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Young scientists sound alarm on climate change

The Matte area in Bern was heavily flooded in August

(Keystone)

A summit of young scientists meeting in the Swiss capital have issued the "Bern Manifesto" - a plan to reduce the impact of climate change.

The meeting, organised by the British Council in Switzerland, brought 30 scientists together from around the world to look at the effects of rising temperatures on cities.

The summit concluded with a call for immediate action to combat climate change, which, the manifesto said, was "a societal and political challenge as well as a scientific issue".

The participants from Switzerland, Britain, the United States and Bangladesh brainstormed across a wide field of disciplines, and focused on the impact and threat of climate change on cities.

They agreed that extreme weather events would become the norm, predicting that the European heat wave of 2003 was likely to become a commonplace occurrence by the end of the century.

And heavy winter rainfall events in northern Europe would become two to five times more frequent.

The message

The challenge for the participants at the Bern forum was to learn to communicate their message, their specialist knowledge, to the leaders of tomorrow.

The newly qualified scientists worked with economists and politicians of the future, trying to the bridge the gap between scientific findings and practical policymaking.

Bettina Schäfli, Swiss hydrologist and environmental engineer, said the summit helped her learn to collaborate in groups composed of people with strong personalities, each with his or her own field of expertise.

"Scientists have a special responsibility to convince people that climate change is really happening and that it's very important to find solutions for how to cope with it."

The first half of the five-day youth summit was taken up with a workshop at a retreat in the Swiss countryside. There the participants met some of the top climate researchers and received some practical training in communicating their work to the public.

"We wanted to get contrasting countries together so that we could have a very broad input of information," explained Sripriya Sitaraman of the British Council, who was part of the organising team.

"The idea was to bring together people who are starting on their scientific career so that when they go on they will have this network and these ideas with them before they look for research funding."

Scientists and urban planners

The participants represented a broad range of subject areas, including natural scientists, engineers, economists, architects, urban planners, insurance experts and specialists in international law.

"I learnt a vast amount by way of interpersonal skills, diplomacy and communication strategies," said Oxford-based environmental economist Cameron Hepburn.

The group took case studies for the impact of rising temperatures on cities and worked out what the scenarios implied for policy.

"We looked at sea level rise in Bangladesh, water supply challenges in London, energy issues in Los Angeles and extreme flooding in Bern," Hepburn said.

One of the summit's key recommendations at the international level is the expansion of the emissions trading scheme to include a greater range of industries.

Between companies, the scheme would allow some firms to reduce their emissions more cost effectively by purchasing credit from companies that find it cheaper to do so.

"That way everyone benefits, the companies that can reduce emissions cheaply do so and they make money in the process, the companies who find it expensive can buy it for less on the market," Hepburn explained.

swissinfo, Clare O'Dea

Key facts

By the year 2050, the global population is expected to total nine billion.
Cities account for three quarters of total global energy consumption and produce 80 per cent of our carbon emissions.
Concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have increased significantly beyond pre-industrial levels.
The climate system takes decades to respond to these enhanced concentrations, therefore some impacts are now unavoidable.

end of infobox

In brief

The British Council worked with the British embassy in Bern, the Forum for Climate and Global Change, the Swiss Academy of Sciences and the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton in Britain in organising the summit.

The Bern summit, which closed on Friday, comes just ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Montreal from November 28 to December 9.

Montreal will be the first meeting of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol since the protocol came into force on February 16, this year.

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