Warwick Climate Forum #WCF15
The content of last Saturday’s Warwick Climate Forum was both life-affirming and deeply worrying. Students had brought together an impressive array of speakers from various disciplines — physics, marine ecology, soil sciences, economics, law. A consistent theme throughout was the importance of evidence to underpin decisions. And that we haven’t time; we need transformational change in this generation.
“Humans have never lived in such a CO2 atmosphere.” So said Imperial’s Professor of Atmospheric Physics Joanna Haigh. She gave and information-dense (well for me as so much was new info) lucid account of what’s going on and why. Eerie stuff, scary if you stop to think even for a moment . . . which we did many times through the day.
Jacqueline McGlade, the Chief Scientist on the UN Environmental Programme flew in from Nairobi (and flew promptly back for the 41st session of the IPCC). She explored the relationships between science and international governance; the biggest challenge to scientists is to integrate with others — but the independence of their work is essential. International science mustn’t be dragged into governance. She also repeatedly said, both in her talk and in later conversation, changes are afoot. The ‘many voices’ are being heard, a vast array of ideas are in the air.
Charles Sheppard, a professor of marine biology, researches the effect of natural and anthropogenic stresses on ecosystems. The oceans are in trouble, he says, and we appear not to be able to fix it. I tweeted this great comment from him:
Governments see scientists as just another stakeholder view instead of letting the objective science underpin all decision-making.
Achim Doberman has been the boss at Rothamsted Research since early last year. A soil scientist and agronomist, he describes himself as a ‘pragmatist’, informing people so they know the options they have.
He told us that a combination of increasing population and changes in food consumption (from 88% plant-based in the 60s to the current 65%) and climate change, transformative changes need to be made, he says, in this generation. By 2050, we will need 60% more food grown on the same crop and pasture land that we use today. That means ‘sustainable intensification’ which is an increasing difficult proposition for farmers.
There are big uncertainties around climate change, he says. Yet there are two universal trends predicted by all the models. The first is that temperatures will increase and that will cause heat stress and rising sea levels. The second is more severe and more frequent floods and droughts.
The effect of only a two degree increase in temperature will be detrimental to crop yields in most of Asia.
His view is that the following is holding us back:
- Investment: Currently 1% of ag-GDP is spent on research. Something like 10% is needed.
- More coordinated research needed: Currently, lots of people are doing lots of different stuff — this is called ‘competition’ and it’s not delivering what’s needed.
- Lack of product thinking: There’s an unhelpful distinction between ‘basic’ science and practical work; practical problems are urgent and scientifically very challenging.
- IP: Access to knowledge and understanding, wherever it is, is needed.
- Politics: Regulations should be evidence-based not subject to political influence.
- People: We need more and smarter people working in agriculture.
He finished his talk with a question: To what extent and how can you change human behaviour?