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  • Megan Parfitt

The future of sustainability research

Scientists and professors have been presenting research on sustainability and the climate crisis for decades. So what is it about research that needs to evolve in order to highlight the climate’s condition to leaders and the public?


A (very) brief history of climate research (retrieved from the UCAR [1])


The connection between the climate, carbon dioxide, and coal was first made in 1896 by Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius. However, it was speculated that the warming environment would be beneficial to future generations, something that was later corrected.


In the 1950s, measurements identified a significant decline in Arctic sea ice.


In the late 1970s and early 1980s came faster computers which allowed researchers to develop better models, confirming that the climate was warming because of greenhouse gases.


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (which you probably know as IPCC) was formed in 1988. This organisation will review the latest climate science every few years.


1992 brought around the realisation that increasing CO2 was not all positive, in fact, it was increasing the acidity of the oceans, causing corals and animals difficulties when building reefs. This work was done by U.S. scientists Stephen Smith and R Buddemeier, work that is still built upon today


Human influence on climate change was acknowledged in the 1995 IPCC report.


In 2003, researchers were able to link the heatwave directly to climate change, beginning to highlight the direct effects.


The 4th IPCC report in 2007 stated that climate change was undeniable and could lead to impacts which are irreversible.


In 2010 models allowed us to understand in more detail how climate change worked and its impacts on the planet.


Scientists could begin to investigate the effect climate change was having on biodiversity in 2019, a topic still being addressed today.


In most recent years we have been able to confirm that projected future warming is accurate based on past models. Allowing us to confidently act based on those figures. Furthermore, the 6th IPCC report revealed that climate change is in fact caused by humans and results in frequent, intense extreme events.



The Future of Sustainability Research

It is clear from the above that research into climate change has evolved and improved quickly in recent years. Allowing us to learn from past mistakes. However, now that we have accurate information about how we are damaging and impacting our planet, what will research look like?


It is likely that the conversations around climate change and its impacts will move towards adaptation and mitigation. It is clear that global temperatures are continually increasing, and we are already experiencing increased extreme weather events. Projects like The Earthshot Prize [2] help to support solutions that will help repair our planet and adapt to our ever changing climate. Other charities and projects need to follow similar steps to support the many possible solutions being created across the world.

Research, I expect, will also advance in the realm of sustainable energy and moving away from the dependence on fossil fuel. This will include scaling up projects, and, despite the economoic uncertainty, investing in sustainability. However, this will require leaders and the public to recognise the long-term financial benefits sustainable living will provide [3].


Since COVID-19, many people around the world have realised the importance of small businesses in all ways. It is likely that in 2023 the public will continue to distrust large corporations and call for greater scrutiny. Greenwashing is still prevalent, and so this will hopefully require companies to make substantial changes and/or prove how they are including sustainability in their business model [3].


All in all, research into sustainability continues to grow and evolve, yet the main goal remains the same; repair our planet.


References

[1] Center for Science Education [Internet]. History of Climate Science Research | Center for Science Education. 2023 [cited 2023Jan8]. Available from: https://scied.ucar.edu/learning-zone/how-climate-works/history-climate-science-research


[2] The earthshot prize [Internet]. The Earthshot Prize. 2023 [cited 2023Jan8]. Available from: https://earthshotprize.org/


[3] Robey J. A sustainable future: What trends can we expect to see in Sustainability in 2023 [Internet]. edie. edie; 2023 [cited 2023Jan8]. Available from: https://www.edie.net/a-sustainable-future-what-trends-can-we-expect-to-see-in-sustainability-in-2023/




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