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Leading institutions say governments must act now if serious climate risks to be averted

21 July 2015

Twenty four of the UK’s foremost academic and professional institutions have called on national governments to take immediate action if they want to avert the serious risks posed by climate change.

A joint communiqué published today brings together a diverse range of organisations from across the sciences, social sciences, arts, humanities, medicine and engineering for the first time.

The UK’s leading institutions say that to tackle climate change, governments, including that of the UK, must seize the opportunity at climate talks in Paris in December to negotiate an agreement based on the latest scientific evidence. 

Pointing to that scientific evidence, the organisations say 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.

Lord Stern of Brentford Kt, FBA, FRS, President of the British Academy, 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 in Paris at the end of this year. 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. Tackling climate change is a responsibility for the whole world, but the UK has a special position at the forefront of international efforts. The statement highlights the fact that the transition to a low-carbon economy offers enormous opportunities for better and stronger growth, while high-carbon growth cannot be sustained.”

Sir John Beddington HonFREng, CMG, FRS, President of the Zoological Society of London, said:

“Clearly greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced drastically and soon if there is any chance of meeting the 2 degree goal.  However, climate change is already with us and even if greenhouse gases were drastically reduced in the near future, significant climate change will occur for many decades.  It is imperative that the best scientific advice on adaptation to this change is provided.  This is particularly important for human welfare, where water and food security issues loom, but also for the environment.  Global wildlife populations have halved in the last 40 years and such declines will be exacerbated by changing climate.”

The full communiqué is as follows:

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 [1] 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.

[1] Net zero global carbon dioxide emissions