The 2012 United Nations Rio+20 Summit must be seen in the context of a significant expansion of the scientific knowledge base since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. We now know definitively that humans have become a prime driver of change at the planetary level, significantly altering Earth’s biological, chemical and physical processes. There is increasing evidence that humans are driving the Earth system towards dangerous thresholds or tipping points. The functioning of the Earth system as we know it is at risk. We know that solutions exist, but, as the international community contemplates action, the natural resource in shortest supply is time. The urgent global risks and challenges facing all nations are interconnected: poverty alleviation; the financial crisis; economic development; political stability; pollution; food, water and energy security; health; wellbeing; climate change; ocean acidification; and loss of biodiversity, to name just some. Understanding this interconnectedness is crucial for tackling these challenges and improving the wellbeing of all societies. This policy brief outlines key interconnections at a global level and makes six recommendations for lowering the risk of catastrophic change to the Earth system, achieving sustainable prosperity and wellbeing for all, and protecting natural capital (land, water, soil, biodiversity and ecosystem services). These actions underpin the shift to a green economy and the transformation of the world’s institutional frameworks for sustainable development.
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