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The University of Amsterdam (UvA) is bestowing an honorary doctorate on the Swedish earth scientist and sustainability expert Johan Rockström. Rockström will receive the honorary doctorate for his pioneering scientific contributions in the area of global sustainability, and for his research into planetary boundaries in particular. The honorary doctorate will be presented during the celebration of the UvA Dies Natalis on 8 January 2020.

Johan Rockström (photo: M. Axelsson/Azote)
Johan Rockström (photo: M. Axelsson/Azote)

Prof. Johan Rockström (1965) earned widespread renown for a 2009 article in Nature that was drawn up under his leadership. In the article, Rockström and his colleagues identified nine ‘planetary boundaries’ that mankind must not cross if we are to continue using the earth's resources sustainably. The boundaries relate to aspects including the fresh water supply, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and the loss of biodiversity.

In 2015, the research group published an update in which the nine planetary boundaries were elaborated at a regional level. The study was presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Humanity's impact

‘Even at an early stage, Johan Rockström's research drew attention to humanity's negative impact on our planet,’ explains honorary supervisor Annemarie van Wezel. ‘Over the years, his planetary boundaries have been widely embraced by governments, international organisations, NGOs and the business community as guidelines in working towards sustainable development.’

In a paper published in 2018, Rockström and his colleagues criticised the Paris climate agreement's goal of a maximum temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius. Even if we stay within that limit, the research group asserted, it is possible that climatological processes will result in the continuation of Earth's greenhouse effect.

Potential solutions and resilience

Johan Rockström is a professor at the University of Potsdam in the field of global sustainability and the resilience of natural systems. He has served as scientific director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research since 2018. Prior to that, Rockström was the director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre – which he himself founded and which is affiliated with the University of Stockholm – for twelve years.

In addition to his research work, which Rockström uses to expose problems, he has also continuously dedicated himself to the pursuit of solutions. In his 12 years as director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, he repeatedly advocated for a greater focus on the resilience of our ecosystems. Very recently, he collaborated with an interdisciplinary team on research into healthy and sustainable food for the growing global population.

‘Johan Rockström is an excellent researcher with a high degree of social engagement,’ adds UvA's Rector Magnificus, Karen Maex. ‘The way in which he consistently looks for solutions in his work is an inspiration to many, both inside and outside the scientific community. I am extremely proud of this opportunity to present him with an honorary doctorate on behalf of the UvA.’

The honorary supervisor is Prof. Annemarie van Wezel, professor of Environmental Ecology at the Faculty of Science.

In addition to Johan Rockström, Diana Bianchi will receive an honorary doctorate from the UvA on the same date.