The last few weeks have focused the world’s attention on the economy, stock markets and interest rates. Understandably so – who isn’t interested in the financial crisis? After the immediate shock of the financial crisis, however, it now seems – thanks to swift political action – that the crisis may be prevented from developing into a global economic collapse. To deal with this crisis, we have seen world leaders come together and make far-reaching agreements with record speed. When stock markets plummet, politicians act quickly.
If only politicians would act so quickly and resolutely in response to the climate change crisis! Scientists have seen – and warned of – the signs of a threatening climate collapse, long before Wall Street arrived at the cliff from which it recently plummeted. Why is it that world leaders cannot come together on climate change and show the same form of dedication to finding a solution for this crisis as they do in response to an economic crisis?
The financial crisis, in itself, is likely to inhibit efforts to address climate change and the root of the climate change problem – our society’s dependence on fossil fuels. Falling oil prices reduce the incentive to move from fossil fuels to renewable energy forms. Nevertheless, to ensure future energy security (and economic growth), it is essential that we make the move from fossil fuels to renewables. For the sake of the climate, the sooner that change is made, the better. The financial crisis has already caused several countries to suggest that initiatives designed to reduce society’s emission of CO2 be postponed. That mustn’t happen!
Scientists need to come together now and assemble for these politicians the reasons why efforts to minimize climate change should not – must not – be postponed:
* The later we start to actively combat human induced climate change, the more expensive the battle will be.
* The sooner we eliminate our dependency on fossil fuels, the less likely we are to be drawn into conflicts over resources.
* The development of new and sustainable energy technologies is as much a new opportunity for growth as it is a burden for the economy.
To deliver this message we need the cooperation of many disciplines ranging from atmospheric chemistry to consumer theory, from economics to humanities. That’s why the ten leading international universities forming IARU (International Alliance of Research Universities) are bringing scientists from more than 70 countries and from all relevant research disciplines together in Copenhagen in March to open the toolbox for world leaders that will later meet at the United Nations Climate Conference (COP15).
The COP15 will be crucial in terms of curbing climate change as it is, and in reality is the last call for politicians to reach an agreement for an immediate successor to the Kyoto protocol. The latest scientific results indicate that a continuation of global efforts to reduce CO2 emissions is even more necessary than we realized at the time the Kyoto protocol was adopted. Despite the massive political focus on climate, emissions are still rising, glaciers are melting ever faster and each prediction of future sea level rise seems to top the previous.
The congress, “Climate Change, Risks, Challenges and Decisions” will take place in Copenhagen from 10 – 12 March 2009. As the local host of the United Nations Climate Conference, the Danish Government will bring the results from the congress to the delegates at the COP15. This gives the scientists at the IARU congress a unique opportunity to feed input to the political process and to help open up the toolbox and ensure that political action is taken on a sound scientific basis. So far, over 700 scientists from all over the world have submitted abstracts but there is still room for more. With a strong team of plenary speakers including Rajendra Pachauri, Lord Stern, Dan Kammen, John Schellnhuber and Jos√© Barroso, the congress is set to deliver a very strong message to the world leaders: that the Earth is the most important investment portfolio we have.
Katherine Richardson is Chair of the Scientific Steering Committee for the congress, “Climate Change, Risks, Challenges and Decisions” in Copenhagen 10 – 12 March 2009. She is also the Chair of the Danish Climate Commission and vice dean at The University of Copenhagen. The International Alliance of Research Universities is comprised of Australian National University, ETH, Z√ºrich, National University of Singapore, Peking University, University of California, Berkeley, University of Cambridge, University of Copenhagen, University of Oxford, The University of Tokyo and Yale University.