When I was growing up, my aunt Dr Darcy B. Kelley was a huge influence. A published neurobiologist and now a lauded HHMI professor at Columbia University, she instilled the importance of science in me. And it wasn’t just me she has inspired – through her public lectures and the EST/Sloan Foundation project which challenges the existing stereotypes of scientists and engineers in the popular imagination, she has had a huge impact on bringing science and technology into the public realm. And with the climate crisis making front page news, coupled with the COVID pandemic, our dependance on science and scientific developments is evermore evident.
The fact that a vaccine for COVID was developed so quickly seemed like nothing short of a miracle when it was first announced a year ago. And so UNESCO’s World Science Day for Peace and Development, which takes place annually on November 10, seems especially relevant this year. Their aim is to highlight the important role that science has in society and to engage the public in new scientific developments. The climate crisis is also an added dimension to this topic – just what a crucial role scientists play in helping us to understand more about our incredible, fragile planet and in making societies as sustainable as possible. This year the theme is “building climate-ready communities”, which ties in well with COP26: United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Glasgow, UK, and although China and Russia didn’t participate, some important decisions have been reached, such as:
- More than 100 countries agreed to slash methane emissions by 30 per cent over the next decade
- Over 40 countries plus many other organisations agreed to phase out coal-fired power plants by 2030
- A sizeable 120 nations promised to not only end, but reverse deforestation by 2030
- Progress on emission-cutting pledges has been slightly better than expected, aiming to limit global warming to 1.8°C
- The world’s largest banks and asset managers have pledged to meet net-zero goals by 2050
What needs to be recognised is that developing countries have the right to develop and progress just as much as Western societies already have done. President Barack Obama noted this in his recent video about his work to get nations to agree to the Paris Accord, pointing out that it wasn’t fair that countries such as India should have to sacrifice their development for the sake of a greener planet. And one of the main perquisites of the Paris Agreement was that richer countries would help poorer ones develop greener technology and they agreed to set aside $100 billion per year by 2020. However poorer countries are still waiting to receive that money. Thankfully some countries promised their own measures at COP26, with Australia, for example, increasing its financial commitments for the Asia-Pacific region to a total of $2 billion over the next five years and Japan promised an extra $2 billion a year in climate finance.
So let’s be allies of the economically developing countries, who will inevitably suffer more from the climate crisis than richer nations. Their development should not be impeded by the need to curb carbon emissions, instead let’s work together to help them procure clean, green energy and enjoy a safer future. Because, as my aunt, Dr Darcy B. Kelley, wrote in 2020, science “requires great and unremitting courage and the ability to nurture optimism, even today.”