Frontiers’ $3.3 Million ‘Planet Prize’ Winners

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The Swiss Frontiers Planet Prize has granted US$1.114 million each to three researchers working at ‘planetary boundaries’ of potential disaster.

Mangrove forests and limestone at Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Jitti Narksompong

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Urgent Action Is Needed’
The Lausanne-based Swiss research publisher Frontiers, with a total US$3.3 million prize that seems commensurate with the potential importance of its award program, has today announced (June 26) three winners of its “Planet Prize.”

Each of the three winners named today receives 1 million Swiss francs (US$1.114 million) to support his research.

Those three winners are:

  • Pedro Jaureguiberry, Instituto Multidisciplinario de Biología Vegetal (Argentina)
  • Peter Haase, Senckenberg Society for Nature Research (Germany)
  • Jason Rohr, University of Notre Dame (USA)

These “international champions,” as the program refers to its winners, were named at the Villars Institute’s symposium at Villars-sur-Ollon, and this trio of winners was drawn from an initial pool of just 23 “national champions” selected by a jury of 100 “sustainability and planetary health experts—that group chaired by Johan Rockström.

The Planet Prize was established by Frontiers in 2022, on Earth Day, and has been endorsed by the International Science Council in Paris. On Tuesday (June 25), the council posted an article by Tracey Elliott, in which the assessment, while hardly upbeat, does indicate a need for “scientists to be doing more” about the climate crisis. Elliott writes:

“It is increasingly evident that the political will is not there; that the current trajectory of national and multilateral policymaking is either too slow or heading in the wrong direction entirely, with politics appearing to disengage from environmental crises in many countries.

“Meanwhile, the world is getting hotter, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, extreme weather events are more frequent, the disparity between the rich and poor more acute, and our world is in the middle  of a sixth mass extinction.

“Decades of evidence and advice are not being listened to and acted upon, nor with the scale and speed that is required to mend our broken planet. The world risks missing “a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a livable future. …

“Exasperated with the lack of political progress, and on the principle that scientists have an obligation not just to describe and understand the natural world but also to play an active part in helping to protect it, some scientists have turned to more activist approaches to convey their messages and draw attention to the climate and ecological crises.  Continued government inaction, they believe, now justifies direct action, peaceful nonviolent protest, and civil disobedience to expose the reality and severity of the climate and ecological emergency; in some but not all cases beyond the bounds of current laws as a last resort in this existential crisis. Scientists, they argue, have a moral imperative: with knowledge, comes great responsibility.

“Further, scientists are largely a trusted and privileged community that can bring legitimacy and credibility to social activist movements.”

And in its foundational documents, Frontiers’ competition itself has minced few words about the urgency that drives the creation of such a magnanimous recognition of important science in the field. The program is meant to identify and accelerate the work of “scientists whose groundbreaking research accelerates solutions to help humanity remain safely within the nine planetary boundaries.”

Below, you’ll find a graphic that references those “nine planetary boundaries, which are seen as red lines, “quantitative limits not to be crossed.”

The Three Winners: Argentina, Germany, USA

At the Frontiers Planet Prize ceremony are, from left, Jean-Claude Burgelman, Frontiers Planet Prize director; Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and chair of the Frontiers Planet Prize jury of 100; 2024 winner Peter Haase of Germany; 2024 winner Pedro Jaureguiberry of Argentina; and 2024 winner Jason Rohr of the United States; Kamila Markram, co-founder of the Frontiers Research Foundation; and Henry Markram, co-founder of the Frontiers Research Foundation. Image: Frontiers, Oliver O’Hanlon

Pedro Jaureguiberry

Argentina’s Pedro Jaureguiberry: You can see an abstract from a paper led by Jaureguiberry here at Science Advances: The Direct Drivers of Recent Global Anthropogenic Biodiversity Loss.

  • In its rationale for the selection of Jaureguiberry’s work, the Frontiers program writes that his “research explores the balance of our ecological systems, crucial for human well-being, and the impact of human activities leading to biodiversity loss. In a groundbreaking study, land and sea use change and direct exploitation of natural resources have been identified as the main drivers of this loss. Interestingly, these primary factors are subject to variations in different regions and types of ecosystems, with oceans being predominantly affected by direct exploitation and climate change. This revelation has been instrumental in shaping global sustainability targets for the forthcoming decade and has unveiled vital areas for future exploration. The aim of this research is to foster a deeper understanding of these impacts and pave the way for implementing the most important measures to secure the future of our planet.”

