Mathematician; professor, doctor, engineer. Inventor of the world's first integrated climate model.

First PhD candidate in climate change.

Jan Rotmans was the first person in the world to successfully develop an integrated climate model (IMAGE – Integrated Model to Assess the Greenhouse Effect) that can model the causes, mechanisms, and effects of human behaviour. It became the breakthrough model of the 1980s and is used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations in climate negotiations, the World Bank, the European Commission, the UN Environment Programme, and the European Environment Agency. Rotmans was still an intern when he started developing IMAGE at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM).

38 Years later, it is still used by the Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), and hundreds of people have worked on its further development. IMAGE marked the beginning of a whole school of integrated climate models, of which there are now many. At the United Nations in New York, Jan Rotmans worked on harmonising these integrated climate models and evaluating global sustainability policies.

Founder of Integrated Assessment

‘Integrated Thinking and Acting, a Necessary Good’ was the title of his inaugural lecture in 1998 at Maastricht University. It reflects the integrated mindset that he has always developed and advocated. Cutting across boxes, disciplines, and fields, he stands at the birth of a multi- and interdisciplinary field called Integrated Assessment. It involves seeking integrated analyses and solutions for complex issues across different scales in time and space.

It grows into an international research area, with its own models, indicators, and scenarios. In that spirit, he establishes his first research institute, ICIS (International Center for Integrative Studies), at Maastricht University, where he was already a professor. ICIS is later renamed the Maastricht Sustainability Institute (MSI). He applies Integrated Assessment to numerous practical situations in the region of Limburg, at the local, municipal, and regional levels, and after seven fulfilling years, he departs for Rotterdam, where his roots lie, and focuses on transition research.

Founder of transition science

Gradually, his interest shifts towards accelerating changes in order to avert the alarming predictions of his climate model – from the ‘why’ to the ‘what’ and especially the ‘how’.

Prof. Rotmans starts studying transitions (complex and transformative societal changes) and develops the global transition model TARGETS, once again a groundbreaking model that builds upon the world model of the Club of Rome. Together with Prof. John Grin and Prof. Johan Schot, he initiates a large-scale national research program on transitions, with a budget of approximately 22 million euros, and establishes the National Transition Research Network KSI, which in turn forms the basis for the European Transition Network.

All of this positions the Netherlands as a frontrunner in the field of transition research and lays the foundation for an international field of transition studies. He is widely recognised worldwide as one of the founders of transition science and has essentially created his own field of expertise.

In 2004, he founds the Dutch Research Institute for Transitions (DRIFT) and becomes a Professor of Transitions and Sustainability at Erasmus University Rotterdam. He has put the field on the map in the Netherlands and Europe, and now thousands of transition researchers work around the world.

Publications and scientific journals

Prof. Rotmans has founded two scientific journals (‘Environmental Modeling’ and ‘Assessment and Integrated Assessment’) and has published over 30 books on sustainability and transitions. In addition, he has published more than 300 scientific articles on the topics of sustainability, environment, transitions, and system innovations. His latest book, ‘Embracing the Chaos,’ has resonated beyond the academic world and has become a real bestseller.

Beeld: Disova

Consultant to governments worldwide

The sustainability challenges, climate issues, and development of transition policies have always been key focal points of Prof. Rotmans’ discourse. Many of his future projections have unfortunately come true, which has established him as an authority both nationally and internationally.

As a result, he advises numerous national and international organisations and governments, including the European Commission, United Nations, World Bank, OECD, ministries in Scandinavia, Germany, England, the United States, Canada, Australia, and Japan, as well as the European Environment Agency. In the Netherlands, he serves as a top consultant to the government and the cabinet. He develops various strategies for the future of the Netherlands, with the most recent collaboration being with KuiperCompagnons on a project titled “A Country with a Plan: Netherlands in 2121.”

Creating Impact

A serious cycling accident in the French Pyrenees several years ago triggered a personal transition for Jan Rotmans. He realised that he needed to share his knowledge and extend beyond his scientific “green bubble.”

To drive transitions, he initiated various societal initiatives. Alongside Marjan Minnesma, he co-founded Urgenda, an organisation that successfully sued the Dutch government, forcing them to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, he founded initiatives such as Nederland Kantelt, Zorgeloos, Education in Transition, and the Gideonsbende.

He collaborates with social entrepreneurs in the Rotterdam region on breakthrough projects under the umbrella of TeamNXT. He is also involved in the sustainability efforts of the Port of Rotterdam. He is determined to create as much positive impact as possible – hands-on, in the true spirit of Rotterdam.

With his expertise, he can create guidelines for transitions so that people from all walks of life can get to work with it. If anyone can lead the Netherlands and Europe out of chaos towards a sustainable and inclusive future, it is Jan Rotmans.

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