‘Net zero’ by 2050, and drastic cuts in CO2 emissions by 2030: these are the new commitments from the Royal Astronomical Society after signing the UN Climate Neutral Now pledge. The RAS joins organisations around the world in pledging rapid action in response to anthropogenic global heating.
With a membership of just over 4,000, and a small staff complement, the Society on its own has a correspondingly small impact. But in normal times astronomers and geophysicists often have a high individual carbon footprint, the result of travel to international conferences and observatories and research facilities in remote locations.
In 2020 the RAS created a Sustainability Working Group to advise its workforce, its membership and the wider astronomy and geophysics communities on reducing their mark on the terrestrial environment. Group members commissioned the specialist consultancy Alectro to carry out a carbon audit as a first step, finding that in 2019 (the most recent ‘normal’ year) the Society emitted a total of 283 tonnes of CO2.
This equates to 13.5 tonnes of CO2 per staff member, compared with a ‘net zero’ ideal of 2 tonnes per head. The majority of emissions (55%) arise from travel by staff and members supported by grants, the energy requirements of the Society’s premises at Burlington House (23%) and the publication, printing and distribution of our A&G magazine (8%).
Royal Astronomical Society President Professor Emma Bunce said: “Global heating and the climate emergency is the single most pressing issue of our time. As a body representing communities of scientists, the RAS has a particular responsibility to lead action in this area, and to modify our working practices accordingly. 2021 is the year that the UK hosts the COP26 conference and we hope this inspires other organisations like ours to commit to positive change.”
In the next few months the Society will identify and implement a series of steps to begin the reduction of its CO2 emissions, including changes to support for travel, thinking about the operation of its scientific conferences, and more efficient use of energy in its premises. Progress in these areas will be included in forthcoming annual reports.
Dr Robert Massey
Royal Astronomical Society
Mob: +44 (0)7802 877 699
Dr Morgan Hollis
Royal Astronomical Society
Mob: +44 (0)7802 877 700
Notes for editors
The Climate Neutral Now Initiative encourages and supports organisations and other interested stakeholders to act now in order to achieve a climate neutral world by 2050 as enshrined in the Paris Agreement.
The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organises scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognises outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 4,000 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.
The RAS accepts papers for its journals based on the principle of peer review, in which fellow experts on the editorial boards accept the paper as worth considering. The Society issues press releases based on a similar principle, but the organisations and scientists concerned have overall responsibility for their content.
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