Nobel laureates’ climate tragedy alert

COP21: Some of the world’s leading scientists are backing a declaration delivered to the French president, warning of the disastrous consequences of not limiting global emissions.

nobel climate declaration
Scientists, who have been awarded Nobel Prizes, have recognised in a declaration that the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report represents the "best source of information regarding the present state of knowledge on climate change". Image: Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings / Christian Flemming

 More than 70 Nobel laureates have given an urgent warning of the tragedy they believe that unfettered climate change would spell for humanity.

It is not the first warning of its kind, even from a group as distinguished as this. But it is remarkable for its robust defence of the work and the methods of climate scientists.

The “Mainau Declaration” was handed to France’s president, François Hollande, at the Élysée Palace in Paris by two French Nobel laureate physicists, Serge Haroche and Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, accompanied by Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany.

“The nations of the world must take the opportunity at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris to take decisive action to limit future global emissions,” the declaration states.

Ever-increasing demand

“If left unchecked, our ever-increasing demand for food, water, and energy will eventually overwhelm the Earth’s ability to satisfy humanity’s needs, and will lead to wholesale human tragedy.”

The signatories stress that they are not themselves expert climate researchers, but a diverse group of scientists with “a deep respect for and understanding of the integrity of the scientific process”. All have been awarded Nobel prizes in physiology, medicine, physics or chemistry, with one exception − the Indian children’s rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, who was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2014.

“Some of the brightest minds of our planet, the Nobel laureates, are highlighting what they deem to be one of the greatest challenges of our times: climate change,” Professor Schellnhuber said.

The scientists write: “Nearly 60 years ago, here on Mainau [an island on Lake Konstanz, Germany], a similar gathering of Nobel laureates in science issued a declaration of the dangers inherent in the newly-found technology of nuclear weapons – a technology derived from advances in basic science.

“So far, we have avoided nuclear war, though the threat remains. We believe that our world today faces another threat of comparable magnitude.”

State of knowledge

They praise the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for its recent work. The declaration says: “While by no means perfect, we believe that the efforts that have led to the current IPCC Fifth Assessment Report represent the best source of information regarding the present state of knowledge on climate change.”

The say “dramatic reductions” will be needed to keep emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities from pushing global average temperatures above the internationally-agreed safety level of 2°C. “Failure to act will subject future generations of humanity to unconscionable and unacceptable risk,” they warn.

Professor Schellnhuber, who is an eminent climate scientist, has previously written that “humanity is on the way to unintended self-combustion if we do not immediately turn to the path of sustainability”.

But this ringing Mainau endorsement by Nobel laureates from a wider range of disciplines will give welcome encouragement to the many climate scientists whose work is often questioned, and even derided, by critics with little understanding of either their findings or of the way in which science works. 

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