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Speakers corner 22 September 2021

Waters around have grown. Yes, but non only

Adel El Gammal - EERA Secretary General

Dear readers,

Last July, on the eve of the summer break, I titled the editorial "Come gather 'round people, wherever you roam And admit that the waters around have grown". It was a reference to Nobel Prize Bob Dylan visionary lyrics on the transformation of society.

Just two months later, as our planet is inexorably getting warmer, society has entered into a new level of existential crisis.

After the stark conclusions of IEA's report "Net Zero by 2050", the summer brought us a burst of ultimate wake up calls, providing ever-stronger scientific evidence of the dramatic and irreversible biophysical transformation of our planet.

On August 9, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the first part of its Assessment Report 6 about the Physical Science of Climate Change. "Many of the changes observed in the climate are unprecedented in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years, and some of the changes already set in motion—such as continued sea-level rise—are irreversible over hundreds to thousands of years."

Under the most optimistic scenario, IPCC AR6 warned that climate was set to warm by at least 1.6°C in the coming decades. At the same time, it strongly revised the severity of the impact that such warming could have on human habitat, living conditions, and activities.

As yet another escalation of the urgency we are facing, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) recently cautioned that about a third of all analysed plant and animal species were under severe stress. "The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health, and quality of life worldwide.". As such, IPBES evokes the possibility of a sixth mass extinction.

A special joint report from IPCC and IPBES entitled "Biodiversity and Climate Change" also established the clear interconnection between those that have been now recognised as the most pressing issues of the "Anthropocene", calling for a more integrated scientific and policy approach at the highest level.

A few days ago, an editorial published in 220 newspapers, including some 20 prestigious journals such as The Lancet, the British Medical Journal, and the National Medical Journal of India, alerted on the deterrent effect on human health of combined global warming and collapse of biodiversity: "Science is unequivocal; a global increase of 1.5°C above the pre-industrial average and the continued loss of biodiversity risk catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse."

The recent developments can only restate the absolute necessity to address our planet issues from a holistic and systemic perspective. They tell us once again that climate, biodiversity, human habitat, food, water, and other vital resources are intrinsically interlinked into a global system. As such is their nature, they also compel us to fundamentally revise the siloed approach that has been "hard coded" in our societies' architecture and governance system and therefore imprinted in our mental structure as individuals.

The current scenario suggests that the economic paradigm might not result from any "universal law". Therefore, it must be profoundly revised in a way that steers human action towards the most reasonable transformation pathways. The principles guiding this transformation should emanate from a global, holistic, interdisciplinary, and fair "benefit-cost" analysis.

The EERA White Paper on the Clean Energy Transition is a first and landmark attempt to break existing governance and policy silos, proposing a more consistent, integrated, and convergent transition approach towards climate neutrality. It constitutes the first step to challenging our common thought process towards a more systemic understanding of the daunting and pressing challenges human society faces today. This paper ambitions to fuel the debate on the need for a societal transformation and seed the reflection to redesign human innovation capabilities.

This EERA flagship publication will be officially released at the occasion of the high-level policy conference "The Clean Energy Transition: From Vision to Reality" that will take place on October 20 in Brussels.

As a leading research association, it is our everyday job to listen to the voice of science. And it has unequivocally alerted us of the eminent dangers humanity is facing. It is time for all of us to listen and act.

Science has not only provided us with these repeated and undisputed emergency warnings, but it is also offering light and hope. It has told us that containing global warming below 2°C is still achievable if immediate bold and concerted action is taken globally.

The IEA "Net Zero by 2050" report puts forward 400 milestones setting out what needs to be done and when to decarbonise our global economy in just three decades. The set-out roadmap is not an easy journey. It will radically transform our economy and energy system, notably precipitating the shift from fossil-based mainstream energy technologies. The pathway hinges on a massive clean technology push fuelled by a required historic surge in clean energy research and innovation investments, hinting at tripling current investment levels. Moreover, it calls for transforming society and driving citizen's behavioural change towards more responsible consumption patterns.

It is not surprising then to learn that the narrow pathway to avoid climate chaos will only be reached by taking international cooperation to unseen levels and driving concerted and convergent collaborative actions across the globe.

The pathway is outlined. Policymakers around the world have a historical responsibility to act immediately and decisively.

In EERA, as an open not for profit organisation catalysing European research for a climate-neutral society, we stand convinced of the power of science. What is more, we stand confident in the virtues of collaboration and call for interdisciplinary scientific cooperation opportunities across nations. All conditions met, we trust that humanity will rise to this historic and unprecedented challenge.

Adel El Gammal

EERA Secretary General

As a leading research association, it is our everyday job to listen to the voice of science. And it has unequivocally alerted us of the eminent dangers humanity is facing. It is time for all of us to listen and act.

Adel El Gammal