Rockström is an internationally recognized scientist for his work on global sustainability issues. He helped lead the internationally renowned team of scientists that presented the planetary boundaries framework, first published in 2009, with an update in 2015. The nine planetary boundaries presented in the framework are argued to be fundamental in maintaining a “safe operating space for humanity.” This framework has been embraced as an approach to sustainable development, and has been used to help guide governments, international organizations, NGOs, and companies considering sustainable development.
Before focusing on the planetary scale, Rockström’s research aimed to address building resilience in water scarce regions, and is an expert on water resources. After completing a PhD at Stockholm University’s Systems Ecology Department in 1997, he spent nearly two decades working on applied water research in tropical regions. He has also published research on with agriculture systems, land use, and ecosystem services.
Aside from his research helping to guide policy, Rockström acts as an advisor to several governments and business networks. He also acts as an advisor for sustainable development issues at noteworthy international meetings, such as the United Nations General Assemblies, World Economic Forums, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conferences (UNFCCC, also known as COP).
He is chair of the steering committee for CGIAR’s Research Program on Water, Land, and Ecosystems; a member of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN); as well as a member of several other committees and boards.
Rockström acts as chair of the advisory board for the EAT Foundation, a network that integrates knowledge on food, health, and sustainability to work towards providing environmental limits for healthy diets of the growing global population. He is one of 20 international scientists working on the EAT-Lancet Commission, an assessment of the global food system, and whether a transformation towards healthy and sustainable diets is possible. This assessment is the first systematic analysis of the food system at the global scale, and is due for completion in 2017.
Rockström has published over 100 research articles, including articles in Science and Nature, as well as 20 book chapters. He has also published four books: The Human Quest (2012) and Big World Small Planet (2015) with National Geographic photographer, Mattias Klum; co-authored Water Resilience for Human Prosperity (2014); and Bankrupting Nature (2012) co-authored with Swedish writer and politician, Anders Wijkman.