Amy Whitchurch, Executive Editor, on the highlights of the Autumn 2021 issue of Geoscientist
“A code red for humanity”. This stark warning was issued by the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, on release of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last month. The report suggests that Earth will likely breach the threshold of 1.5°C of warming (compared to pre-industrial levels) outlined in the Paris Agreement within the next two decades.
The 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), in Glasgow in November, marks the first iteration of the internationally agreed approach for nations to submit increasingly ambitious proposals to ratchet up their climate actions. Given the latest analysis, the meeting is seemingly a now-or-never moment.
To achieve the targets, geoscientists are vital
The report offers hope, however. We can avert catastrophe if we act fast to slash global emissions and remove CO2 from the atmosphere. To achieve the targets, geoscientists are vital – a message that rings loud and clear in this autumn issue of our magazine on climate change and the energy transition.
Geoscience played an important role in identifying anthropogenic-induced climate change and placing the current changes within the context of past anomalies (p. 44), but geoscientists are essential for mitigation and restoration. We must now focus on the science-based solutions needed to meet the targets – solutions that include hydrogen and carbon capture and storage, renewable energy sources, as well as energy storage.
While the overriding message from those that have contributed to this edition is one of optimism, their hope is underlain by realism. The scale of the challenge is unlike any we have encountered before. For example, by 2050 we’ll need a carbon capture and storage industry that is at least the size of the current oil industry (p. 42), as well as a step increase in the volume of mined metals and raw materials to meet demand for electric cars, renewable energy technologies and infrastructure (p. 40). To have any chance of achieving this requires considerable financial support (and, as yet, CO2 storage doesn’t confer any substantial financial benefit), as well as buy-in from a public who have a high level of support for addressing climate change, but who are perhaps sceptical or don’t appreciate the role of geoscience in achieving that (p. 38).
As a geoscience community, we are channelling efforts into shifting perceptions and lifting the visibility of our subject. Amongst other things, our Society provides a number of easily digestible ‘explainers’ on topics including the role of geoscience in decarbonisation, the hydrogen economy, and geological disposal, and has recently compiled a list of essential resources relating to COP26 (p. 6). Additionally, while geoscience student enrolment numbers have waned (p. 14), universities are rebranding their geoscience departments and redesigning courses to increase their visibility and relevance. The UK Centre for Doctoral Training, GeoNetZero (p. 34), is a case in point. This research and training programme is flourishing – welcome news given the scale of the skilled workforce that is required to achieve our low-carbon future.
In the same way that geoscientists facilitated energy transitions of the past, our community is at the fore of the current energy transition (p. 48). It is a critical time to be a geoscientist.
Amy Whitchurc, Executive Editor
- Lear, C., et al (2020) Geological Society of London Scientific Statement: what the geological record tells us about our present and future climate. Journal of the Geological Society, 178, jgs2020-239; https://doi.org/10.1144/jgs2020-239
- McGrath, M. (2021) Climate change: IPCC report is ‘code red for humanity’. BBC News (9 August 2021); https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-58130705
- The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report (2021) AR6 Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis; https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/
- The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate (2015) The Paris Agreement; https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement
- The 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (2021); https://ukcop26.org/
The Geological Society of London Climate Change Symposium (2021)
On 26-27 May 2021, the Society hosted a conference entitled Climate Change in the Geological Record.
View the talks from day 1 and day 2 via the Society’s YouTube channel, read the conference abstract book here, and read a summary of the report by Dan Lunt and colleagues in this issue of Geoscientist here.
The Geological Society of London webinar Series on Geosciences and the Energy Transition
The Society has organised a series of webinars that run from 2021-2022 and explore the theme of geosciences and the energy transition. Read a summary of the discussions so far by Rob Knipe and colleagues in this issue of Geoscientist here, and watch the powerful introductions to the series from Michael Daly, President of the Geological Society of London, and Sir Andrew Mackenzie FRS, Chair of Shell, below: