Today when UK scientists travel to the arctic or antarctic, they do so on a mission with urgent global implications. Because they are drilling into the ice, measuring changes in the atmosphere, and exploring the ocean to gather the data we need to better understand and tackle climate change.
Today is science and innovation day at COP26, the UN climate change conference hosted in Glasgow. The UK is using its presidency of the conference to drive forward action on ambitious carbon targets around the world. But we can't truly hope to meet our goals without putting science and innovation at the heart of our policy decisions.
I'm proud to say the UK is punching well above its weight on climate science.
Nowhere more than in our polar & oceanographic research work through the Natural Environment Research Council NERC and the extraordinary work of our climate scientists in the British Antarctic Survey who are on the frontline of researching the melting ice caps & why capping global temperature rises at 1.5degrees is so key to avoid a climate catastrophe.
Thirty five years ago when I was studying climate change at Cambridge the science was clear on the FACT of rising temperatures but couldn’t yet be 100# certain on the direct cause.
It was the polar ice core samples with carbon dated atmospheric conditions data which made it clear.
To begin with global leaders were slow to act.
Now we are in a race:
- to PREVENT the 2degree rise the science clearly tells us would be catastrophic
- to work out HOW we can accelerate C02 reductions
- to understand HOW global temperature rises are likely to impact global weather,agriculture, migration, pathogen release, infectious disease & geopolitical instability.
- to work out if we may be able to mitigate the worst effects of climate change
- to increase the pace of new technologies & innovations for better harnessing renewables and developing cleaner and healthier models of growth.
This urgent global mission is a central pillar of my new role as new UK Minister for Science, Research & Innovation and the new Office for Science & Technology & Science & Innovation Cabinet the PM has created and asked me to join.
That’s why last week I joined the crew of our science flagship the RRS Sir David Attenborough when it anchored in the Thames at Greenwich.
This £200m new UK research vessel is one of the most advanced in the world: a research platform with the capability to go into the most hostile environments in our planet - from the roaring Forties to the polar ice caps - to advance our knowledge of global climate systems.
There is no better illustration of what the UK being a global science powerhouse means in practice:
- investing in world class science
- harnessing UK science for global good to meet the global Grand Challenges
- working internationally through collaboration
- harnessing our influence for global diplomatic security, co-operation & stability.
We can and must go further though, including on innovation. To have real impact we need to ensure we convert our science leadership into innovation for global impact.
That’s why the PM, CX and Kwasi Kwarteng I have framed this new Ministerial mission in two parts:
- Science Superpower
- Innovation Nation
The Government has a key role to play in investing in the longer term science and the infrastructure needed.
But the key to sustainable global growth will be BUSINESS: harnessing the energy, enterprise & genius of the market to deliver the scale and pace of change we need for sustainable growth.
Our R&D Roadmap & Innovation Strategy outline our commitment to pursue and open up a host of extraordinary opportunities for business, growth and jobs as part of the green industrial revolution.
We've already announced we're backing it with a £1 billion Net Zero Innovation Portfolio.
As Science, Technology and Innovation Minister, I'm determined to make sure we're seizing every one of those opportunities so that the UK continues to punch above our weight in both Science AND Innovation for global good.
Future generations will thank us if we do.
They won’t forgive us if we don’t.