Scientists Hold First Historic Meeting of the Earth Commission

Some of the world’s leading scientists gathered for the first historic meeting of the Future Earth-hosted Earth Commission outside Washington DC, pushing forward their plans to develop scientific targets to protect Earth’s life-support systems, like land, freshwater, biodiversity and oceans.

Over three days at the Potomac Science Centre in Virginia, the commissioners discussed the process to create a high-level synthesis by 2021 of scientific knowledge on the socio-biophysical processes that regulate the stability of the Earth system and defining targets –  or “safe corridors” – that provide stability for humans and all other life on planet Earth. They will also explore the social transformations to reach these targets.

The Commissioners, with both natural and social science backgrounds, agreed on the conceptual framework for its mission. The aim is to publish this first output in a high-impact journal, which will define research gaps to achieving its mission and include a call to the research community for questions which need to be addressed over the coming year to 18 months. The Commission will be forming working groups on a number of topics which will include members from Future Earth’s Global Research Projects, Knowledge Action Networks, and the broader scientific community.

“It is very exciting to convene some of the world’s leading experts from across the natural and social sciences to develop scientific targets for a stable Earth,” said Wendy Broadgate, Future Earth’s global hub director in Sweden which is hosting the secretariat. “The Commissioners are deeply committed to this challenge. Everyone in the room understood the urgency and the potential transformative impact of this work.”

One important cross-cutting working group will be the People and Planet Modelling Inter-comparison Project, which will bring together many existing modelling efforts, including Earth System Models and Integrated Assessment Models to inform the work to define targets. Other working groups will focus on, for example, the biosphere and oceans, transformations and methodologies for downscaling and translating targets from higher (often planetary) scales to more actionable levels.

Earth Commission members and the secretariat gather outside the Potomac Science Centre — Nov 19, 2019.

The Commission and its Working Groups will collaborate closely with the Science Based Targets Network (SBTN) engaging with businesses and cities to implement science-based targets. SBTN comprises of leading NGOs, enabling cities and companies to reduce their impact on and restore our oceans, freshwater, land, and biodiversity.The aim is to make this standard practice in leading companies and cities by 2025.

The Commission will aim to publish its first synthesis report in a peer-reviewed journal within three years, an ambitious goal – but necessary given the urgent need for solutions for a sustainable future for people and planet.

Future Earth is hosting the Earth Commission’s scientific secretariat in collaboration with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).

The Commission, chaired by Professors Johan Rockström, Joyeeta Gupta, and Dahe Qin,    includes leading scientists in both natural and social sciences from 13 countries: Argentina, Australia (2), China (2), France, Germany (2), Ghana, India, Japan, Kenya, Netherlands (2), the United Kingdom, and the United States (4) appointed following an open call for nominations (earthcommission.org)

The Earth Commission and SBTN are parts of the Global Commons Alliance, a network of organizations aiming to transform our economic systems to ensure our planet remains habitable. The alliance, launched in June, includes Earth HQ, a media portal for the planet, which will share the big picture of how Earth Systems are performing and tracking progress towards solutions. A fourth pillar of the Alliance is a Systems Change Lab, that will synthesise our understanding of systemic change, monitor efforts to reduce pressure on the global commons and mobilise support for coalitions as they push towards tipping points.

Representatives of both SBTN and Earth HQ attended the Earth Commission meeting and gave input on how the different components will collaborate and complement each other to create the change needed for a more sustainable world.

The Earth Commission will build on and complement existing assessments, such as those conducted by the IPCC and Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).