Writing exclusively for a special issue of Physics World on the “energy puzzle”, the physicist Lord Browne, former BP chief executive, asserts that politicians need to avoid compartmentalizing energy and climate-change issues - and to work across Government and with international partners to pursue action that binds economic prosperity, national security and environmental integrity.
If all goes to plan, political leaders at December’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (COP15) will agree to a successor to the Kyoto protocol and make further promises to cut greenhouse-gas emissions. But the issue will, as always, be how to put those promises into action.
To mark the significance of the occasion, this issue of Physics World looks at the scientific challenges of the energy and climate-change problem, and at the political hurdles and the importance of communicating the right messages, at the right pitch, to much wider audiences.
In addition to calling for joined-up political thinking, Lord Browne also says we should rethink the state’s role in energy markets. “The market is the most effective delivery system available to society,” he says, “but it needs strategic direction and a framework of rules if it is to provide the more diversified energy structure that we urgently need.”
On the challenge of communication, Joseph Romm, a physicist at the US think tank Center for American Progress, says that scientists, and physicists in particular, need to do more to warn the world of the dangers of climate change.
As he writes, “The fate of perhaps the next 100 billion people to walk the Earth rests with scientists trying to communicate the dire nature of the climate problem as well as the ability of the media, the public, opinion-makers and political leaders to understand and deal with that science.”