The recently launched Oxford Net Zero initiative draws on the university’s world-leading expertise in climate science and policy, addressing the critical issue of how to reach global ‘net zero’ – limiting greenhouse gases – in time to halt global warming.

Leading academics from across the university’s disciplines, including geography, physics, economics, biology, law, and earth sciences will come together to focus on the long-term questions necessary to achieve equitable, science-based solutions.

The team will be led by research director Professor Sam Fankhauser, who is joining Oxford from his current position as director of the LSE’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and director Professor Myles Allen, physicist, and head of the Climate Research Programme in Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute.

Oxford Net Zero is a growing network and collaboration of leading researchers from across the university to provide advice and expertise in the global ‘race’ to net zero by national governments, global industry leaders and international organizations.

Oxford Net Zero convenes and undertakes research to support policy interventions, and this month has been boosted by a £2.2 million investment from the University’s new Strategic Research Fund (SRF). The SRF was formed in early 2020 to re-invest some of the University’s revenues from commercialisation activities into transformative research programmes.

“We’ve left it too late to meet our climate goals simply by phasing out all activities that generate greenhouse gas emissions: hence the net in net zero,” Professor Allen, said. “Aggressive emission reductions must be complemented by equally aggressive scale-up of safe and permanent greenhouse gas removal and disposal. Getting this balance right, and fair, calls for both innovative ideas and far-sighted policies.”

Professor Fankhauser added that if we are serious about climate change, we must start tackling the difficult emissions from industry, transport and other sources – and safely remove from the atmosphere whatever residual emissions remain. “Informing this challenge is central to Oxford Net Zero, and I am proud to be part of this important initiative.

“Since Oxford’s own students are the generation that will be footing the bill for delay in taking informed climate action, it is great to see the University putting its resources behind this initiative: there is no time to waste.”

To achieve net zero and avoid the worst impacts of global warming, carbon dioxide emissions must be drastically reduced, and any residual emissions removed from the atmosphere and stored. More than 120 countries are committing to net zero, representing more than 49 per cent of global economic output, but official commitments with developed plans cover less than ten per cent of global emissions.

Oxford Net Zero’s key aim is to address the issue of how we limit the cumulative net total carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This means tackling emission sources and removing surplus carbon from the atmosphere – since more CO2 may be generated by the energy, industry and land-use change than can safely be emitted, if the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement are to be met.

“Oxford Net Zero brings together our research in how to effectively realise the carbon transition, involving many departments and different disciplinary perspectives,” Professor Patrick Grant, pro-vice chancellor for research at the University of Oxford added. “We anticipate that more researchers and external stakeholders will become engaged in the programme, strengthening the impact of the ideas and insights that our researchers can provide.”

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