Earth System Scientist, Nobel Peace Prize 2007
Fellow project website: www.theamazonwewant.org
As the needs of the Amazon and the world forest have evolved, Carlos Nobre has found systems solutions. Now he is helping the Amazon’s residents develop attractive new livelihoods that depend on a healthy forest.
THE NEW IDEA
Before Carlos Nobre dedicated himself to changing mindsets on climate change, the global scientific community did not know that there was a tipping point – – a point of irrecoverability – – beyond which the Amazon would dry out. Since his discovery, Nobre’s pioneering work has been fundamental to a better understanding of the relationships between deforestation, biodiversity, and climate change, and it and he have inspired collective, global action at the scientific, political, and civic levels ever since. He envisioned and has been central to building the climate science field and the fight to protect the Amazon Basin from crossing the tipping point.
Carlos’ drive to produce data, influence national and international policies and get science into the hands of policymakers, businesses, and citizens alike, has helped bring Brazil to a point where 90% of its citizens today consider climate change a “catastrophic risk.” Carlos has also played a leading role in the climate science field globally, including as co-chair of the International Geosphere–Bio-sphere Programme and as a contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment reports. In 2007, Carlos received the Nobel Prize.
Carlos’s leadership inspires action and encourages multilateralism, providing a framework to allow us to move towards a more sustainable and equitable future, together. - Emma Torres, UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network
Carlos has now pivoted to a new and significantly different and very big challenge: inventing and entrepreneuring a series of new ways people in the Amazon can live good and improving lives that make them allies of the forest. The forest cannot vote. If the people living in the Amazon do not have a vital interest in protecting it, it will disappear. Carlos is using his understanding of all of science, along with technology, economics, community organizing, and broader organizing to invent a new human/forest economy that will be mutually beneficial.
We cannot take the rain forest’s resilience for granted. We are on a path to destroying the Amazon. Turning it into a savanna would get us closer to an uninhabitable Earth. Instead, we can create a standing-forest, flowing-river bioeconomy that fuses scientific and traditional knowledge, preserving biodiversity and improving livelihoods for generations to come. - CARLOS NOBRE, THE NEW YORK TIMES
Carlos is convinced that a sustainable pathway exists in the Amazon and that one need not choose between conservation and unsustainable exploitation of natural resources (which now notably includes many common forms of agriculture, energy, and mining). As a result, Carlos is now working to revolutionize the model for development in the Amazon by promoting the use of emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain, genomics, synthetic biology, DNA editing, nanotechnology, energy storage and quantum computing, as well as bio-mimicry – all managed by local populations to add value to natural assets found in the rainforest and thereby turn the region into a hub for sustainable innovation. Here’s one example: The use of mobile genomics labs, with portable genome sequencers, can produce great value to science and medicine. Forest communities can learn to sequence the genome of plants, animals, and even microorganisms, based on their knowledge of species with particular properties, which they could then register through blockchain systems and monetize. A genetic library of microorganisms would also be key to tackling pathogens – coming from the Amazon or anywhere.
Elected as a Senior Fellow (a highly successful social entrepreneur who enriches the Ashoka network and its collaborative work), Carlos is not just working on a big project. Instead, he is building a whole new pattern of developing new sectors whose cumulative impact will be a new, synergistic human/forest economy and politics.
The Amazon is one of Earth’s most important ecosystems, housing nearly a third of the world’s remaining rainforests acreage and between 10 and 15 percent of all the known wildlife species. Amazon biodiversity plays a critical role in supporting global ecosystem services, absorbing up to 120 billion tons of carbon and generating 15 percent of freshwater that flows into the oceans. Yet over the past 50 years, human activity has increasingly destabilized ecosystems in the Amazon region. Vast swaths of land have been cleared for cattle and commercial crops. Additionally, rising temperatures due to global warming have led to more frequent and severe droughts. The combination of deforestation, higher temperatures, and more extreme droughts has increased the forest’s vulnerability to fire and has accelerated global climate change.
Before the 1980s, neither the government nor Brazilian society recognized the value of rainforests. Policy towards the Amazon was dominated by the belief that conservation was a barrier to economic progress, and there was little concern for the issue of climate change. There was virtually no climate research in Brazil and minimal involvement in international environmental policy.
