Edinburgh Science Director: It’s Not Technology Standing in the Way of Saving Planet Earth


Earth viewed from orbit on Apollo 8 - by William Anders, NASA

One of the events around climate change at the Edinburgh Science Festival (6-21 April) takes as its starting point the rallying cry “12 Years to Save the Planet“.

Technically, we have 11 and a half years: the title is based on a landmark report published in October 2018 by top scientists at the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). They said we probably have until 2030 to prevent the global average temperature rising more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Given the inability for the world to draw down greenhouse gas emissions thus far (the planet has already warmed by around 1°C due to our fossil fuel burning) what’s the prognosis for the future?

The danger is if we overshoot this more stringent target than the previous 2°C that we will experience even more climate-related turmoil: floods, wildfires, drought, sea level rise, ocean acidification and the huge knock-on impacts on society. Large parts of the planet could become uninhabitable.

I asked Edinburgh Science director Simon Gage, who will chair the event, to look forward by first looking back at where we are.

EG: It is 7 years since we talked about climate change. What do you envisage realistically happening in the next 12 years to address climate change? Will the the pace of de-carbonisation be anything like the past 12 years?

Simon Gage: The last 12 years has seen good progress in the UK to reduce carbon emissions. Cleaner energy supplies and more efficient vehicles and machines have made a difference and similar progress can be seen across Europe.

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Globally though the picture is the opposite with the total emissions of CO2 continuing to rise quickly, caused by growing demand for energy, more coal-fired power stations, more vehicles, and the removal of forests.

The next 12 years are critical and have to better the last 12: in the UK we need to see a rapid uptake of clean vehicles at more than 10 times the current rate and some rapid progress on carbon capture and storage.

These need political will and investment to progress, it’s not the technology standing in the way.

Globally, there needs to be a seismic shift in the way energy is produced to reduce carbon emissions. The best hope here is perhaps the rapidly falling cost of renewables which in many countries are now as cheap as fossil fuels.

But here too, there needs to be the political will to speed these clean technologies in to widespread use.

EG: Is climate change communicated sufficiently well today in Scotland/UK and how could that be improved?

Simon Gage The big picture is that to combat climate change a massive change is needed in the way we all lead our lives and the change has to happen now. The status quo is not an option.

These changes are often painted in a negative light, things we have to take away, give up.

But they can be presented as attractive positive changes: electric cars are now as cheap to run as others; a warm, well-insulated home is more comfortable than a draughty one; eating less meat is no less tasty, helps the planet and is healthier; off-shore wind farms are fine, economic replacements for power stations bellowing carbon dioxide.

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For businesses, adoption of clean efficient technology allows them to carry on prospering – they should not feel held back.

We need people to paint for us this picture of the new sustainable world we must quickly inhabit.

It is a different world, but it is an attractive one. And we need to be helped to understand how we can easily play our part in reaching this new reality.

Simon Gage chairs 12 Years to Save the Planet” on Saturday 6th April, 8pm. He is joined by

This burning question is also going to be addressed in a speech tomorrow (Friday) by Edinburgh Medal winner Christiana Figueres, who was a key player in brokering the Paris Agreement in 2016.



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