Nobel laureates urge India to fight climate change


The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings held in Germany this year concluded with an appeal to fight climate change and reduce carbon emissions. The Lindau Meetings also focused on the crucial role that India could play in this, reports Anuradha Sharma, who attended the colloquium.

India, along with China, will play a crucial role in the global fight against climate change. This was once again underlined by Nobel-winning scientists at the 65th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings held in the Bavarian island of Lindau in Lake Constance, South Germany, from June 28 to July 3, 2015.

On the concluding day of the colloquium, 36 of the Nobel laureates signed on the Mainau Declaration on Climate Change, calling for decisive action on the part of the world to reduce carbon emissions. A day before the signing of the Declaration, five Nobel laureates – Brian Schmidt, Steven Chu, George Smoot, David Gross, Peter Doherty – addressed the press jointly and spoke about their coming together to sign a declaration against climate change. Role of India and China, the two big polluters of the world, was emphasised by most of them.

The India role
Gross spoke of his recent trip to Ladakh during which he came in contact with Himalayan communities living on the “edge of survivability”. He said that the fragile communities were worried about their survival amidst increasing concerns over climate change. “It was very touching and sad to see them talk about the rapid changes they are experiencing,” he said. “They can see the glaciers melting…A few more changes like that and they are gone”.

Later, I spoke to some of them about their views on what steps India can take to fight climate change and global warming. They called for more government action in promoting solar power, building energy-efficient infrastructure and investing in technology innovation. “India has some very, very smart people, and a very innovative industry,” Doherty said. “India needs to innovate in areas like renewable energy”, he added.

Recalling from his trips to India, Doherty told me that, big cities apart, he was particularly shocked by the pollution of rural areas and small towns: “I’ve been to India several times (Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Mangalore, etc) and also to a lot of rural areas. The cloud of pollution right in rural areas was terrible”. According to him, particularly in the villages, the use of solar power will prove to be more effective. And keeping in mind the influx of people in cities, he said, “It is really important that the cities be constructed with energy efficiency in mind”.

Climate change is a major topic of discussion this year, in the light of the upcoming United Nations Conference on Climate Change to take place in Paris this November-December, and the Mainau Declaration of Nobel laureates hopes to influence opinion in favour of a global consensus on climate change and take “decisive action to limit future global emission”.

The Mainau Declaration
Nobel laureate Brian Schmidt, who is also the spokesperson for the Mainau Declaration, said in his speech introducing the declaration that it was a “moral obligation” on the part of the Nobel laureates to come together on an issue that has lasting consequences. “We want the decision makers of the world to be empowered to know what the best science is. We also want to hold the decision makers responsible for charting the future course of humanity. It is their responsibility to make and chart the course which is the correct one. And we believe they should be using the best possible science to do so,” he said.

Here are some extracts from the declaration:
Successive generations of scientists have helped create a more and more prosperous world. This prosperity has come at the cost of a rapid rise in the consumption of the world’s resources. If left unchecked, our ever-increasing demand for food, water, and energy will eventually overwhelm the Earth’s ability to satisfy humanity’s needs, and will lead to wholesale human tragedy. Already, scientists who study Earth’s climate are observing the impact of human activity…

Based on the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) assessment, the world must make rapid progress towards lowering current and future greenhouse gas emissions to minimise the substantial risks of climate change. We believe that the nations of the world must take the opportunity at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in December 2015 to take decisive action to limit future global emissions. This endeavor will require the cooperation of all nations, whether developed or developing, and must be sustained into the future in accord with updated scientific assessments. Failure to act will subject future generations of humanity to unconscionable and unacceptable risk.

India’s Kailash Satyarthi, who won the Nobel Prize for peace in 2014, is among those who signed on the declaration. While the conference, dedicated to interdisciplinary scientific exchange, was for Nobel winners in the field of science, Satyarthi and Nigerian Wole Soyinka, 1986 Nobel Prize winner in Literature, were the two laureates from other disciplines who delivered special addresses at the conference.

While Satyarthi called for greater budgetary allocation for children’s education, Soyinka touched upon how internet was spreading radicalism among the youth, in the wake of rising fundamentalism and terrorist activities of outfits like Boko Haram, ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), etc.

The Department of Science and Technology (DST), GOI, is one of the partners of the Lindau Nobel Laureates Meetings. R.K. Sharma, Scientist-E (Director), International Cooperation Division, DST was in Lindau to co-ordinate India’s participation at the conference. Excerpts from an interview (for the full interview kindly check the blog on our website:

What is DST’s association with Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings?
DST is associated with Lindau Nobel Laureates Meetings from 2001. So far, DST has deputed and supported about 345 students in 15 batches to attend the meeting.

How does attending the Lindau Meetings encourage the young scientists of our country?
The students who are basically in the very early stage of their research careers, are motivated to get involved and interact not only with Nobel Laureates, but with their peers and fellow students from other countries.

What was the selection process? How many applicants were selected and on what basis?
Based on the eligibility criteria prescribed by the Lindau Council, DST invites applications from Indian students through advertisements in leading daily newspapers in all states of India. The final selection is done by the Lindau Council.

The six-day conference saw the coming together of 65 Nobel laureates – one of them being the Indian-born British American molecular biologist Venkatraman Ramakrishnan – and about 650 young scientists (from masters, PhD and post doc levels) from different parts of the world. There were more than 30 young scientists from India. The conference was marked by open lectures, panel discussions, master classes and various other formal and informal events, during which the young scientists interacted closely with the greatest brains from the world of science.

Three of the Nobel Laureates were women scientists–Ada Yonath, Elizabeth Blackburn and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi – and 42 per cent of the young scientists comprised women scientists.

The Lindau Meetings have come a long way since its humble beginnings in the post-war era of the last century. Two doctors from Lindau – Gustav Parade and Franz Karl Hein – conceived this idea in the year 1949, just four years after the end of the World War II, during which Germany faced alienation from the rest of the world and was excluded from the global scientific exchange. The larger objective was to make Germany a part of the global scientific exchange. Count Lennart Bernadotte of Wisborg became the patron and, in 1951, the first “European Meeting of Nobel Laureates” was held with just six Nobel laureates. Over a decade or so, the Meetings assumed a truly international character with young scientists being invited from all the continents.

The theme of the Meetings generally keeps rotating between Physiology and Medicine, Physics and Chemistry. An interdisciplinary meeting involving all three natural sciences disciplines is held every five years. This apart, the Lindau Meetings on Economic Sciences are held every three years.


Anuradha Sharma

The writer is a Calcutta-based independent journalist. She attended the Lindau Meetings on invitation from the Council for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings.