Climate Change: “The Fierce Urgency of Now”

To St James’s Palace for a press briefing at the end of the Nobel Laureate Symposium on Climate Change, hosted by the Prince of Wales.

The symposium, attended by 20 Nobel Prize winners and dozens of climate experts, produced a strong closing declaration in keeping with its strangely compelling motto, “The fierce urgency of now”.

The declaration made three demands of world leaders:

1. “An effective and just global agreement” on fighting global warming. This would require a commitment at December’s UN conference in Copenhagen to achieve a peak in global emissions of greenhouse gases before 2015 and a 50 per cent cut by 2050. Given that developing country emissions will continue rise, such an agreement requires industrialised nations to aim for a 25-40 per cent reduction by 2020.

2. Deliver a low-carbon infrastructure – including “smart grids” to connect renewable power sources over large areas – through an unprecedented partnership between governments and business.

3. Protect and restore tropical forests. (This is a pet cause of Prince Charles; as he says, without a solution to rainforest protection there is no solution to tackling climate change.)

It would be easy for a cynic to attack the Nobel Laureate symposium for the way it appeals to snobbery – scientific snobbery by inviting so many laureates and playing up their participation for all it’s worth in publicising the event, and royal snobbery by arranging for a prince to hold it in his palace.

Of course some Nobel laureates are indeed knowledgeable about climate science and involved in the fight against global warming – notably Steven Chu, the US energy secretary. It is not clear what some of the other Nobel attendees contributed, though the idea that laureates as a body constitute some sort of eminent high court of science is an interesting one.

In the end, however, I agree so strongly with the aims of the symposium and its closing declaration that I give it my wholehearted support (for what it is worth). Let us hope governments take the same attitude.

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Clive Cookson, the FT's science editor, picks out the research that everyone should know about, in fields from astronomy to zoology. He also discusses key policy issues, from R&D funding to science education. He'll cover the weird and wonderful, as well as the serious side of science.