2016 Laureate

Carlos Nobre

For pioneering efforts in understanding the Amazon, one of Earth’s most important ecosystems.
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Guardian of the Amazon receives the Volvo Environment Prize

Brazilian scientist Professor Carlos Nobre is the Volvo Environment Prize laureate for 2016. He gains the award for his pioneering efforts in the understanding and protection of the Amazon, one of the Earth´s most important ecosystems. The Amazon rainforests are among the richest regions on earth in terms of biodiversity.

Between 10 and 15 percent of all the species found on land live there and the woodlands store between 100 – 120 billion tonnes of carbon. The Amazon rain generates about 15 percent of all fresh water that flows into the world’s oceans. So the Amazon has a significant impact on biodiversity and climate.

Carlos Nobre has played a pre-eminent role over several decades in research into the Amazon rainforest, including cutting edge research in Earth system science, says the jury of the Volvo Environment Prize in its motivation for the 2016 award. For years there has been grave concern about the deforestation of the Amazon and the conversion of rainforests into pasture for livestock or for large-scale cultivation of crops. But development has slowed, and deforestation has fallen by nearly 80 percent over the last 10 years. New ventures in cattle farming or agriculture in rainforest areas have dropped considerably.

“It is perhaps the last place you would expect an industrial revolution to take place, but this could very well be the future for the largest tropical forest in the world.”

– It is a combination of new legislation, tougher regulations and law enforcement, but the reduced profitability of exploitation has also contributed to the change, says Carlos Nobre. He warns that logging is still at a high level, and may transform areas of rainforest into more savanna- like conditions, seriously affecting the role that the Amazon has in the global ecosystem. If warming in the Amazon exceeds 4°C or more, or if more than 40 % of the forest area is clear cut, a tipping point could be reached and forest dieback may become irreversible. However, the current trend is hopeful, he says, and highlights a new role for the Amazon.

Video about laureate (9:47 min)

– It is perhaps the last place you would expect an industrial revolution to take place, but this could very well be the future for the largest tropical forest in the world. Tapping the Amazon’s current biodiversity – countless living organisms, plants, animals and insects – using the latest technological advances can lead to a new industrial revolution according to Carlos Nobre.

– The world is undergoing a high-speed transformation driven by innovations in artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, synthetic biology, DNA editing and bio mimicry to name but a few. By preserving the rich and vast resources of the Amazon and combining them with this new technology, we can actually see a new future for the Amazon and its inhabitants, says Carlos Nobre.

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– Science is making rapid progress in understanding how things are created in nature, how they behave and function, and processes that took million of years to evolve. In the medium and long term, we can envision a vast number of innovations arising from the tropical forest, in Brazil and elsewhere. Besides his long academic career Professor Carlos Nobre in 2011 was appointed Secretary for Policy and Research at the Ministry of Science and Technology in Brazil. In 2013 the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon appointed Carlos Nobre to his newly created Scientific Advisory Board.

Jury citation for the 2016 Volvo Environment Prize laureate

Professor Carlos Nobre has been a pioneer in efforts to understand and protect the Amazon, one of Earth’s most important ecosystems. He has initiated world-leading research on tipping points for the Amazon rainforest and the implication for climate, championed prominent roles for South American scientists in Amazon research, led international global change research efforts, and linked science with policy for the Amazon in national and international arenas.

Professor Carlos Nobre is one of the world’s leading Earth System scientists, and has played a pre-eminent role over several decades in research on the Amazon rainforest. He was a leader in the establishment and implementation of the Large-Scale Biosphere-Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia, and ensured that South American scientists had a central role in the project. Prof Nobre has mentored and supported numerous young scientists from Brazil and elsewhere, and in his own research has explored possible tipping points for the rainforest related to climate change and land clearing. He has chaired several scientific boards and commissions, and was the chair of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) from 2006 to 2012. In 2011 Prof Nobre was appointed Secretary for Policy and Research and Development Programs at the Ministry of Science and Technology, with responsibility for Brazil’s research and higher education budget. In 2012 he coordinated scientific guidance for the UN’s Rio+20 Summit, and a year later was appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to his new Scientific Advisory Board. In summary, Prof. Carlos Nobre has built an outstanding environmental science career over many decades, including cutting-edge research in Earth System science, mentoring and support for early career researchers, leadership of national and international research programs, and science-policy interfaces at the highest levels.

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