Peter Haase

Germany’s Peter Haase: The abstract referred to by the Planet Prize program in its choice of Haase as one of the three international winners is The Recovery of European Freshwater Biodiversity Has Come to a Halt at Nature.

  • From the rationale: “The vitally important freshwater ecosystems, although constituting just 2 percent of the Earth’s surface but amazingly sheltering 10 percent of all animal species, are found to be under tremendous threat caused by various human activities. These biodiversity-rich locales providing indispensable clean water have been heavily tarnished by pollution, dam construction, and climate changes. Some recovery had been witnessed due to mitigation measures, but regrettably this progress was halted around 2010. Professor Haase’s research highlights that further legislative action, such as improved wastewater treatment and reduced pesticide use, needs to be pursued. These measures, when implemented, not only safeguard freshwater biodiversity but also mitigate risks of flooding and drought. With the pressure mounting on these ecosystems, an immediate and collective response is deemed more essential than ever before.”

Jason Rohr

The United States’ Jason Rohr is cited for his work, the abstract of which is at Nature: A Planetary Health Innovation for Disease, Food, and Water Challenges in Africa.

  • From the rationale: Poverty, health, and environmental issues, which are often seen separately, are being reimagined as intersections, marking a missed opportunity for ‘win-win’ solutions. Professor Rohr’s research outlines an innovative, grassroots initiative to highlight this novel stance though a project that tackles schistosomiasis, a parasitic disease putting more than 800 million people at risk around the globe. In this approach, invasive aquatic vegetation was removed from water access points, reducing the incidence of the disease. These plants were subsequently recycled as valuable agricultural inputs with use in compost, livestock feed, and biogas production. Overall health, wealth, food, and energy access in communities were improved because of this intersectional innovation, which is now being amplified to reach more beneficiaries globally. The project shines a spotlight on the pivotal lesson learned—that truly progressive strides towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) require innovative, interconnected approaches that tackle multiple issues simultaneously. This marks a fundamental shift necessary in the scientific and socioeconomic paradigms to effectively fulfill the SDGs.”
The Nine ‘Planetary Boundaries’

Those planetary boundaries are dynamics that keep Earth stable, according to Johan Rockström and Owen Gaffney in their book Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet (Penguin Random House, 2021, foreword by Greta Thunberg). They range from biodiversity and ozone, and they can be tested for their viability by checking on whether they have crossed tipping points.

“The sustainability challenges facing our planet are colossal, demanding immediate attention,” according to the key statement of the award program. “They can be tackled only with a concerted global effort and an intelligent, pragmatic approach, and by uncovering the best ideas in the field of sustainability science.

“Scientists working within sustainability have identified nine planetary boundaries that should not be crossed, as described by Johan Rockström and Owen Gaffney in their book.

“The current state of scientific knowledge makes a convincing case that urgent action is needed to prevent humanity from crossing these boundaries. Science tells us the window of opportunity for action is limited and we need to act now. This is the main ambition for the creation of the Frontiers Planet Prize: to mobilize the scientific community to speed up the search for planetary solutions.”

In the Rockström-Gaffney book, the nine planetary boundaries are discussed as parameters, systemic sensors that serve as keys to where deepening danger is evident.

In Frontiers’ discussion of this concept, we read, “Crossing these boundaries, increases the risk of irreversible, runaway, environmental change, threatening healthy lives on a healthy planet.”

Image: Frontiers Planet Prize

“The current state of scientific knowledge,” Frontiers’ program writes, “makes a convincing case that urgent action is needed to prevent humanity from crossing these boundaries.  Science tells us the window of opportunity for action is limited and we need to act now.

“This is the main ambition for the creation of the Frontiers Planet Prize: to mobilize the scientific community to speed up the search for planetary solutions.”

Mangrove forests and limestone outcroppings at Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay, August 15, 2023. Image: Getty iStockphoto: Chayanan Narksompong

More from Publishing Perspectives on the climate crisis and its relation to world publishing is here; more on international publishing is here; more on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is here; more on academic and scholarly publishing is here; and more on the world’s book and publishing awards regimes is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.