2020: the year the climate changed?


2020 written in lights

End fossil fuels, talk about changes, set ambitious targets and push for policies. Grantham Institute experts wish for climate action in the new year.

There is a palpable feeling that 2020 could be a turning point for action against climate change.

Although at the most recent UN Climate Summit in Madrid, government-level negotiations made slow progress, many voices are winning support from the ground-up: from Taipei to New York, J Sainsbury’s Plc to Bank of America, artists to lawyers and thousands of youth and teenage activists from Greta Thurnberg to Climate Outreach award winners Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner and Aka Niviâna.

Starting the build-up to the upcoming summit in Glasgow, November 2020, we asked experts working at the Grantham Institute what would turn climate change from global disaster into a problem we can solve in time to save the lives and livelihoods of people who will be most affected.

These are their wishes for governments, organisations, cities and society to help create a cleaner, greener, fairer future for everyone on our planet.

For anybody looking to make personal eco-resolutions, check out the Grantham Institute's top tips of 9 things you can do about climate change, first published in April 2019.

Add your own comments and suggestions below the article.

Dr Ajay GambhirDr Ajay Gambhir, Senior Research Fellow (Climate Change Mitigation Policy)

I’d like 2020 to be the year that sees the start of a wave of environmentally responsible behaviour - when people really start to internalise and reflect on the impact their travel, purchasing and investment decisions could be having on our ecosystems, and in particular on what might happen if 7.5 billion people took the same actions as they do. We can’t get out of this mess with technological fixes alone – not in time, anyway.

Kat Petersen, Campaign Manager

The angry one: I want 2020 to be the year when fossil fuel companies are held truly accountable for decades of spreading disinformation and delaying action on climate change. I hope this is the year when fossil fuel advertising is banned.

The nice one: I hope 2020 is also the year when climate change is properly embedded in the educational curriculum, at schools as well as universities and other professional qualification bodies. Empowering our future leaders (along with everyone else!) to understand, act on and prepare for a ‘zero carbon’ future is essential – and what better way to achieve it than placing climate change at the core of our education systems?

Dr Neil Jennings, Partnership Development Manager

For 2020 I hope that more local councils across the UK declare climate emergencies and that they collaborate to share best practice and reduce the costs of going carbon neutral. Within councils, climate action should become a key focus across all departments as they come to realise the many co-benefits of action, particularly to improving health outcomes for their citizens.

How can taking action on climate change make all our lives better?

Dr Oytun Babacan, Imperial College Research Fellow

This year I am going to start many conversations with family and friends about sustainability issues. Every day I work on environmental issues and climate change, but outside work I often feel too exhausted to think about them anymore. However, it is also clear to me that spreading the word is extremely important. As a more specific goal in this year, I have two new flat mates who are very passionate to learn about what they can do better in their daily routine and I am going to help them become environment champions by the end of the year!

Abbie Stone, Media and Outreach Officer

I hope 2020 is the year that Imperial sets its own net-zero target, and I hope it is more ambitious than the governmental one!

I also hope that the UK government brings forward its net-zero target by at least ten years and starts to embed the Sustainable Development Goals into its policies to move us to a cleaner, greener, fairer future.

Professor Richard Templer, Director of Innovation

In 2020 I hope that we will raise the funds to establish the Centre for Climate Change Innovation – a building that fixes climate change.

Neil Grant, Research Postgraduate

Greta Thunberg and the school strikers have given me new hope in 2019 with their courageous leadership. My hope is that in 2020 our political leaders will listen to these prophetic voices that are calling for change, and act accordingly, rather than simply paying lip service to them.

Paul Lickiss stands behind a climate protest on Imperial's Queens Lawn

Professor Paul Lickiss, Academic Leader in Sustainability

I hope that we all realise that believing that there is a problem with climate change is not enough. We need to believe it sufficiently to pay for it both by direct ameliorative measures ourselves and by positive planning to create a more sustainable environment and future to live in.  If we study or work at Imperial, then this is the place we can start.

Dr Jeff Hardy, Senior Research Fellow (Society-led Low Carbon Transformations)

In 2020 I hope that the government finally publishes an energy white paper that sets out how it plans to make homes carbon neutral. I hope this gives support to the households that will benefit the most from warmer, healthier homes, such as families living in poverty. As an additional wish, I hope that this signals a need for energy market reform so that our strategic academic programme EnergyREV has something to get our teeth into in 2020.

Professor Jenny Nelson, Head of Mitigation

Am I allowed to wish that we don’t have a climate denier in the White House or in 10 Downing Street?

Dr Sheridan Few, Research Associate (Mitigation Technology)

I hope that in 2020, a citizens’ assembly on climate change arrives at strong recommendations on how the UK can do its bit to tackle climate change. I hope politicians take note and deliver a cohesive policy package to get us back on track to meet our next carbon budgets. I hope bottom-up movements continue to grow and that our collective individual actions begin to add up to substantive changes.

I also hope that more affluent countries with a higher historical carbon footprint commit to recognising their historical responsibility and taking appropriate international action.

Neil Hirst, Senior Policy Fellow

I hope that 2020 will see China ratcheting up their climate contribution and giving a lead for the success of the Glasgow climate change summit.

Alyssa Gilbert

Alyssa Gilbert, Director of Policy and Translation

In 2019, we have heard voices from all around the world demanding action on environmental challenges, and we have seen more and more evidence of the impact that we have had on our planet. I would like 2020 to be a year of action, responding to that public outcry.

2020 is a big year for environmental get-togethers – with the climate change summit meeting in Glasgow, and the biodiversity convention in Kunming, China – and I hope that these are successful meetings. Ideally, these big meetings should be effective platforms for ambitious international agreement and the launchpad for meaningful action all around the world.

We also have a new government here in the UK making bold statements about strong environmental priorities from biodiversity and conservation through to climate action. In 2020, I want to see tangible improvements, not just strategic statements and consultations.

Professor Martin Siegert, Co-Director

I have many hopes for 2020, but one stands out: 2020 should be the year that we stop frequent flyer programmes, which reward more and repeated flying (and therefore greenhouse gas emissions), and replace them with a frequent flyer levy, which will help ensure those who fly regularly appreciate the environmental significance of their activities and, hopefully, encourage them to use lower-carbon alternatives (such as the train or not travelling at all). 

Dr Robin Lamboll, Research Associate (Climate Science and Policy)

I hope that the UK will use no coal for electricity next year. I hope it will become clear what a climate emergency legally means. I hope that the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow results in a substantial legal framework to incentivise carbon trading and enforce emissions limits. I hope that the forest fires around the world will ignite change and that their ashes will fertilize green growth.

Further reading

In November the Grantham Institute published a comprehensive and peer-reviewed FAQ for policymakers on climate change science and economics, along with our sister Grantham Research Institute at London School of Economics.

In October, an independent report by Imperial’s Dr Richard Carmichael for the UK Committee on Climate Change recommended policies that will help people make greener choices.

In April, Imperial launched the Clean Power Programme, a Professional Certificate Programme about the global transition to a low-carbon energy system for policymakers around the world.

Imperial staff and students looking to make a difference at Imperial, can join a number of groups taking action, including the College’s own Greening Imperial initiative and Sustainability programme, Laboratories Environmental Assessment Framework, Imperial College Union Environmental Society, Divest Imperial and Imperial Against Climate Change.

Header image credit: christmasstockimages.com (CC BY 3.0)


Simon Levey

Simon Levey
Communications Division

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Contact details

Email: s.levey@imperial.ac.uk

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Energy, Strategy-decision-makers, Climate-change, Sustainability, Environment, Comms-strategy-Real-world-benefits
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