Imperial College London has marked ten years of Grantham Institute impact on climate change and environment.
Hundreds gathered for an event to discuss how social, political and scientific attitudes to climate change have progressed in the last ten years, and how to create a sustainable, resilient, zero-carbon society over the next decade.
Attendees heard a lively panel discussion about the top priorities for action on global warming, between the humanitarian campaigner and former Irish President Mary Robinson, Associate Editor and Chief Economic Commentator of the Financial Times, Martin Wolf, and UCL Professor of Climate Science, Chris Rapley.
The event at Imperial College London's South Kensington Campus was the culmination of a year of activities celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment, one the College's Global Institutes which aim to maximise the benefit of Imperial research for the good of humankind.
"Technology is on our side, with plummeting costs for renewable energy like solar and wind power driving changes in energy markets," said Professor Rapley, "but this kind of action is often too abstract, scientists must work harder to make a personal connection with people from all walks of life to create a cultural shift away from fossil fuels."
Mrs Robinson's case for action on climate change centred on improving the living standards of people in nations like Malawi, where she recently visited communities at the brink of development. "People have urgent needs like water management, nutrition and maternal healthcare, which would be put at further risk by global warming, and they need clean energy to run these services," she explained.
"We have a moral obligation to act," Mr Wolf told the audience, "to help developing countries adapt to the climate changes that are coming." In response to the question, "Are you optimistic that the world will meet the challenge of climate change?", Mr Wolf explained that he had not seen significant action and his expectation was that progress would not be sufficient. "However I hope to be wrong," he said.
Moderator Professor Sir Brian Hoskins invited opinions from assembled business leaders, civil servants, entrepreneurs, academics, students and Imperial Alumni about how the Grantham Institute can have the biggest impact on the complex challenge for all humankind of avoiding and adapting to climate change.
Over ten years, the Institute has provided leadership on key research and societal issues, through commentary in the UK and international media, discussion papers and thought-provoking blogs and guest lectures on climate change and the environment by Imperial experts.
In 2010, a major new study led by Grantham Institute co-director Professor Joanna Haigh dispelled the theory that global warming is linked to solar activity, by showing that a decline in the Sun’s activity does not always mean that the Earth becomes cooler.
For more than a century, Imperial has been a place where leading businesses and entrepreneurships are born. In 2012, the College built upon its track record of success by founding the Imperial Climate-KIC-sponsored Cleantech Start-Up Accelerator. This project has since created 80 new cleantech businesses, raising $140 million (USD) of investment while generating more than new 500 jobs.
Attendees at the event mingled with entrepreneurs from Imperial's start-up community, including life scientist Dr Nicolas Kral whose company Phytoform was established in 2017 with the help of the Accelerator programme to work on plant breeding technologies to make agricultural crops more resistant to climate change.
Nearly 200 experts from across Imperial's research and teaching departments have signed up to support the Grantham Institute's aims, and be part of an active and engaged academic community.
Since 2015, the Grantham Institute has supported the development of Networks of Excellence at Imperial, bringing together different parties to tackle challenges such as poor air quality and plastic pollution in the ocean. By engaging with the public, charities and parliamentary regulators such as the Environmental Audit Committee, the Grantham Institute contributed to the change in policy around plastic microbeads, which the government banned from cosmetics and cleaning products in 2016.
Evidence for impact
Decision-making at all levels of business, government and civil society has benefited from evidence and analysis provided by Imperial academics delivered through briefing papers, workshops and events that summarise and discuss evidence for non-scientific audiences. The Institute has published 35 briefing papers over its decade and these have been distributed to nearly 1,900 organisations in over 100 countries.
Each year, a distinguished speaker is invited to deliver the Grantham Annual Lecture to demonstrate the significance of forward-thinking international leadership to business-leaders, policymakers, entrepreneurs, academics, students and the public. The 2016 Annual Lecturer Ms Christiana Figueres (pictured), Former United Nations chief climate negotiator, said: "The work that is being done by the Institute is absolutely key because it will keep countries moving forward understanding that [eliminating greenhouse gases produced by human activity] is actually a huge opportunity."
Training for the future
The Grantham Institute has trained 187 postgraduate researchers for PhD degrees to provide them with the skills to engage with policymakers, industrial partners and the public, to make a difference to society. A collaborative Master's programme with Imperial College Business School teaches students the latest environmental knowledge, and high-profile guest lecturers give students an insight into forward-looking sustainable practices in business.
"I love teaching, and it is even more inspiring to teach young people who are passionate about the purpose of reaching a zero-carbon society," said Dr Mirabelle Muuls (pictured), Master's Programme Director and one of the 2018 winners of the President's Awards for Excellence in Education.
Climate change – an urgent problem
More frequent, and more extreme, weather events, such as those we saw in 2017, are consistent with the predictions of climate science models. Millions of people are already being affected by droughts in Africa and the Middle East, wildfires in California and flooding in the UK – all of which are related to global warming.
Climate change is an urgent problem, which can only be solved by quickly reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases to near zero and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It is important for significant changes to be made within ten years to limit the costs to society as much as possible.
The Grantham Institute, which was established with a donation from the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, was set up at Imperial to provide a vital global centre of excellence for research and education on climate change.
Today, the Institute is established as a prominent authority on climate and environmental science and its application to solving real world problems.
The 2017 Annual Lecturer, Al Gore, Former Vice President of the United States, said: "Congratulations to the Grantham Institute on its tenth year in pursuit of the worthy goal of a sustainable, resilient zero-carbon society."
The Grantham Institute is striving for a sustainable, resilient, zero-carbon society. Join us: www.imperial.ac.uk/grantham
Debate moderator Professor Sir Brian Hoskins invited the audience to tell us how the Grantham Institute can have the biggest impact in avoiding and adapting to climate change.
Read what they said in the comments below, and add your view:
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