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International Cosmos Prize

The Prizewinner 2015

Name Dr. Johan Rockström
Born on December 31, 1965
Nationality Swedish
Title Executive Director, Stockholm Resilience Centre
Professor in Global Sustainability Science, Stockholm University

Reason for Awarding

Dr. Johan Rockström is an energetic environmental scientist hailing from Sweden. He is the Executive Director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, the global hub for resilience research, and also a Professor in Environmental Science (with emphasis on water resources and global sustainability) at Stockholm University. From 2004 to 2012, Dr. Rockström served as the Executive Director of the Stockholm Environment Institute, a world-famous research organization.

Dr. Rockström has been active as a leading scientist on global water resources and strategies to build resilience in water-scarce regions of the world, primarily in developing countries. He has authored over 100 research publications (including more than 50 peer-reviewed scientific articles) and several books in such fields as global environmental change, resilience and sustainability, agricultural water management, watershed hydrology, global water resources and food production and eco-hydrology.

Dr. Rockström has become known to people around the world transcending the confines of the academic community, since the publication of research findings on “planetary boundaries” by a group of 29 internationally renowned scientists, in which Dr. Rockström acted as the lead author. The group cautioned that we have reached a saturation point in terms of human pressures on the Earth System, and that if we let the anthropogenic pressures continue increasing to cross the thresholds of resilience inherent in, for instance, the climate, water environments and ecosystems, there is a risk of irreversible and abrupt environmental change. Dr. Rockström et al. proposed the idea that, by identifying planetary boundaries within which humanity can continue to develop and thrive for generations to come, we can avoid changes that would prove catastrophic for humanity, and asserted the importance of understanding where the tipping points of such changes lie.

The concept of planetary boundaries was first presented in a paper in 2009. Its full text was published in the journal Ecology and Society, and then an edited summary appeared in the scientific magazine Nature. The number of citations for the former stands at about 3,000, and the latter, about 2,000.

These papers assessed the boundaries for nine planetary systems—climate change, ocean acidification, stratospheric ozone depletion, biogeochemical flow boundary (nitrogen and phosphorus cycles), global freshwater use, changes in land use, biodiversity loss, atmospheric aerosol loading, and chemical pollution—although the latter two of these have been not yet been quantified. The results are graphed in Figure 1, which indicates that humanity has already transgressed three of these boundaries: climate change, the rate of biodiversity loss, and the rate of interference with the nitrogen cycle.

The concept of planetary boundaries and its demonstration results have had a great impact on many researchers pursuing global environmental studies, as well as on the initiative of Future Earth, an international framework to coordinate transdisciplinary research toward the realization of a sustainable Earth.

In addition to remarkable international research achievements in the area of interdisciplinary environmental science, Dr. Rockström has outstanding coordination capability, which is evident in his role of integrating planetary boundaries studies; he has led a group of world-renowned researchers, so as to successfully compile systematic research results that have a strong impact on the international community, and to render them easy-to-understand for the general public. He also possesses excellent presentation skills, as exemplified by his lecture for Technology Entertainment Design (TED).

In view of the reasons stated above, Dr. Johan Rockström is fully deserving of the International Cosmos Prize, whose basic concept is “The Harmonious Coexistence between Nature and Mankind.


Figure 1. Beyond the boundary (Source: Rockström, et al. 2009, Nature, Vol. 461). The inner green shading represents the proposed safe operating space for nine planetary systems. The red wedges represent an estimate of the current position for each variable. The boundaries in three systems (rate of biodiversity loss, climate change and human interference with the nitrogen cycle), have already been exceeded.


1997 PhD Natural Resources Management, Dept of Systems Ecology, Stockholm Univ., Sweden
1992 Master in Agricultural Sciences, University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden


2008- present Professor in Environmental Sciences at Stockholm University, Sweden
2007- present Executive Director, Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, Sweden
2004–2012 Executive Director, Stockholm Environment Institute, SEI
2000–2004 Senior lecturer and regional research coordinator (WaterNet, Southern Africa) UNESCO-IHE, Delft, the Netherlands.
1998–2000 Regional Advisor, Land and water management in East Africa for SIDA’s Regional Land Management Unit (RELMA)


2014 Woods Hole Research Center’s Lawrence S. Huntington Environmental Prize, 2014
2013 Agronomist of the Year, Agronomist Assoc. (Swedish Association of Professional Scientists),
2009 Swedish Person of the Year, by the journal Fokus, for bridging science and society,

