Utnämnandet av Johan Rockström till Riddare av Franska Hederslegionen (15 december 2016) [fr]
Tal av ambassadör Jacques Lapouge vid utnämnandet av Johan Rockström till Riddare av Franska Hederslegionen.
Madam State Secretary, Dear Johan Rockström,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to host you all today to pay tribute to Johan Rockström and to his commitment to the cooperation with France in the field of climate and environment. We are here, dear Johan, in the presence of your family, your friends and your colleagues, to award you the insignia of Knight of the Legion of Honor. This is the highest French order for military and civil merits. It was established by Napoléon Bonaparte more than two centuries ago in order to reward special efforts to serve the French nation and [I quote] to “foreign citizens who have distinguished themselves by the services they have rendered to France”.
According to the tradition, I shall start this speech by a reminder of your professional record. As a diplomat myself, much accustomed to moving abroad often, I have to say that I am quite impressed by the number of far-off countries in which you have lived. Brazil, Italy, Niger, Rwanda, Kenya, Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe… just to name a few.
Fortunately for us, France was on the list of your main destinations. In fact, after graduating from the Swedish University of Agriculture Sciences in Uppsala as an agronomist, you attended the prestigious Paris Institute of Technology for Life, Food and Environmental Sciences (AgroParisTech) and received the French “Diplôme d’Agronomie Approfondie”. You later achieved a doctorate degree from Stockholm University, after having spent 4 years in Niger where you studied agrohydrology and the Sahelian yield crisis. It was extremely hot and dry in this French-speaking country and it was there that you started to use your favorite sentence to call for a break: “Là, j’ai besoin d’une bière!” - Yes, nobody’s perfect, I have understood that you prefer beer to wine or Champagne.
Thereafter, you devoted most of the following two decades working on applied water research in tropical regions while teaching “natural resources management” as a professor at Stockholm University. You published more than 100 research articles and became a reference in the area of global sustainability research.
A turning point in your career was when the legendary founder of IPCC, Bert Bolin, asked you to take the lead of the Stockholm Environment Institute in 2004, becoming the first executive director of the SEI to be under the age of 40. You successfully strengthened the world-class reputation of the Institute for the following 10 years. In parallel, you founded the Stockholm Resilience Center in 2007, which became a world-renowned transdisciplinary research center for governance of socio-ecological systems, and up until today, you are still its executive director.
Among other distinctions - in a nutshell, the list is terribly long… - you are a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry and of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. You received the German Environmental Award (2015) and the Marsh Award for Climate Change Research (2013). You have been named “Swede of the year” by the magazine Focus in 2009 and “Sweden’s most influential person on the environment” many times by the magazine Miljöaktuellt.
Moreover, I have to stress that you have adopted a green lifestyle outside of the office too. You climate compensate your air journeys, you live in a sustainable way with your wife Ulrika and your three children on the island of Rindö in the Stockholm archipelago, cultivating vegetables and raising hens and sheep, and you have been able to reduce your electricity consumption to under 10 MWh per year. This is quite impressive given the climate in Sweden. Congratulations and please give us some advice for the heating of the residence!
This award is first and foremost the recognition of your commitment to a better environment and climate, which also happened to be a strong priority of the French government in 2015 and in 2016 while France was in charge of the COP 21 presidency.
Your work about the nine planetary boundaries, has in particular helped to build a world-wide momentum for climate actions on the road to COP21, and, beyond, for the early entry into force of the Paris Agreement. You led the group of scientists who proposed these nine boundaries (or thresholds), with a view to designing a safe operating space for humanity in key sectors, such as climate change, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss, ozone depletion or fresh water. The Nobel laureate Mario Molina has said the following about your work, I quote: “this novel concept highlights the risk of reaching tipping points for abrupt changes in Earth-system processes and it can help society to reach agreements for dealing with global environment threat”. Unfortunately and despite your warnings, two planet boundaries have already been crossed: climate change, since the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration today is much higher than the boundary of 350 ppm by volume (we passed the symbolic 400 ppm mark in September 2016) and biodiversity loss since the extinction rate is higher today than 100 Million Species Year (or MSY, which means that for a million species on the planet, more than 100 species go extinct every year). But your boundaries remain a fantastic tool to raise public awareness and help governments mobilize themselves to take appropriate actions.
You are also currently leading, on an international level, the development of green and blue water thinking in hydrological research. For the non-specialists: “green water” refers to water from rain that enters the soil root zone where it is transpired by the plant directly without ever reaching a river; while “blue water” is water that reaches rivers, aquifers, lakes or dams.
You recently proposed the first global analyses of green and blue water resource to feed humanity under climate change when you launched, during the World Water Week in Stockholm this year, the Green Water Initiative in Africa, claiming that rain water harvesting and green water management are key to alleviating hunger in sub-Saharan Africa as the limited blue water will be needed for increased urban water supply, industry and energy production. This is a major step in water management thinking.
Aside from your research, you have played an active role in guiding public policy and advising governments and business networks about climate policies, notably during the United Nations General Assemblies, World Economic Forums or the UNFCCC/COP.
You committed to various public outreach initiatives for the climate that have been extremely helpful for the French Presidency of the COP. For example, you presented two TED-talks and held the most ever listened talk on the Swedish radio on the popular “Sommar i P ett program” in 2015. This talk helped raise public awareness in Sweden before COP21, as well as support to the mobilization of non-state Swedish actors within the framework of the “Action Agenda”.
Dear Johan, your commitment to French-Swedish bilateral cooperation projects have also been extensive and of particular importance over the past years. Just to mention a few, you accepted to open the Action Day of COP21 together with the French Minister of environment Ségolène Royal, which contributed highly to the success of the Nazca platform. You also joined the “French expert committee on Agenda 2030” which was launched by our Minister of environment in 2016 to advise the government and non-state actors on the implementation of Agenda 2030 and its sustainable development goals in France.
Last but not least, you actively took part in several climate conferences convened in France, for instance the “Energy for Tomorrow Conference” in Paris last month, and, in Sweden, in seminars organized by the French Embassy. You have also been a valuable advisor to the former French Climate Ambassador Laurence Tubiana during her many visits to Stockholm.
It is because of all the mentioned reasons, and you will have to admit that they are pretty convincing, that you have been deemed worthy, dear Johan, of becoming a member of the National order of the Legion of Honour.
And I shall now proceed to the formal part of the ceremony.