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Climate change and extreme events conference

31 January 2006

The time has come for coastal cities to begin an honest discussion of actionable alternatives should the worst case climate change and extreme events scenarios come to happen. In such scenarios, the seas rise 90 centimetres, changing coastlines and affecting lives; storms and droughts become more severe in duration and intensity; air temperature rises 11 degrees. Once this process starts, there is no way to turn it back.

UK and US scientists and experts on urban issues, air quality, flooding prediction, ecology, insurance and climate change gathered at Rice University for the CLIMATE CHANGE, EXTREME EVENTS AND COASTAL CITIES CONFERENCE on 9-10 February. Jointly sponsored by UK Science and Technology, The British Consulate-General/Houston, Rice University and University College London, the conference addressed the most serious consequences that could occur for coastal cities as a result of climate change.

“We’ve talked and conducted research for some time now. Today, most scientists around the world agree about the history of our earth’s climate change, but we don’t yet know what it means for the future of our planet nor exactly when things could unravel. We do know it is time to move beyond talking and start making some intelligent plans about dealing with the most probable scenarios,” said Lord Julian Hunt, professor of climate modelling in the Department of Space & Climate Physics, and Earth Sciences, and honorary professor of mathematics at University College London.

“It is imperative to look at viable ways to aggressively move our world to a sustainable foundation and reduce emissions, especially carbon dioxide. And to do this from a strategic and global approach with all developed and developing nations involved in that discussion,” he added.

"Climate change will create a wide range of challenges for coastal cities such as London and Houston,” said conference co-organiser Mark Wiesner, professor of civil and environmental engineering, director of the Environmental and Energy Systems Institute, and director of the Shell Centre for Sustainability at Rice University. “This conference will be an important opportunity to share information and forge collaborations to address these challenges."

As the UK assumes the presidency of the G8 nations and the EU in 2005, Prime Minister Tony Blair has made climate change one of the most important issues for this year. In a recent speech at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, he said, “Business and the global economy need to know this isn’t an issue that is going away. My clear view, for what it’s worth, is that the debate will be how and on what time scale it is confronted; not whether.”

“I also think we need to work much harder to find ways to implement the vast range of low-carbon technologies that have already been developed; energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, cleaner fossil fuels, avoiding waste. All of this can be done,” he added.

Among the ideas discussed for implementation were:

  • Reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Even to limit the temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, global carbon dioxide emissions will have to peak and start to decline in the next 10-20 years.
  • Join the UK in adopting radical policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Since 1997, the UK has added a levy on intensive users of energy and established an obligation on energy suppliers to generate 10 % of electricity from renewable by 2010 rising to 15 % by 2015 and 20 % by 2020.
  • Adopt the UK’s commitment to cut carbon emissions by 60% by 2050.
  • Achieve buy-in from developed economies and emerging nations to make similar cuts of this magnitude in order to avoid the worst-case impacts of climate change.
  • Expand the European trading scheme for carbon emissions that was implemented this year. This program is a powerful driver to more sustainable means of energy generation, industrial production and business activity.

The discussion will continue as the Kyoto Treaty goes into force on February 16. While the US has signed the UN Framework Agreement on Climate Change, it must now decide whether it wants to sit at this table and help shape the future technologies, solutions and opportunities or risk marginalizing itself by not actively participating in the process.

About the conference partners

The UK Science & Technology Network

The UK’s progressive science and technology environment makes it the partner of choice for world-leading researchers, developers and academics eager to turn knowledge into innovation. Learn more about how the UK is developing science and technology for a new world at www.uksciencetech.com.

University College London (www.ucl.ac.uk)

University College London is an international leader in academic instruction and research; collaborative programs; and innovative partnerships with commerce, industry and other universities around the world. It has more than 3,800 academic and research staff in 72 departments that are dedicated to the highest standards in education. Founded in 1826, UCL was the fourth-ranked UK university in the top 500 world universities for 2004.

Today it has more than 600 established and personal chairs; 35 fellows of the Royal Society; 27 Fellows of the British Academy; 13 Fellows of the Royal Academy of Engineering; and 75 Fellows of the Academy of Medical Sciences. In its history, the Nobel Prize has been awarded to 18 academics and graduates from UCL.

Rice University (www.rice.edu)

Rice University is consistently ranked one of America’s best teaching and research universities. It is distinguished by its: size—2,850 undergraduates and 1,950 graduate students; selectivity—10 applicants for each place in the freshman class; resources—an undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio of 6-to-1, and the fifth largest endowment per student among American universities; residential college system, which builds communities that are both close-knit and diverse; and collaborative culture, which crosses disciplines, integrates teaching and research, and intermingles undergraduate and graduate work. Rice’s wooded campus is located in the nation’s fourth largest city and on America’s South Coast.

Further Information

For further information, speeches or to arrange interviews please contact Dominique Fourniol, UCL Media Relations Office, on 0044 207 679 9728, or d.fourniol@ucl.ac.uk.