Call to Action

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is a Portuguese institution, established in perpetuity, with the statutory goal of undertaking charitable, artistic, educational and scientific activities. Committed to all humankind, its mission is to support sustainable development by actively promoting the well-being and quality of life of vulnerable groups in the population, and in balance with environmental protection and economic prosperity.


Humanity today faces a severe and unprecedented climate crisis with devastating consequences for people, nature and the economy.

The past five years have been the hottest on record [1] and 2020 may well be the warmest or second warmest year ever [2]. The global temperature rise, caused by excessive greenhouse gas emissions, is disturbing the Earth’s balance. Heat waves, severe droughts, fires, melting glaciers, ocean acidification and rising sea levels are devastating effects that are increasingly more likely to occur [3]. Besides the serious environmental impacts, such as biodiversity loss and the collapse of natural ecosystems, climate change also affects essential components of human well-being and socio-economic development, most notably public health, access to safe drinking water and clean air, sufficient food and secure shelter.

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© DR

In 2019, extreme weather events caused natural disasters at a rate of one per week. In July 2020, floods in India, Nepal and Bangladesh killed more than 300 people and displaced millions more. Severe drought and the resulting food shortages in 2019 saw 45 million people at risk of hunger in 14 African countries. According to the World Bank [4], up to 143 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and South Asia could be forced to leave their homes by 2050 due to rising sea levels, water shortages or crop loss. It is also estimated that the climate crisis could push an additional 100 million people into extreme poverty worldwide by 2030 [5].

According to the World Health Organization, between 2030 and 2050 climate change is expected to cause up to 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress [6]. Countries with weak health infrastructures, mostly in developing countries, will be the least able to respond to these threats [7].  In this regard, the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the large pool of scientific evidence supporting the clear link between climate change and biodiversity loss and the serious threats to public health, such as the spread of serious infectious diseases like Ebola, the bird flu, MERS-CoV and, more recently, Covid-19 [8]. Today, more than 75% of new infectious diseases originate in animals, and climate change scenarios in Europe increase the risk of the introduction or re-introduction of various diseases, such as malaria, dengue, leishmaniasis, European encephalitis or Lyme disease.

Without drastic change, humanity will continue to face these consequences particularly those who are most vulnerable.

© DR
© DR

The warning made by the IPCC in its 2018 special report is clear: if we do not limit global warming to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, the impacts on people and natural ecosystems will multiply, culminating in a doomsday scenario [9]. To stop this from happening, we must cut greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030, in other words, 7.6% per year between 2020 and 2030. Yet, Earth’s average temperature had risen 1.1ºC above pre-industrial levels by the end of 2019 and CO2 emissions increased 1.5% per year over the last decade [10]

Numbers don’t lie and time doesn’t stand still. The response to the climate emergency includes the need for immediate, structural and systemic change across different aspects of society, calling for action by governments, businesses, non-governmental organisations, foundations and people towards carbon-neutral growth.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown just how vulnerable the current development model is to global human-induced changes linked to significant environmental, social, economic and technological risks. But it has also highlighted the importance of being able to adapt and anticipate management of the different current and future crises, including the climate emergency, the loss of biodiversity, the scarcity of drinking water, the environmental degradation and the increase of social inequalities. Resilience has become key to building the future of humanity.

We must therefore adopt integrated responses that contribute to a robust and inclusive transition, tackle the challenges of the 21st century, uphold the principles proposed in the UN 2030 Agenda and that put the sustainability of the planet and human societies first.

The transition to a climate-neutral society is both urgent and a unique opportunity to build a future based on a symbiosis between society and the environment underpinned by a sustainable economic system that creates prosperity and well-being.

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation aims to contribute to this transition. Committed to all humankind, the Foundation’s mission is to support sustainable development by actively promoting the well-being and quality of life of vulnerable groups in the population, while maintaining a balance between protecting the environment and economic prosperity.

The Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity underscores the Foundation’s commitment to urgent climate action. It is the Foundation’s hope that this initiative will help mitigate the negative effects of climate change on people, the environment and the economy, and promote a society that is more resilient and better prepared for future global change, while protecting the most vulnerable.