Now for the Long Term: tackling key challenges

10 December 2013

© David Fisher

Science heavyweights Lord Rees and Sir John Beddington last week presented their views on how the challenges highlighted in ‘Now for the Long Term’, the report of the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations, can be addressed.

Speaking at the final Oxford Martin School seminar of Michaelmas Term, Lord Rees, a member of the Commission, emphasised the need for sufficient data to assess progress on key challenges, as outlined by the report’s Worldstat recommendation. He also looked at the challenge of feeding the world’s growing population, saying that despite the issue of population growth being tainted in the past by controversial concepts such as eugenics, it was important for the issue not to be taboo.

Addressing the subject of climate change, he said: “We can confidently predict that the world will be a warmer place in 50 to 100 years’ time. This is where inter-generational justice comes into play. We shouldn’t discriminate against people because of their date of birth. Moving towards a low carbon future will need determined action by governments.”

Sir John Beddington said that while there were now fewer people living in poverty, the current and future growth of the middle classes would bring increased pressure on resources, and if yields could not be increased, higher food prices could bring the risk of civil order breaking down.

Showing a series of images demonstrating the rise in global temperatures over the 20th century, he said: “This is happening. Don’t believe anything that says that it isn’t. There is a time lag and the weather we are experiencing now is from a climate determined by greenhouse gas emissions from the 1990s. Since then there has not been much slow-down in the accumulation of greenhouse gases.”

He said the Creative Coalitions proposed by the report could prove to be more successful than current large-scale climate talks and agreements, which he said were held back by the sheer numbers of countries involved. But he said he was a great believer in humanity’s ability to solve these and other major challenges it faced, saying: “I’m a passionate advocate of science and engineering and their power to solve these problems.”

Watch the video of the 'Now for the Long Term' seminar