Science

Climate change effort wins Future Justice Prize

Copenhagen Diagnosis logo
Friday, 8 October, 2010
Bob Beale

An international team led by UNSW climate change researchers has won the inaugural 2010 Future Justice Prize for its efforts to synthesize and update a massive volume of scientific research in the lead-up to the UN Conference of Parties (COP15) meeting in Copenhagen in December 2009.

The prize, which is given "for leadership and initiative in the advancement of future justice", is awarded by Future Justice, a joint initiative of Future Leaders and the Institute of Legal Studies, "concerned with what those living today leave behind for future generations".

It was awarded for The Copenhagen Diagnosis, a project initiated and led by Professor Matthew England with colleagues Dr Ben McNeil, Professor Andy Pitman and Professor Steve Sherwood from the UNSW Climate Change Research Centre.

That report had 27 authors in total, including three other Australians – Professor David Karoly from University of Melbourne, Dr Ian Allison from the Australian Antarctic Division, and Professor Nathan Bindoff from the University of Tasmania – with other authors being leading international scientists, including from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, NASA and Stanford University.

The Copenhagen Diagnosis was an assessment and synthesis of the most significant climate science to have emerged since the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report of 2007.

It was released in a worldwide coordinated press event on 25 November 2009.  Since then, the site has been visited hundreds of thousands of times and the report has been accessed online tens of thousands of times.

It resulted in more than 5,000 media stories worldwide, with significant national coverage in Australia.

The Australian climate scientists conceived the report, led its authorship and coordinated the world-wide media release.  These activities had a major global impact on awareness of the rate of climate change by the general public, policymakers, the media, and educators.  The major message of the report, that climate change was occurring at a rate equal to, or above, the projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), was widely profiled by policymakers and the media.

The report found that:

  • Both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass and contributing to sea-level rise at an increasing rate.
  • The area of summer sea ice remaining during 2007-2009 was about 40% less than the average projection from the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.
  • Global sea-level rise may exceed 1 meter by 2100. Without significant mitigation, sea-level rise of several meters is to be expected over the next few centuries.
  • If long-term global warming is to be limited to a maximum of 2°Celsius above preindustrial values, average annual per-capita emissions in industrialized nations will have to be reduced by around 80-95% below 1990 levels by 2050.
  • The report concludes that global emissions must peak then decline rapidly within the next five to ten years for the world to have a reasonable chance of avoiding the very worst impacts of climate change.

Media  contact: UNSW Faculty of Science – Bob Beale 0411 705 435 bbeale@unsw.edu.au