Stopping climate change requires urgent use of science

23 January 2021

The goodwill that science has generated must now be harnessed to this next big battle.

Using science with urgency, at scale and in cooperation will help the world prevent cataclysmic climate change, Nobel laureate Professor Brian Schmidt has told a UN summit.

Professor Schmidt, Vice-Chancellor of The Australian National University (ANU), was speaking on a special panel on climate solutions featuring Nobel laureates from around the globe and kicking off the 2021 United Nations Climate Adaptation Summit

Professor Schmidt told the global audience, including heads of state and government, "by employing science, with the necessary scale, urgency and collaborations, we can and will succeed" in stopping catastrophic climate change.

"As someone once said, nothing focuses the mind like the prospect of facing a firing squad. We are focused on climate change like never before," Professor Schmidt said.

"As a member of the world's scientific community, I'm here to tell you that science, as always, stands ready to serve the people of the world.

"Renewing our trust in science and other forms of knowledge is vital." 

Professor Schmidt pointed to the devastating COVID-19 pandemic as the perfect example of how using science urgently and at scale helps solve major challenges to humanity's existence.

"By tackling COVID-19, science... has proven its value to humanity," he said.

"The goodwill that science has generated must now be harnessed to this next big battle.

"As in the pandemic, science employed with the necessary scale, urgency and global collaborations is the only answer."  

Professor Schmidt also said Australia had a special moral obligation to act on climate change.

"With the world on a trajectory to exceed a 1.5 degrees Celsius increase above pre-Industrial levels between 2027 and 2042, there must be no delay. No half measures. No jurisdictions working against each other," he said.

"For Australia - which is such a large per capita contributor to global emissions and which has such abundance of natural renewable resources - the answer lies in scaling up clean energy generation ASAP. This is an urgent moral obligation which Australia must not shirk."

Professor Schmidt has also written to Australian Prime Minister the Hon Scott Morrison MP highlighting examples of young Australian scientists helping to solve the climate challenge - including using seaweed to help stop Co2 emissions.

"Earlier this week, I spoke to 500 future leaders in science about the challenges of addressing climate change at the National Youth Science Forum," he said.

"I challenged them to come up with the best idea for using COVID-19 stimulus spending to boost climate adaptation. I intend to share the top five ideas with our Prime Minister because he needs to hear from the people who are going to inherit our planet.

"Young science students, Phoebe and Wen have suggested a great investment is to use an Australian discovery. That by adding a small amount of seaweed to the feed of cows reduces their methane emissions by about 90 per cent, with a corresponding increase in livestock productivity.

"A great idea - and just one that our global leaders need to consider."

Download audio and video of Professor Schmidt's keynote address here

Read his full speech here.