Declaration to the G20 is the alliance's first initiative
On November 18, the International Universities Climate Alliance (IUCA), of which Caltech is a member, issued a declaration to the G20 leaders urging them to work toward a zero-emission future. Andrew Thompson, professor of environmental science and engineering, is Caltech's point of contact for the IUCA, a network of 40 universities in 18 countries united in an effort to engage in international and national policy discussions around climate change.
Recently, Thompson offered some perspective on the group's mission and why addressing climate change is a top priority, even as the globe grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.
How did Caltech get involved in this effort?
Caltech is a charter member of the IUCA, which was established with the goal of forming a group of the world's top universities, representing all regions, to provide a strong and respected international voice on matters related to climate change science, impacts, mitigation, and adaptation. In particular, research and outreach activities being carried out through the Linde Center for Global Environmental Science and the Climate Modeling Alliance (CliMA) were identified as being closely aligned with the aims of the IUCA.
What is Caltech's role in the IUCA?
At these early stages, we are contributing to the development of activities for this new group. Caltech will be a part of the North and South America Regional Committee and may in the future host regional meetings to share the latest knowledge and innovation on climate and sustainability, not just in an academic setting, but among government and industry leaders as well.
What is the goal of the IUCA's first initiative?
The formation of the IUCA was motivated by a need to improve communication between scientists and policymakers, especially those working on international climate agreements. Right now, the primary initiative is to support world leaders, policy makers, and industry in planning for, and responding to, climate change. The alliance will provide a mechanism for universities to share the latest climate research and enable greater collaboration between leading research teams.
How is the IUCA pursuing that goal?
The IUCA's first declaration, released November 18 ahead of the G20 Summit, urges world leaders to use the post-COVID recovery period—once we get there—to implement measures to counteract climate change. The declaration also provides a warning that failure to do so will lock in serious consequences that will impact generations to come. The declaration highlights the critical role that up-to-date scientific knowledge, developed and delivered through multinational collaborations, can provide in informing policy changes.
Why now, when everyone is focused on dealing with COVID-19?
COVID-19 has restructured almost all aspects of society, from the economy to our day-to-day interactions with family, friends, and colleagues. The pandemic has been an important reminder of the need for global cooperation, informed by scientific knowledge developed through multinational efforts, when addressing societal challenges.
In many ways, global climate change has similarities to the pandemic: scientific research has identified our vulnerability to future changes, including sea-level rise, rising temperatures, and increased prevalence of extreme events such as wildfires and hurricanes, and solutions will require investment in innovative solutions guided by independent research.
The new IUCA declaration urges world leaders, particularly G20 leaders, to learn from the pandemic, and to heed expert advice, act with urgency, and to be ambitious in meeting the challenge of climate change. Post-COVID infrastructure investments and job-creation schemes provide an opportunity to move beyond incremental changes and do more to address decarbonization, build a climate-resilient world, and plan a sustainable trajectory for society.
How does Caltech's involvement in IUCA fit in with other climate-related efforts on campus, including the Resnick Sustainability Institute (RSI)?
One of the key messages from the IUCA is that universities can be key hubs of innovation and education that are needed to address major societal challenges from pandemics to climate change. An exciting aspect of RSI is that the Institute's initiatives have motivated and supported faculty, postdocs, and students across campus to identify how their research expertise can be aligned to address sustainability solutions. This has generated new interdisciplinary collaborations that might not have otherwise developed. These are the types of interactions that IUCA is hoping to promote and will be key to our response to climate change on a global scale.