Carlos’s pioneering research demonstrated that failing to curb rainforest degradation could increase warming in the region by two to three degrees Celsius by 2050. The resulting disruption of the hydrological cycle could lead to a tipping point, converting large parts of the tropical forest into dry savannah and risking ecological collapse on a continental scale.
The “bioeconomy”... concept, is seen by researchers today as one of the main alternatives to bring wealth and development to the Amazon without the need for cutting down trees or polluting rivers.... Carlos Nobre, the founder of Amazônia 4.0, highlighted that it is possible to further develop the region to bring wealth and development to those who live there. - BBC
That process, known as savannization, would devastate biodiversity and threaten the livelihoods of more than 30 million people who inhabit the Amazon, notably including especially vulnerable indigenous communities. But the effects of savannization would reach much further than the basin, irreversibly affecting ecosystem services that are essential to human life globally. Savannization of large portions of the Amazon would result in emissions of more than 200 billion tons of carbon, overtaking the amount it now absorbs, thus reducing the forest’s crucial role as a carbon sink and protector against climate change. Finally, given that deforestation can cause the displacement of disease-carrying animals from their natural habitats in search of food, there is now growing concern that severe ecological degradation might be a strong driver of infectious disease transmission, as well.
Carlos has worked at strategic national and international levels to increase understanding of the relationship between the Amazon and climate change, providing guidelines on how to build the technical and institutional infrastructure needed to take action. His groundbreaking research has provided critical evidence that the Amazon is worth vastly more if it is substantially preserved than if destructive extraction continues.
In 1995, Carlos led the establishment of the Brazilian Center for Weather Forecasting and Climate Studies, which became the most advanced center for monitoring climate changes in Latin America and for the coordination of international projects related to climate and Amazonia. Then, in 1998, Carlos launched the Large-Scale Biosphere-Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia (LBA), the world’s largest international environmental science program. Specifically, he united an interdisciplinary network of 280 global institutions, including NASA and the European Union, to better understand global environmental change and the role of the Amazon. This widely heralded study—which continues to date and has engaged over 1,000 researchers—contributed to building the collaborative research infrastructure that was critical to developing effective policies and galvanizing the public and the media towards action.
Recognizing the need for translating scientific knowledge into practical solutions, Carlos then harnessed the media, public events, and high-level international fora to communicate the science of climate change in a language that a wider audience could easily understand. Carlos raised public awareness about the effects of deforestation on climate change and, conversely, how climate change may affect the Amazon and its inhabitants. By making the numbers relevant to people’s daily lives and showing them that there was a way out, Carlos helped trigger a paradigm shift in public opinion that galvanized grassroots campaigning and organization to push for policy change in Brazil. At a global level, Carlos leveraged foreign media to bring attention to the universal significance of the Amazon, which fueled international concern and put the spotlight on Brazil. The political and economic costs of external pressure, combined with growing demands from Brazilian civil groups, were decisive in inducing the government to step up and try to curb deforestation.
Further, in 2008, Carlos launched the Center for Earth System Science in Brazil, institutionalizing the field of earth system sciences. The Center expanded the local scientific community’s vision beyond climate to encompass multiple, interlinked dynamics affecting global change. The Center’s integrated systems model now forms part of the IPCC’s global climate assessment process. In Brazil, this model became the standard for calculating the costs and benefits of any proposed project’s impact on the national agenda for sustainable development.
In early 2011, massive landslides and floods caused by record-breaking rains claimed more than 900 lives in the hills of Rio de Janeiro state. That devastation provided the sense of urgency Carlos needed to successfully push for the creation of the National Center for Monitoring and Alerts of Natural Disasters. Early warnings of the risks of natural hazards issued by this Center are in great part responsible for an 80 percent reduction in deaths caused by natural disasters since then.
