Thoughts on COP27 – Professor Emily Shuckburgh, Director of Cambridge Zero

Robert Falcon Scott wrote in his last diary entry on 29 March 1912: “We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far.”

As we enter another COP, with the world at 1.15°C of warming, it feels as though the hope of “keeping 1.5°C alive” is similarly dwindling. But we cannot give up hope – too much depends on it.

As COP26 in Glasgow drew to a close, I said it had provided an important gateway to a 1.5°C world, but that we needed accelerated action to get there.

The twelve months since have been harsh ones. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the impacts on global energy prices have driven a cost-of-living crisis that is reverberating globally. The impacts of climate change have been continuing to take their toll on communities around the world. In the UK we experienced record heat with temperatures exceeding an incredible 40°C leading to estimates of over three thousand deaths, mostly the elderly. Devastating floods in Pakistan have left 10 million children in need of immediate life-saving support.

The IPCC has stated that impacts of climate change on extreme weather are now being felt in every region across the globe and that reaching 1.5°C would be devastating for people and nature. It has also made it clear that addressing climate change requires rapid, deep and in most cases immediate reductions in greenhouse gases in all sectors of the global economy.

But there is still time to act.

Countries must come together at COP27 and increase the ambition in their pledges of emissions reductions, and then translate those through to policies and actions that bring to a halt the rising levels of greenhouse gases.

Every fraction of a degree counts to reducing the worst impacts of climate change.

But with heatwaves, floods and droughts already causing devastation, it is also essential that climate vulnerable countries are supported and that commitments on adaptation and loss and damage are honoured. The importance of this is highlighted powerfully in a film we are launching at COP27 of intergenerational conversations from around the world in which young and older people share their experiences of climate change in their lifetimes.

The private sector too has a critically important role. At COP27 we are helping to foster that through a rich programme of collaborative events being organised by the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

We must stick it out and redouble our resolve to tackle this global crisis. With the sort of human creativity and ingenuity that is so vibrant within the University of Cambridge it is possible to realise a green future –  a future in which we, and our children and grandchildren, can thrive.

Professor Emily Shuckburgh OBE is a world-leading climate scientist and Director of Cambridge Zero, the University of Cambridge’s ambitious response to climate change.

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