The 28th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28) is set to officially commence in Dubai on November 30. Several Tang Prize laureates in Sustainable Development have already issued calls for more attention to various issues such as improving public health, resolving the climate crisis, saving endangered species and making peace. This conference features the first assessment of the progress countries made on the goals set in the Paris Agreement in COP21 as well as many notable attendees like Pope Francis. CEO of the Tang Prize Foundation Dr. Jenn-Chuan Chern was at COP21 in Paris in 2015 to represent the Tang Prize. At this crucial conference, nearly 200 countries came together to adopt the Paris Agreement. At the venue, Dr. Chern also had the opportunity to meet and engage in discussions with Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, inaugural Tang Prize laureate in Sustainable Development and known to many as the “godmother of sustainable development”.
Dr. Brundtland is former Director-General of the World Health Organization. She recently joined The Elders and leaders in international public health and medical communities to urge the host country of COP28 and all nations to commit to phasing out all fossil fuels more quickly and in a just and equitable manner. She emphasizes that “to safeguard the wellbeing of future generations, we must sever our dangerous reliance on fossil fuels and move quickly to support a transition into renewable energy so we can stay within the 1.5°C limit pledged in Paris. Without a resolute commitment to phasing out fossil fuels, we risk undoing our hard-won progress in safeguarding human health.”
Prior to COP18, Dr. James Hansen, 2018 Tang Prize laureate in Sustainable Development, and his co-authors presented novel findings from their new paper, “Global Warming in the Pipeline”. The paper reveals that global heating is accelerating more rapidly than previously understood. The Earth's climate proves to be more responsive to human-induced changes than previously thought, potentially breaching the critical 1.5°C temperature threshold outlined in the Paris Agreement by the 2020s and reaching 2°C by 2050. This acceleration is driven by continued fossil fuel burning. Dr. Hansen stresses that a significant amount of global heating is "in the pipeline” and his study suggests an imbalance in energy, a heightened climate sensitivity, and reduced shipping pollution all contribute to the escalating global heating. He advocates urgent measures such as a global carbon tax and controversial options like intentionally spraying sulphur into the atmosphere to lower temperatures and mitigate the climate crisis.
Professor Veerabhadran Ramanathan, who was awarded the 2018 Tang Prize in Sustainable Development together with Dr. Hansen, was the first to propose that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are greenhouse gases. He joined the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences last week in urgently calling for COP28 to adopt innovative strategies to protect life on Earth. He highlights the need for bending emission curves and restoring climate resilience as new solutions. Current approaches to addressing the climate crisis, especially climate financing, primarily focus on reducing pollutants that cause global warming. However, merely relying on emission reduction is insufficient. Building climate resilience is also crucial. Both require societal transformation, including behavioral change, educational reform, sustainable consumption, and substantial assistance to the poorest 3 billion people to help them adapt to current and impending climate changes.
Renowned primatologist and 2020 Tang Prize laureate in Sustainable Development Dr. Jane Goodall has dedicated her life to environmental conservation. In a recent interview, she pointed out that “one of the big problems we face is the destruction of biodiversity and habitats, as we greedily consume more and more resources, leaving even more animals threatened by extinction.” She bemoaned that “intensive farming and the way we grow our crops using pesticides and fungicides is killing the soil, which is terrible for biodiversity, insects and birds.” But she also singled out “the conservation programmes such as the recovery of the Arabian oryx after its extinction in the wild in the 1970s,” adding that “the UAE, which was prominent in those efforts, had a significant role to play in leading the conversation on climate change during COP 28.”
In a Pre-COP28 Faith Leaders Summit held earlier this month, Professor Jeffrey Sachs, 2022 Tang Prize laureate in Sustainable Development, highlighted humanity's greatest challenge—how to live peacefully and sustainably on a crowded and interconnected planet. He noted that unfortunately, our current situation is a failure. Conflicts persist worldwide; human activities accelerate environmental degradation; and the Earth is experiencing its warmest moment in 125,000 years. He noted that “in these very days, just when we need the world’s leaders to pay attention to the climate crisis in advance of COP28, we are instead enmeshed in a devastating war in the Middle East.” In addition, “the politicians of powerful nations…have dragged us into wars that the people do not want, and have delayed action against climate change to the point where climate change endangers our survival.”
Moreover, Professor Sachs referred to Pope Francis’ recent message in advance of COP28, Laudate Deum, in which the Pope “calls for a new multilateralism, so that the voices of all the world are heard, and so that the deceit of the powerful is constrained.” He mentioned that “the Holy Father writes: ‘Our world has become so multipolar and at the same time so complex that a different framework for effective cooperation is required…’.” Therefore, Professor Sachs believed that “in this framework, there would necessarily be required spaces for conversation, consultation, arbitration, conflict resolution and supervision” and he urged “a new and honest dialogue of the rich with the poor, the powerful with the powerless, and the large nations with the small. Let us say no to the wars, yes to peace, and yes to planetary survival.”
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. Against this backdrop, 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 internationally experts and scholars, including Nobel laureates, choose as Tang Prize recipient people who with great influence and great 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, of which NT$10 million (approx. US$ 0.35 million) is designated as a research grant to support educational projects chosen by laureates, so as to prompt people to pay more attention to mankind’s most urgent needs in the 21st century, and to become leading forces behind the development of human society through their outstanding research and active civic engagement.