A clarion call for accelerated action to curb climate change and address biodiversity loss was issued yesterday (5 September 2022) in the Science Museum by Alok Sharma MP, President of COP 26, the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference.
Mr Sharma addressed a gathering of around 50 influential individuals in biodiversity and climate change, from policymakers and industrialists to scientists, nicknamed ‘COP26.5’, which examined how to both boost biodiversity and cut carbon.
Yesterday’s meeting, titled ‘Looking ahead to COP27 and COP15: priorities for Government’, was jointly organised by the Natural History Museum and Science Museum at the sunset of the UK’s Presidency of COP26 to assess what was achieved, what’s left to be done and give a Gaia-like overview of the parallel UN COP (Conference of the Parties) processes to avert dangerous climate change and ecosystem destruction.
The meeting, held under the Chatham House Rule, was opened by Sir Ian Blatchford, Chairman and Chief Executive of the Science Museum Group, along with Dame Mary Archer, Chair of the Board of Trustees, and closed by Dr Doug Gurr, Director of the Natural History Museum.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government Chief Scientific Advisor, provided an overview on this ‘important and urgent topic’, expressing his optimism that young people have the vision and commitment to deliver the climate transition through nature positive solutions.
The meeting, which began minutes after the new Prime Minister was announced, was told by Mr Sharma: ‘we will need all of you, all of your resources and all of your expertise to ensure the UK maintains its ambition and commitment to lead long after our presidency ends.’
At the Glasgow COP26 climate conference, ‘we were able to forge the historic Glasgow pact,’ he said, adding ‘we had kept 1.5 degrees alive,’ a reference to the Paris Agreement of 2015, in which countries were asked to make changes to keep global warming ‘well below’ 2°C – and to try to aim for 1.5°C – to prevent a climate catastrophe.
However, he added: ‘Clearly we have to do more, we have to move faster, we need more countries to come forward with updated emission reduction targets, particularly the major emitters,’ said Mr Sharma, who recorded his address for the meeting as he attended the Africa Adaptation Summit in Rotterdam before ‘the final sprint to COP27 in Egypt in November.’
‘All the evidence shows that the chronic threat of climate change is getting worse for all of us.’ But the ‘geopolitical and economic situation is more perilous now than ever. For many, climate action has not been front of mind, as it was last November.’
After an address by Zac Goldsmith, Minister of State for the Pacific and the International Environment, a heartfelt plea about the plight of global ecosystems, illustrated by his own photographs, was given by Prince Hussain Aga Khan of the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat, who today opens an exhibition at The Ismaili Centre, The Living Sea: Fragile Beauty.
Three discussions followed, all chaired by the distinguished environmental journalist David Shukman.
The first examined change and biodiversity: interlinkages in science and policy with Dr Tamsin Edwards of Kings College London, lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Report who has appeared in the Science Museum’s Climate Talks series; Richard Deverell, Director of the Royal Botanic Garden; and Dr Alan Whitehead, MP Shadow Minister (Climate Change and Net Zero).
The audience heard how the machinery of government needs to be more joined up, that public understanding of biodiversity and its role in planetary resilience lags behind public engagement with climate change, and how COP15 needs a ‘Paris moment’ for biodiversity, not least in finding the language to describe the overarching goal to save millions of species threatened with extinction in a way that the 1.5 degree Paris target has done for climate change.
The second session, Resourcing and financing the Green Economy, was addressed by Rhian Mari-Thomas, Chief Executive Officer, Green Finance Institute; Adam Matthews, Co-Chair, the Transition Pathway Initiative, which informs the Science Museum Group’s sponsorship decisions; Prof Richard Herrington of the Natural History Museum; and Prof Cameron Hepburn, Director of the Oxford Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment.
The discussion highlighted the need for tighter definitions of what counts as sustainable and more urgent focus on the deployment of primary capital to deliver real-world emissions reductions. The global delivery problem around the transition, attendees heard, is more acute than the ambition problem. The immense resource demands of a green future and the complexity of supply chains are a major challenge, but continual innovation in solutions will provide a realistic prospect of delivery. A better understanding of social factors is needed in order to avoid leaving people behind in the race for a green future.
The final session on ‘Harnessing the power of innovation and data-driven technology for a net zero and nature positive future’ was addressed by Prof Mark Girolami, Chief Scientist of The Alan Turing Institute; Prof Andy Purvis, research leader at the NHM; and Professor Tim Lenton, Director, Global Systems Institute, University of Exeter, the climate tipping point expert who advised on the Science Museum Group’s Amazonia exhibition.
They were agreed that the big data revolution has given us the tools to curb climate change and ecosystem destruction, but only if the world acts on the information. For example, big data can, with the help of AI, give us early warning signals about harmful tipping points. One example of this is the NHM’s PREDICTS project.
On the flip side, data can also help us to understand where reinforcing feedbacks such as economies of scale can accelerate positive change, including the shift to renewable energy, in what are called positive tipping points.
After the event, a tour of Our Future Planet: Can Carbon Capture help us Fight Climate Change? was given by museum Science Director Roger Highfield and Deputy Director Dr Julia Knights. The Natural History Museum has Generation Hope – a free programme of events to support young people to take positive action for nature.
Fittingly, throughout the discussions were references to Jim Lovelock, who died on his 103rd birthday in July. Lovelock taught us how interconnected the living and physical world is through his audacious Gaia theory.
Discover more about climate change in the Science Museum Group’s animated series.