Address from the Editor-in-Chief
Significant Achievements of 2017 (26th) Blue Planet Prize laureates
The Asahi Glass foundation awarded the 26th Blue Planet Prize (2017) to Professor Hans J. Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and Professor Gretchen C. Daily from Stanford University.
Although the areas in which these two laureates have made outstanding achievements are entirely different, climate change and biospheres, both are incredibly profound and significant for our survival and conservation of the global environment. The award recognized their focus on quantitative analysis for future solutions.
The Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden issued a report entitled Planetary Boundaries. According to the report, four environmental boundaries related to human environmental load have already exceeded the limit of the sustainability of the planet. These are climate change and loss of biosphere integrity followed by land-system change and nitrogen and phosphorus biogeochemical cycles, though the public has not yet fully recognized it.
Regarding climate change, many countries joined the Paris Agreement aiming to realize Net Zero Emission (NZE) by the end of this century, which means bringing the balance of greenhouse gas emissions to zero, and the 2030 sustainable development goals (SDGs). Achieving the balance of greenhouse gas emissions to zero means keeping a balance between the total amount of greenhouse gases emitted and that of CO2 absorbed by measures including tree planting. However, a significant increase in absorption capacity is almost impossible, which makes the realization of NZE doubtful.
However, the global agreement on the targets seems to be an hugely significant advancement. Unfortunately, because the basic concept of the Paris Agreement is climate justice, which is difficult to understand for the Japanese and so has not been recognized sufficiently in Japan.
Professor Schellnhuber was the major contributor of scientific data for the Paris Agreement. One of the world's top experts on climate change, he pointed out the irreversibility of glacier melting in Greenland and other severe phenomena caused by climate change, events known as tipping elements. He also showed theoretical evidence for the need to keep global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius, the critical component of n the Paris Agreement.
His team is currently carrying out challenging research to elaborate the half-life of CO2, which is extremely important in the fight against global warming. In his Blue Planet Prize acceptance speech, he revealed that CO2 remains in the atmosphere for tens of thousands of years.
Another winner is Professor Daily. She is a top researcher in the field of biodiversity. She tells us that human activity has transcended beyond the planetary boundaries. She was initially involved in researching ecosystems. She does not merely insist on the conservation of nature, but shows the existence of a significant amount of nature in areas influenced by humans and also shows its economic value quantitatively. Her work has been demonstrated that there are ways to conserve nature and also increase its economic value within the framework of society.
One of her great achievements was the development of an entirely new concept, countryside biogeography. With our increasing population, it is tough to conserve nature by significantly limiting human activities because human existence requires the consumption of resources supplied by ecosystems.
Professor Daily believed that we needed to develop a new idea that satisfied human needs, the need to conserve nature and the need to maintain long-term economic gain. Of course, rather than short-term economic benefit, there must be a solution that brings sustainable long-term benefits.
Based on this thinking, Professor Daily proposed a new idea that allows harmony between human activity and nature while realizing economic growth. That completely changed the approach to environmental issues. I think this was her most significant contribution to society.
Since the Paris Agreement was concluded in 2015, the world has entered a time of substantial transformation. We all agree that we must review our relationship with the earth from the ground up.
In Japan, unfortunately, people and companies seem to have developed eco-fatigue. Two 2017 Blue Planet Prize winners have proposed entirely new ideas about environmental conservation and have led global movements. They have also changed the direction of global corporate management. I think both have shown that the year 2015 was a big turning point for the world.
Former Vice-Rector, United Nations University
Professor Emeritus, The University of Tokyo