Scientific evidence has been accumulating for decades proving that human activities are a threat to life on Earth. Global change is exacerbated by dangerous anthropogenic interference.
Governments agree that science is settled. But governments have failed at the scale and pace needed to act. What should climate scientists do?
There is an unwritten social deal between science and society. Public investment in science aims to improve our understanding of the world as well as support positive societal outcomes. The science-society agreement is broken for climate change.
The failure to act decisively is a verdict on governments and politicians across the board. However, climate scientists cannot be absolved from their responsibility.
As we write in This article explains the conundrumThe tragedy is the need to give more evidence, even though the phenomena are well-understood and the science is widely accepted. It is easy to be lulled into believing that the impasse is somehow our fault. We need a new way of doing science: creating new scientific institutions, strategies collaborations, methodologies and methodologies.
Global carbon dioxide emissions are still high 60% more todayThey are much higher than they were when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IGPCCC) was created in 1990.IPCC) published its first assessment. We need to recognize that the problem is a political one and that further climate science may distract attention from where the real problem lies.
Was COP26 too little, too late?
The draft summarises the outcome of COP26. Glasgow Climate PactSome progress has been made, including an agreement to reduce coal-fired energy, remove subsidies on other fossil fuels and a commitment of double adaptation finance to increase climate resilience in countries with low incomes.
But many of the world’s leading scientists argue that this is too little, too late. They note that COP26 has failed to translate 2015 Paris Agreement into practical reality to keep global warming below 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels.
Even if COP26 commitments can be fulfilled, there is a high likelihood that humanity and the Earth will face a difficult future.
What can climate change scientists do in the face this evidence? We see three possible options — two that are untenable, one that is unpalatable.
Where can climate change scientists go for help?
The first option is to gather more evidence and hope for further action. Continue the IPCC process while remaining politically neutral and abstaining from any policy prescriptions. A recent Nature editorialWe called on scientists to do the same: Stay engaged to support future climate conference COPs.
This decision ignores the complex relationship of science and policy and goes against the logic underlying our scientific training to evaluate and act on the evidence. We know the reasons for global warming and what to do about it. This has been known for a long period.
Governments just haven’t taken the necessary action. Nature recently published this statement. Survey, six in ten of the IPCC scientists who responded expect 3℃ warming above pre-industrial levels by 2100. It is therefore impossible to continue with the first option.
The second option is intensive social science research, and climate change advocacy. Naomi Oreskes, Harvard historian, recently described the second option. Observed, the work of the IPCC’s Working Group I (WGIThe physical science basis for climate change (the ) is complete and should be closed. This understanding must be translated into action. That is the domain of WGII (on impacts and adaptation) and WGIII (“on mitigation of greenhouse gas emission”)
In parallel, scientists are increasingly involved in advocacy in a variety of forms, including non-violent civil disobedience.
Although it is more promising than option 1, there is very little evidence of its impact so far. It is also unlikely that this pathway will bring about the urgent, transformative actions that are required. This option is also unsustainable.
Stop working on the IPCC until governments do their part
The third option is more extreme, but less appealing. We call for a moratorium in climate change research that does not do more than document global warming or maladaptation.
The focus should be on exposing and renegotiating the broken science society contract. We call for an immediate halt to all future IPCC assessments due to the breach of the contract as outlined above. Until governments are ready to fulfill their responsibilities in good conscience and mobilize action to ensure a safe level global warming, we demand a halt to all further IPCC assessments. This is the only way we can end the climate change tragedy.
Some readers might agree with our interpretation of this tragedy, but not with our assessment of the options. Some may need more information on the scope of a moratorium or concern that it could damage the credibility or objectivity of the scientific world.
However, we question whether it is our “duty” to use public funds to continue to refine the state of climate change knowledge (which is unlikely to lead to the actions required), or whether a more radical approach will serve society better.
We have reached a crucial juncture in the history of humanity and the world. A moratorium is the only way to stop climate change research and restore the science-society relationship. The other options are tempting but offer false hope.
We would like to acknowledge the work by Andrés Alegría in preparing the graphic.