Parliamentary Links Day, climate change and science

22 June 2021

Today Sir Adrian Smith made a keynote speech at Parliamentary Links Day. Parliamentary Links Day is the largest science event on the Parliamentary calendar, organised by the Royal Society of Biology on behalf of the science and technology community, bringing together scientists, learned societies and MPs. This year’s theme is science and climate change. Below is a transcript of the speech.

For a long time the science of climate change was most closely associated with our understanding of the problem, and that is still important. But fortunately the debate is no longer about the scale of the problem – it is now around what we are going to do about it. And science has some of the solutions.

Ahead of the recent G7 summit, the science academies of the member nations joined forces to call for more concerted action on climate change and biodiversity loss. The summit resulted in ambitious targets for net-zero but there was not enough on how to deliver the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to reach net-zero and how to adapt to the reality of some global warming. Right now, we need governments all over the world to establish evidence-based, transparent, road maps on how to get to net-zero, specifically which low-carbon technologies and nature based solutions are truly ready to deploy now, which need further development and demonstration at scale, such as CCS, and which need further research, such as alternative aviation fuels. These roadmaps are essential to demonstrate how countries will match actions with words. They will also ensure public expenditure will deliver value for money, providing the greatest reduction in emissions for every pound spent, when budgets are sorely stretched. Reducing uncertainty in the future direction of low-carbon technologies will also help drive private sector investment.

Each of the countries represented on this panel have made commitments to cuts in emissions - now we need to put our scientific might to the test with solutions. We may have strengths in different low-carbon technologies but that is good – transparent roadmaps will allow us to work together, to be more efficient and to maximise results. 

International collaboration and shared investment are essential to create global economies of scale for new low-carbon solutions. Future scientific solutions must translate into technologies that are affordable for all, not just the wealthy nations.

At the Royal Society we have been working with scientists from around the world ahead of COP26 to identify critical technologies and research areas that should be prioritised. We have published twelve policy briefings which summarise where investment can make the biggest difference. 

From revolutionary ideas for heating and cooling buildings, to scaling up technologies like “green” hydrogen and ammonia fuels, made using renewable energy. From carbon capture and storage to nature based solutions in forestry, agriculture and land use.

The UK Government has been a leader in setting net-zero targets but targets are meaningless without delivery. So far £12 billion has been dedicated, over 10 years – that is not going to green a £2 trillion economy and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

The UK net-zero strategy expected this autumn should establish an independent technology assessment body that can shape the UK roadmap to net zero. Such a body would identify which technologies are ready to deploy, which need further development and which need further research. It can help build political and public consensus about the route to net zero and, importantly, can survive political cycles. 

In less than six months, the nations of the world will come together in Glasgow for COP26. If they were to all commit to developing technology roadmaps for net-zero it would show that they are about more than just words – they are about action.

There is cause for optimism. Over the past year, we have witnessed the power of science in a global emergency. Scientists worked to understand the COVID-19 pandemic, find treatments and ultimately create the game changing vaccines.

We have shown we can come together in the face of a crisis. A generation of climate research has starkly demonstrated the crisis we face. If governments raise their ambitions, with science as a guide, then we can change course and build a sustainable, resilient, net zero future.