Joint letter by 24 scientific, medical and engineering bodies say mitigation will also bring economic and health benefits
An unprecedented coalition of the UK’s most eminent scientific, medical and engineering bodies says immediate action must be taken by governments to avert the worst impacts of climate change.
But the joint communiqué, issued by 24 academic and professional institutions, also says that tackling global warming would drive economic progress, benefit the health of millions by cutting air pollution and improve access to energy, water and food. To have a reasonable chance of keeping warming below 2C, the internationally agreed danger limit, the world must end all emissions within the next few decades, the communiqué warns.
The British Academy is one of the 24 institutions and its president, the climate economist Lord Nicholas Stern, said David Cameron and the UK had a special responsibility to lead the fight against climate change. “The UK led the world with both the modern scientific revolution and the industrial revolution, and must lead again now on the creation of a safer, cleaner and more prosperous world,” Stern said.
“Now is the time for the prime minister and the rest of his government to show leadership on this issue, by implementing effective domestic policies to tackle climate change and to support efforts overseas, including a strong international agreement [at a crunch UN summit] in Paris at the end of this year,” said Stern.
Cameron signed a pledge ahead May’s general election which promised “to accelerate the transition to a competitive, energy-efficient low-carbon economy”. But since winning a majority, Cameron’s government has beenheavily criticised for cutting support for renewable energy, including onshore wind farms, and for energy efficiency schemes. “The transition to a low-carbon economy offers enormous opportunities for better and stronger [economic] growth,” said Stern.
Sir John Beddington, the government’s chief scientific adviser until 2013 and now president of the Zoological Society of London, said some impacts of climate change are already here and will continue for decades, even if emissions are slashed. He said taking steps to adapt to these unavoidable changes was vital: “This is particularly important for human welfare, where water and food security issues loom.”
“Actions need to be taken now, by governments, individuals, businesses, local communities and public institutions, if we are to tackle this global challenge [and] deliver the required cuts in emissions,” states the communiqué. The institutions backing the message include the Royal Society, the Academy of Medical Sciences and the Institution of Civil Engineers.
Another institution involved is health research charity the Wellcome Trust, which has been the focus of a Guardian’s Keep it in the Ground campaign. The campaign has asked the charity to sell its substantial investments in fossil fuel companies. The Wellcome Trust acknowledges climate change is a great threat to health and the campaign argues that it is therefore “morally and financially misguided to invest in companies dedicated to finding and burning more oil, gas and coal.”
The communiqué, issued on Tuesday, spells out the opportunities of action to curb climate change, as well as the risks. “While the threats posed by climate change are far-reaching, the ways in which we tackle them can be a source of great opportunity,” it states. “Capturing this potential quickly and effectively will drive economic progress. There are also significant additional benefits available, including food, energy and water security, air quality [and] health improvements.”
The text of the full communiqué
The scientific evidence is now overwhelming that the climate is warming and that human activity is largely responsible for this change through emissions of greenhouse gases.
Governments will meet in Paris in November and December this year to negotiate a legally binding and universal agreement on tackling climate change. Any international policy response to climate change must be rooted in the latest scientific evidence. This indicates that if we are to have a reasonable chance of limiting global warming in this century to 2°C relative to the pre-industrial period, we must transition to a zero-carbon world by early in the second half of the century.
To achieve this transition, governments should demonstrate leadership by recognising the risks climate change poses, embracing appropriate policy and technological responses, and seizing the opportunities of low-carbon and climate-resilient growth.
Risks. Climate change poses risks to people and ecosystems by exacerbating existing economic, environmental, geopolitical, health and societal threats, and generating new ones. These risks increase disproportionately as the temperature increases. Many systems are already at risk from climate change. A rise of 2°C above pre-industrial levels would lead to further increased risk from extreme weather and would place more ecosystems and cultures in significant danger. At or above 4°C, the risks include substantial species extinction, global and regional food insecurity, and fundamental changes to human activities that today are taken for granted.
Responses. Responding to the challenge will require deploying the full breadth of human talent and invention. Creative policy interventions and novel technological solutions need to be fostered and applied. This will require a sustained commitment to research, development, entrepreneurship, education, public engagement, training and skills.
Opportunities. While the threats posed by climate change are far-reaching, the ways in which we tackle them can be a source of great opportunity. There exists vast potential for innovation, for example in low-carbon technologies. Capturing this potential quickly and effectively will drive economic progress. There are also significant additional benefits available from climate mitigation and adaptation actions, including food, energy and water security, air quality, health improvements, and safeguarding the services that ecosystems provide.
Actions need to be taken now, by governments, individuals, businesses, local communities and public institutions, if we are to tackle this global challenge, deliver the required cuts in emissions, and take maximum advantage of the available opportunities and additional benefits.
Signatories in alphabetical order:
Academy of Medical Sciences, Academy of Social Sciences, British Academy, British Ecological Society, Challenger Society for Marine Science, Geological Society, Institution of Civil Engineers, Institute of Physics, Institution of Chemical Engineers, Institution of Environmental Sciences, Learned Society of Wales, London Mathematical Society, Royal Astronomical Society, Royal Economic Society, Royal Geographical Society, Royal Meteorological Society, Royal Society, Royal Society of Arts, Royal Society of Biology, Royal Society of Chemistry, Royal Society of Edinburgh, Society for General Microbiology, Wellcome Trust, Zoological Society of London