NEW SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP
In his latest initiative, Amazonia 4.0, Carlos seeks to promote social justice and wellbeing for Amazonian populations by building local capacity and employing new physical, digital, and biological technologies to increase the value of renewable resources and create new industries. Once again, Carlos is applying his masterful organizing skills to orchestrate a large number of players, including several universities—such as the University of São Paulo— citizen sector organizations, grassroots organizations, and funders to design a new model of inclusive bioeconomy in the Amazon. The collaborative is setting up mobile Creative Labs (LCA) and a Rainforest Business School to create long-lasting capacity in the Amazon. The LCAs, which operate like mini-factories, leverage technological advances, and local knowledge to innovate new products.
The first LCA to be implemented in order to add value to forestry products is modernizing production and the uses of cocoa and cupuacu. By utilizing small computers with special software and sensors that are connected to each of the machines used in chocolate production, they are able to achieve fine control of the process. The LCA platform allows users to bring their own characteristics to the process by adding other biodiversity ingredients to the recipe, choosing the fermentation and roasting point, and even printing molds with their own design. (A concrete example of how revolutionary the concept is for the process lies in defining the roasting point of the seeds, which is crucial for the final taste of the chocolate. Today, the control is done in manual ovens. Inside the LCA, the oven is equipped with temperature sensors and a computer, with a program that controls the electrical resistors, allowing a roasting curve to be drawn where the temperature varies over time. The entire process is tracked end-to-end, and the data is stored in a database using blockchain technology that could become publicly accessible via a barcode. – a factor that will be important for the viability of these products in the international market, which is becoming increasingly demanding in terms of product provenance and supply chains.) The Amazonia 4.0 team expects the average value of a kilogram of cacao from the forest to go from R$15 for the raw product to R$300 for the processed fine chocolate it will now produce. (USD3 to USD56).
Another Creative Lab (LCA) under Amazonia 4.0 aims to engage local communities in genome sequencing myriad forest species. The initiative has the potential to protect public health by identifying new biomedical benefits that can come from species growing or living in the forest and enabling disease surveillance that can be monetized. The focus of this initiative is to empower local populations with the necessary technical, business, and legal skills needed to make decisions about how to do the work, share the resulting data and ensure the fair compensation of indigenous communities for their intellectual property. The project is also designed so that the locals running the business will have strong incentives to protect the forest source of its samples. In doing so, Amazonia 4.0 also seeks out how to harvest these benefits in ways that are synergistic with forest health overall.
We stand exactly in a moment of destiny: The tipping point is here,” Brazilian climatologist Carlos Nobre wrote ... “It is now. - THE WASHINGTON POST
Carlos grew up on the outskirts of São Paulo. He became interested in environmental issues as a teenager, yet the conventions of the time narrowed his career options. Always up for a challenge, he selected the most difficult course: electrical engineering. As a student in the 1970s, he had the chance to visit the Amazon at a time when deforestation was rare. The undisturbed rainforest captivated Carlos and inspired him to transition his studies to climate science and to earn a Ph.D. in Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1983.
After completing his PhD, Carlos joined the National Institute for Space Research in Brazil, where he began collaborating on research in the Amazon that would become a turning point in his career: a British-Brazilian pioneering experiment on forest-atmosphere interactions. Two years later, Carlos was participating on major scientific projects in the Amazon with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Carlos then returned to the United States, where, during postdoctoral studies at the University of Maryland, he conducted and published the groundbreaking “point of no return” research on the impact of the Amazon’s deforestation on global climate.
The scientific breakthroughs Carlos advanced helped deepen the understanding of the role of the Amazon and its deforestation in the global environment. These experiences cemented Carlos’ position as a leading figure in the field and as one of the most important scientists in the world. Such recognition opened the doors to leadership positions at some of the most important scientific institutions, both within and outside Brazil, giving Carlos a platform to push the national and global agenda on advancing the research and protection of the environment.
He worked to communicate the complex science of climate change to a broader audience, using his storytelling ability and influencing skills to inform public debate and mobilize different sectors. Carlos is one of those extraordinarily, rare scientists who causes galvanizing systems changes—who unites different players for the common good. He bridges his passion for rigorous science and research with his entrepreneurial vision and unstoppable persistence. Carlos has now launched nothing less than creating a new economy for the Amazon. This entails creating one new economic sector after another. Each enriches its human participants in ways that protect the forest and that make its people its champions.