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Emily Shuckburgh and Lord Martin Rees among those talking at Cambridge Climate Lecture Series

Emily Shuckburgh. Picture: British Antarctic Survey
Emily Shuckburgh. Picture: British Antarctic Survey

A new initiative to upgrade and widen the debate on global warming will begin with a series of talks in Cambridge which will be streamed live.

The series is designed to increase public engagement in climate change
The series is designed to increase public engagement in climate change

Emily Shuckburgh, a local scientist with the British Antarctic Survey and co-author with Prince Charles of a new book on climate change, will present the four-part Cambridge Climate Lecture Series (CCLS) over the course of three weeks, introducing three key speakers at Trinity College and culminating in a panel discussion involving all three accompanied by Lord Rees, Astronomer Royal and former President of the Royal Society.

Shuckburgh says climate change is not just a doom and gloom story but one which offers the chance to create a new and better world. “Everyone needs to be focused, not just on the risks but also responses and opportunities,” she said.

The first speaker, on Thursday (February 23), is environmental campaigner and Labour peer Baroness Bryony Worthington, co-author of the groundbreaking Climate Change Act of 2008. Her talk “Climate Change – A Race Between Physics and Politics” is already fully booked, indicating huge interest from the public.

She will be followed a week later (March 2) by Anthony Hobley, chief executive of the Carbon Tracker Initiative, a financial sector think-tank whose work has focused on mapping out the risks associated with fossil fuel investments.

The third speaker, on March 9, is Professor Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, who is also chair in energy and climate change at the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia. His talk is titled: “Paris, Climate and Surrealism: How Numbers Reveal an Alternate Reality”.

CCLS organisers, a mixed town and gown group of Cambridge-based residents, have ensured that half of each session will be devoted to questions and answers to ensure maximum public participation.

Free tickets are available to see the speakers in person at Trinity College’s Winstanley Lecture Theatre, but a global audience will be able to access them – and ask questions – via the internet.

More than 120 governments have agreed to find ways to cut their carbon emissions in a bid to keep Earth’s temperature from rising a further 2 degrees Centrigrade above pre-industrial levels for fear it could trigger runaway climate change. This would have severe consequences, scientists warn.

Hugh Hunt, a reader in engineering at the University of Cambridge who chairs the CCLS steering committee, hopes the talk series will become an annual event.

“Our aim is to dramatically increase the level of public interest and engagement on the topic of climate change,” he said. “We hope that everyone will find something of interest, but we’re particularly keen to interact with a younger audience, who will have to deal with these issues in the decades ahead.”

Tony Eva, a Cambridge resident and former petroleum geologist who came up with the idea for this kind of event, said: “If we are to tackle global warming then politicians have to live up to the promises they made when they ratified the climate change treaty in Paris at the end of 2015.

“I’m concerned that in between these big United Nations-sponsored talks political energy ebbs away. The way to counter this is for the public to put pressure on governments here and abroad. I hope this series of talks will keep the subject high up everyone’s agenda.”

Cosmologist and astrophysicist Lord Rees, who was Master of Trinity College from 2004 to 2012, will take part in a panel discussion on March 16 which will wrap up the series. The Cambridge-based academic is also concerned that ministers can be dragged off course by “siren voices” telling them everything will be all right. “I worry that we have to wait till the downsides of climate change are even more apparent than they are today before action is taken,” he said.

Mr Eva is keen to ensure that all sections of the community are engaged in the series. “This is not just about (low carbon) theory, it’s about practice both here in East Anglia and worldwide. We hope to harness the power of the university lecture hall to project our message worldwide.”

Tickets and information can be obtained from climate-series.eng.cam.ac.uk.

:: Terry Macalister, a former energy editor of The Guardian, is a member of the CCLS steering committee.

:: Read our Science features every Wednesday in the Cambridge Independent.

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