Tang Prize Laureate Urges Delegates at COP27 to Focus on Climate Resilience and the Poorest 3 Billion

  • 2018年唐獎永續發展獎得主Veerabhadran Ramanathan維拉布哈德蘭•拉馬納森
  • 2018年唐獎永續發展獎得主Veerabhadran Ramanathan維拉布哈德蘭•拉馬納森
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COP27, the 27th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, got underway in Egypt on November 6. Two weeks of intense and heated debates are expected to take place at this summit. In his opening speech, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned the world that humanity is battling for its survival but is losing, as “greenhouse gas emissions keep growing. Global temperatures keep rising.” He also sent out a somber message that “we are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.” Facing this precarious situation, Professor Veerabhadran Ramanathan, the 2018 Tang Prize laureate in Sustainable Development and the climate scientist who first pointed out that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are also a type of greenhouse gases, thinks it is almost impossible to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius. In a related 2018 paper he co-authored, Professor Ramanathan already predicted that the 1.5℃threshold would be crossed by 2030. Therefore, we should take steps now to prepare ourselves for a world that will be 1.5℃ hotter.    


However, in an email to the Tang Prize Foundation, Professor Ramanathan added that we still have about five to eight years to “keep the warming in the range of 1.5℃to 1.7℃.”To achieve this goal, we need to pull three levers simultaneously. First, to “mitigate the emissions of short lived climate pollutants,” such as “methane, HFCs, black carbon soot, and ozone in (the) lower atmosphere.” Second, to “cut down CO2 emissions by almost 50% by 2035.” Third, to “scale up efforts to extract CO2 out of the air using nature based solutions and mechanical/chemical means, to about 5 gigatonnes per year by 2035.”


To the delegates from more than two hundred countries now at COP27, Professor Ramanathan has two messages. One, “we have to change our approach and build climate actions around climate resilience” and it has to be supported by three pillars. “Pillar 1: mitigation to reduce climate risks; this requires pulling on the three levers described above.” That is, to reduce climate risks by lowering the amount of short lived climate pollutants, to slash CO2 emissions by nearly 50% before 2035, and to take measures to remove about 5 gigatonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year. “The second pillar is adaptation, under which actions have to be taken at local to district and state/national levels, to reduce vulnerability and exposure to climate risks.” Finally, “the third pillar is transformation of society and ecosystem to develop adaptive capability.”


COP27 also marks the first time the “loss and damage” financing is included in the agenda. For Professor Ramanathan, who is a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, this decision echoes the urgent call made in the “Resilient Document” he and others prepared on behalf of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and is also his second message. The document argues that “we have to focus our resilience action on the poorest three billion people, who have very little to No access to modern fuels and hence rely on primitive fuels” like wood and coal “to meet basic needs such as cooking and heating.” Moreover, “they now have no ways to adapt to the climate shocks that is falling on them disproportionately.” Thus, “a larger fraction of climate funds” should “be devoted to providing them clean energy access” and there should be “funds to compensate for loss and damage suffered by them,” such as “loss of property due to climate shocks, livelihood and wellbeing.”


Professor Ramanathan was jointly awarded the 2018 Tang Prize in Sustainable Development with Dr. James Hansen “for making seminal contributions to our fundamental understanding of climate change and impacts of air pollution, and taking direct action to advocate and facilitate effective mitigation policies.” He was the first to identify CFCs as greenhouse gases. As early as 1975, he discovered the greenhouse effect of halocarbons, particularly CFCs used in refrigeration and manufacturing. Like CO2, CFCs not only deplete the ozone layer but also have detrimental impact on the climate. His research findings played an important role in both the 1985 Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and the 1987 Montreal Protocol.



About the Tang Prize

With the advent of globalization, mankind has been able to enjoy the convenience brought forth by the advancement of human civilization and science. Yet a multitude of challenges, such as climate change, the emergence of new infectious diseases, wealth gap, and moral degradation, have surfaced along the way. As a response, Dr. Samuel Yin established the Tang Prize in December 2012. It consists of four award categories, namely Sustainable Development, Biopharmaceutical Science, Sinology, and Rule of Law. Every other year, four independent and professional selection committees, made up of many distinguished international experts and scholars, including Nobel laureates, choose from a pool of nominees who have influenced and made substantive contributions to the world, regardless of ethnicity, nationality or gender. A cash prize of NT$50 million (approx. US$1.7 million) is allocated to each category, with NT$10 million of it (approx. US$ 0.35 million) designated as a research grant to the laureate to support relevant educational projects. The hope is to encourage more people with professional knowledge and skill to address mankind’s most urgent needs in this century, and to become leading forces behind the development of human society through their outstanding research and civic engagement.