and colleagues from around the world undertook for the Earth Commission, the team tried to quantify what kind of minimum needs we should recognise worldwide in terms of food, water, shelter and infrastructure, and what meeting those minimums would mean in terms of global emissions. Their results showed that if we were to meet those minimum needs then we would cross safe planetary boundaries, unless we redesign the way our societies are run. A follow-up paper identifies safe and just Earth system boundaries. The latter research was published in Nature and received extensive media coverage around the globe.

Gupta envisages using the prize money to work towards implementing the ideas she presented in her inaugural lecture in 2014 – on sharing ‘ecospace’ (environmental utilisation space) globally. This would require some kind of global environmental constitution. Such a constitution would aim to protect environmental conditions in an equitable manner worldwide using constitutional law and would be a fitting way to bring global environmental and developmental issues together.

Career

Gupta has been professor of Environment and Development in the Global South at the UvA since 2013. She is also a professor at the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education. She studied at Delhi University, Gujarat University and Harvard Law School, and obtained her PhD from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

In addition to her professorship, Gupta is co-chair of the Earth Commission, founded by Future Earth and supported by the Global Challenges Foundation. She was also lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore.

Previously, she was co-chair of the United Nations Environment Programme’s Global Environment Outlook-6. Gupta has authored many scientific publications and has served on the scientific steering committees of various different international programmes, including the Global Water Systems Project and Earth System Governance.

‘Fantastic news,’ said Peter-Paul Verbeek, Rector Magnificus of the UvA. ‘Justice for both people and the planet is the common thread in Joyeeta’s work. She is relentlessly committed to climate justice, always looking beyond the boundaries of disciplines, realising that this is the only way to approach the climate issue. We are extremely proud of Joyeeta and of her receipt of the Spinoza Prize.’

‘It is wonderful to see this recognition of Joyeeta’s work and her unbridled commitment, not only within our faculty, the UvA and the Netherlands, but around the whole world,’ says Agneta Fischer, dean of the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences. ‘Joyeeta’s research is driven by her belief in a just and sustainable world. She is one of the most inspiring speakers I know, and an inspiration to many. I am incredibly proud and happy that she is one of us.”

Read more about the recent publication by Gupta and colleagues in ‘Nature’.