COP28 Echoes Tang Prize Laureate’s Call from Nearly 40 Year Ago

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The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28) concluded yesterday (12/13) after a one-day extension due to a delay in reaching a consensus. Nearly 200 participating countries collectively passed a resolution to transition away from fossil fuels. The key points included tripling global renewable energy generation by 2030, doubling energy efficiency, and officially launching the "Loss and Damage Fund," among others. The final agreement to reduce methane emissions to zero by 2030" echoes a call made 38 years ago by Professor Veerabhadran Ramanathan, 2018 Tang Prize laureate in Sustainable Development. COP28 Chairman al-Jaber pointed out that this was the first time in the summit’s history that the issue about methane reduction was addressed, also the first time where the words “fossil fuels” have made it into the final agreement.


Professor Ramanathan, who won the Tang Prize in Sustainable Development in 2018, is a pioneer in studying "non-CO2" greenhouse gases such as methane. As early as 1985, he collaborated with colleagues to explore the impact of gases such as methane, nitrous oxide, and tropospheric ozone on global warming. He spearheaded the first assessment conference on the impact of "non-CO2" greenhouse gases on the climate system, with key participating organizations including the United Nations World Meteorological Organization, the United Nations Environmental Programme, and NASA. The conference concluded that the effects of "non-CO2" greenhouse gases on global warming were equally significant as carbon dioxide.


His research on atmospheric methane has provided crucial scientific evidence for understanding the impact of "non-CO2" greenhouse gases on Earth's climate. As a result of his studies, the initiative, "Climate and Clean Air Coalition," was launched by the United Nations Environmental Programme, involving countries such as Bangladesh, Canada, Ghana, Mexico, Sweden, and the United States. The alliance, with a current membership of 33 countries, aims to reduce short-lived climate pollutants.


Recently, Professor Ramanathan has further elaborated on the importance of reducing short-term climate pollutants such as methane and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) to bend the warming curve downwards. This stands as one of the three pillars in establishing climate resilience, and it involves a transformative shift to renewable energy sources like solar and wind within the next 25 years, along with rapid and sustainable reversal of the warming trend through carbon capture. The other two pillars revolve around adaptability and societal transformation. Adaptability unfolds in three stages: diminishing inequality, making coordinated efforts from local to national levels to ensure food and water security, and adhering to air quality standards outlined by the World Health Organization, with a special focus on climate change "hotspots" such as the Amazon basin, small island nations, and drought-prone areas in Africa. Societal transformation involves the evolution of human, ecological, and economic systems to mitigate the climate crisis, help people adapt to climate change as well as restore climate resilience.


In addition, Dr. Jennifer Doudna, 2016 Tang Prize laureate in Biopharmaceutical Science who was awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her contributions to the development of the CRISPR gene-editing platform, mentioned enthusiastically in a recent interview that CRISPR can aid us in addressing climate change. Currently, there are ongoing research initiatives aimed at supporting and improving animal health and their impact on the climate. This includes investigating whether CRISPR can precisely alter the microbial composition in the stomachs of dairy cows, thereby reducing the emission of potent greenhouse gases like methane from these animals.


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.