Membership of Scientific Societies

2013 Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences(KVA), Sweden

Major Books

  • Rockström, J., and Klum, M., 2015. Big World Small Planet. Abundance within Planetary Boundaries, Yale University Press (released in August 2015)
  • Rockström J., Falkenmark M., Folke C., Lannerstad M., Hoff H., Enfors E., Gordon L., Barron J., Heinke J., Pahl-Wostl C. 2014. Water resilience for human prosperity. Cambridge University Press
  • Rockström, J. and Klum, M., 2012. The Human Quest: Prospering within Planetary Boundaries (foreword by President Bill Clinton, Nobel Laureates Yuan Tse-Lee and Paul Crutzen, Langenskiöld Förlag).
  • De Fraiture C., Wichelns D. (CLA), Rockström J. and Kemp-Benedict E. (lead authors), 2007. Looking Ahead to 2050: scenarios of alternative investment approaches. Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture, Vol 3. EarthScan.
  • Rockström J. (CLA), Hatibu N., Oweis T., Wani S. 2007. Managing water in rainfed agriculture. Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture, Vol 8. EarthScan.
  • Falkenmark M., and Rockström J., 2006. Balancing Water for Man and Nature: The new approach to ecohydrology. Chinese Edition. www.waterpub.com.cn
  • Falkenmark M., and Rockström J., 2004. Balancing Water for Man and Nature: The new approach to ecohydrology. EarthScan.

Major Articles

  • Rockström, J., and Falkenmark, M., 2015. Increase Water Harvesting in Africa. Nature, 519: 283 - 285
  • Steffen, W., Richardson, K., Rockström, J., et al., 2015. Planetary Boundaries: Guiding Human Development on a Changing Planet. Science, 347 (6223): DOI: 10.1126/science.1259855
  • Rockström, J., Brasseur, G., Hoskins, B., et al., 2014. Climate Change: The Necessary, The Possible and the Desirable – Earth League Climate Statement on the implications for climate policy of the 5th IPCC Assessment. Earth’s Future 10.1002/2014EF000280
  • Hughes, T.P, Carpenter, S., Rockström, J., Scheffer, M., and Walker, B., 2013. Multiscale regime shifts and planetary boundaries. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 28 (7): 389 - 395
  • Gerst, M.D., Raskin, P.D., and Rockström, J., 2014. Contours of a Resilient Global Future. Sustainability, 6 (1) : 123 - 135
  • Gerten, D., Hoff, H., Rockström, J., Jägermeyr, J., Kummu, M., Pastor, A.V., 2013. Towards a revised planetary boundary for consumptive freshwater use: role of environmental flow requirements. Current Opinions in Environmental Sustainability, 5 (6): 551 - 558
  • Rockström, J., Falkenmark, M., Karlberg, L., and Lannerstad, M., 2012. The Planetary Water Drama. Geophy. Res. Lett. 39(15): 16 DOI: 10.1029/2012GL051688
  • Griggs, D., Stafford-Smith, M., Gaffney, O., Rockström, J., Öhman, M.C., Shyamsundar, P., Steffen, W.,
  • Glaser, G., Kanie, N., and Noble, I., 2013. Sustainable development goals for people and planet. Nature, 495 (7441) : 305 - 307
  • Anderies, J.M., Carpenter, S.R:, Steffen, W., and Rockström, J., 2013. The topology of non-linear global carbon dynamics: from tipping points to planetary boundaries. Env. Res. Letters, 8 (4), DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/8/4/044048
  • Foley, J.A., Ramankutty, N., Brauman, K.A., Cassidy, E.S., Gerber, J.S., Johnston, M., Mueller, N.D.,O’Connell, C., Ray, D.K., West, P.C., Balzer, C., Bennett, E. M., Carpenter, S.R., Hill, J., Monfreda, J., Polasky, S., Rockström, J., Sheehan, J., Siebert, S., Tilman, D., & Zaks, D.P.M., 2011. Solutions for a cultivated planet. Nature, 478 (7369), p.337-342, Oct 2011
  • Reid, W. V., Chen,D., Goldfarb, L., Hackmann,H., Lee,Y.T., Mokhele,K., Ostrom, E., Raivio, K., Rockstrom, J., Schellnhuber, H.J., Whyte, A., 2010. Earth System Science for Global Sustainability: Grand Challenges.Science, 330 (6006): 916-917
  • Rockström, J. Steffen, W. Noone, K. Persson, Å., Chapin, III, F.S., et al. 2009. A Safe Operating Space for Humanity. Nature, 461: 472 – 475
  • Rockström, J. Steffen, W. Noone, K. Persson, Å., Chapin, III, F.S., et al. 2009. Planetary boundaries: Exploring the safe operating space for humanity. Ecology and Society, 14 (2): 32