Scientists working within sustainability have identified nine planetary boundaries that keep our earth stable. Crossing any of these boundaries breeds uncertainty and volatility for life on our planet. We have breached six of our world’s nine defined planetary boundaries, novel entities, climate change, biosphere integrity, land-system change, freshwater change and biogeochemical flows. Each boundary represents a complex system where there are tipping points that could trigger exponential change. Johan Rockström, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, explains what is likely to happen if we cross any of these planetary boundaries.
Addressing uncertainty and complexity requires scientific collaboration to uncover the best ideas in the field of sustainability science. To mobilize global research on the planetary boundaries, the Frontiers Research Foundation, created the Frontiers Planet Prize (FPP) on Earth Day. The aim was to encourage scientists and research institutions to propose solutions to help the planet remain within the safe operating space of any one or more of the 9 planetary boundaries.
The foundation was created by Frontiers Media, a research publisher and open science platform whose mission is to accelerate scientific progress, unconstrained by national borders.
It calls for science to be caring, sharing and daring: tuned in to the needs of people and planet, openly collaborative, and boldly ambitious.
The Frontiers Planet Prize seeks to ‘accelerate scientific solutions for healthy lives on a healthy planet’ by engaging with scientists working on projects with the greatest potential to heal and stabilize the global ecosystem.
One way to do this is to acknowledge and reward solutions that show measurable potential to help humanity remain within the boundaries of the Earth’s ecosystem. The competition allows for scientists who wish to participate to do so through their research institution or university, who have agreed to act as a National Nominating Body (NNB). The NNB reaches out to the lead scientist of the most promising research articles and invites them to apply for the prize. The NNB then considers each application and sends the top three nominations to the country’s national academy of science, which acts as the National Representative Body (NRB). The NRBs shortlist three nominations to represent the country, which are sent to the Jury of 100. Julia Marton-Lefèvre, the Chair of the Villars Institute Foundation, is member of this international jury. After a first round of voting, the title of National Champion is awarded to the winning nomination for each participating country. After a second round of voting, three International Champions are selected from the pool of National Champions. Each International Champion wins 1 million Swiss Francs to advance their important breakthrough research.
The prize-winning solutions to complex problems
The inaugural prize winners were recognized for their scientific work on solutions for drought, sustainable livelihoods in the Amazon, the abatement of harmful chemicals, and sustainable food resources.
Frontiers Planet Prize for Reducing Nitrogen Emissions to Mitigate Air Pollution
Excess nitrogen damages health and ecosystems and pollutes water, with serious knock-on impacts for farming and food security. Prof. Baojing Gu, of Zhejiang University, China represents Zhejiang University’s international nitrogen management research group and is working to mitigate global PM2.5 pollution (invisible toxic air particles) by reducing nitrogen emissions to within a safe Planetary Boundary.
Prof. Gu states: “Abating ammonia is more cost-effective than nitrogen oxides for mitigating PM2.5 air pollution.”
Frontiers Planet Prize for Changing Dietary Behaviors to Protect Nature and Biodiversity
To reduce environmental impacts through changes to food production and consumption, Dr. Paul Behrens, of Leiden University, The Netherlands, leads research at Leiden University’s Institute of Environmental Sciences, that examines how shifting to a plant-based diet could release land in high-income countries and, by returning it to nature, improve biodiversity, water and air quality.
Frontiers Planet Prize for Enabling Better Decisions to Build More Resilient Communities and Ecosystems
The world has to adapt to the consequences of climate change to protect vulnerable communities and ecosystems. Prof Mark New, of the University of Cape Town, South Africa, represents the AXA Research Chair in African Climate Risk group based at the African Climate and Development Initiative, focusing on quantifying the socio-economic impacts of climate change and evidencing the most effective adaptations.
Examples include the clearing of non-native invasive trees in South Africa to bolster ecosystems and reduce climate-change impacts. The work aims to better inform decision-makers and investors, ultimately helping to make natural and human systems more resilient.
Prof. New makes the case that “nature-based solutions in mountain catchments reduce impact of anthropogenic climate change on drought streamflow.”
Frontiers Planet Prize for Protecting Natural Ecosystems for Economies and Society
Prof. Carlos Peres, of the University of East Anglia, UK is a native of Belém, in the eastern Brazilian Amazon and leads the Amazon Ecology & Conservation Research Group at the University of East Anglia. His research with non-profit conservation organization Instituto Juruá has focused on protecting tropical-floodplain and forest ecosystems in marginalized tropical regions.
This ‘win-win' conservation-development programme aims to protect virtually intact natural ecosystems and give local communities a sustainable income, education and healthcare alongside access to markets and information technology.
In Prof. Peres’ own words: “Sustainable-use protected areas catalyze enhanced livelihoods in rural Amazonia.”
The Villars Institute looks forward to strengthening this partnership with Frontiers, and the engagement of Frontiers Planet Prize scientists, in its mission to accelerate the transition to a nature-positive, net-zero economy through interdisciplinary, intergenerational, and entrepreneurial collaboration.