Scientists4Climate gathers scientists from universities and institutes across Belgium who are committed to answering the call by youth to let them inherit a sustainable and livable world. Scientist4Climate intends to support the public debate on climate change and climate action with scientific facts and to use our expertise and knowledge to aid the timely transition towards a climate-neutral and sustainable society. Below, we explain the key facts underpinning the core of our mission.
The urgency to tackle anthropogenic climate change cannot be sufficiently stressed. Global average temperature has already risen by about 1 °C relative to pre-industrial levels, and we are increasingly confronted with the consequences: ice sheets and glaciers are melting, sea level is rising, and extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, droughts and heavy precipitation events, are increasing in frequency and intensity. As climate warms, the impacts of climate change become increasingly severe. Moreover, if warming rises above 2 °C, the risk of self-reinforcing climate change, for example caused by more wildfires with enhanced release of carbon dioxide (CO2) and further melting of permafrost with higher release of methane (CH4), will increase considerably.
To mitigate climate change, anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have to be reduced and CO2 emissions have to be fully eliminated. However global greenhouse gas emissions are still increasing and the proposed policy measures still fall far short of what is needed to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement: limit warming to well below 2 °C, and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5 °C.
Knowledge and technologies to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions already exist, but structural changes are needed to transition to a climate neutral society. Key to this transition is the replacement of energy production from fossil fuels by renewable energy. At the same time, we need to rethink the way energy is consumed, products are made, food is produced, and people are transported. Besides eliminating the use of fossil fuels, safeguarding the natural environment and its biodiversity is essential as well. Not only are natural ecosystems at the foundation of all civilizations, they are also essential for climate change mitigation and as a protection against the already unavoidable climatic changes. In addition, the explicit attention to a socially equitable distribution of the costs and benefits of the transition is a necessity to develop the societal support needed and to keep an ambitious climate strategy on course. A more comprehensive list of necessary actions is provided in the two climate panel reports that were published in spring 2019 (1 and 2).
Although the challenge ahead is huge and the fast transition to a climate neutral and sustainable society will not be simple, it is the best option for the future. First, the costs of inaction will be much higher than the investments necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Inaction leads to enormous costs, including damage from floods, storms and wildfires. Extreme droughts and the resulting food shortages can trigger social conflicts and lead to waves of migration. Moreover, the transition to an emission-free society offers the opportunity for positive changes in many other areas, helping to achieve the UN Agenda 2030, with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. For example, the transition has a large potential for job creation, reduced air pollution brings health benefits and abating climate change may at the same time contribute to averting the biodiversity crisis – which is as urgent to deal with as the climate crisis.