Professor Myles Allen appointed Frank Jackson Foundation Professor of the Environment

Professor Myles Allen

Gresham College, London’s oldest Higher Education Institution, and the Frank Jackson Foundation are delighted to announce the appointment of Professor Myles Allen as Frank Jackson Foundation Professor of the Environment. This is a 3-4 year appointment.

Allen is Professor of Geosystem Science in the School of Geography and the Environment and Department of Physics, University of Oxford, and has been called “the physicist behind ‘Net Zero’”, widely accepted as the benchmark for where the world has to get to on carbon emissions to avoid further global warming. He is leader of the Environmental Change Institute’s Global Climate Research Programme and Director of the Oxford Net Zero Initiative.

He succeeds Professor Jacqueline McGlade

Professor Allen said: “Everyone has agreed that Net Zero is a good idea, without necessarily agreeing what it means, still less on how to get there. I am delighted to be giving a series of lectures on this theme, looking at the science behind it, how climate impacts are emerging, and when and how we need to act to turn things around.

"I will argue that both the science, and the policy challenge, of achieving net zero are far simpler than many are led to believe. Simple does not mean easy, which makes it all the more important that everyone should understand both why and how we need to get to net zero: you shouldn’t have to take a scientist’s or politician’s word for it.

"Reducing the problem to its essentials – how to stop fossil fuels from causing further global warming – should help you form your own views on which policies are actually going to work.”

Professor Allen will continue the 425-year-old tradition of delivering free lectures aimed at the public within the City of London and beyond. Gresham College live streams lectures online and delivers them to physical audiences in London, with over 8 million views of lectures online last year.  More than 2,500 past lectures are freely available to view on the College’s website.

The Frank Jackson Foundation has sponsored an Environment Professor since 2014. Professor Allen will be the third Professor in post.

Dr Simon Thurley, Provost of Gresham College, said: “We are delighted to appoint Professor Myles Allen as Frank Jackson Foundation Professor of the Environment. He is a talented communicator and will be a real asset to the College.”

Dr Wendy Piatt, CEO of Gresham College, said: “Climate change is one of the biggest environmental issues of our time so we are thrilled to welcome Professor Myles Allen, the architect of Net Zero, to Gresham.”

David Tennant, Chair of the Frank Jackson Foundation, said: “The Frank Jackson Foundation is delighted to support this Professorship, which we have been sponsoring since 2014 to bring environmental issues to a wider public.”

In 2022-3, Professor Allen will be lecturing about Net Zero.  

Lecture 1: Why Net Zero?
What will it take to stop global warming and how long have we got? These are huge questions for humanity, nature, society and geopolitics. Fortunately, the answers are much simpler than many people think, and certainly don’t depend on notoriously complex global climate models, elaborate scenarios and Heath Robinson climate policies. Understanding our changing weather and its impacts is one of the greatest scientific challenges of our time. But understanding how to stop changing it turns out to be surprisingly simple: you don’t need to be a scientist or policy wonk to get what it will take to stop global warming.

Lecture 2: The Atmospheric Physics Behind Net Zero
Only 15 years ago, our understanding of what it would take to stop climate change was very different from today. Before net zero, climate policy was all about “contraction and convergence” of emissions between rich and poor to achieve “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere” at a safe level. The problem was, no one could agree what that “safe” level was. I’ll explain why we made so little progress over the quarter-century from 1980 to 2005 in answering this question. And it was not because we were incompetent: for fundamental reasons in physics and probability theory, we were asking the wrong question.

Lecture 3: The Ocean Physics Behind Net Zero
Have you ever wondered why the deep ocean is cold? And why does this matter for global warming? The same process that keeps most of the oceans at frigid Arctic temperatures also determines how fast the world is warming right now in response to rising greenhouse gas concentrations – and also helps explain why it would be so difficult to say when the warming would stop even if we were to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at today’s level forever. To understand timescales in the climate system, we need a model: but not necessarily a computer model, or even a mathematical model. We’ll build a climate model with pipes and plumbing, and see how we measure up against the super-computers.

Lecture 4: The Carbon Cycle Behind Net Zero
What happens to carbon dioxide after we emit it? About half is absorbed within a year or two by plants and the oceans, the rest stays in the atmosphere. So, does that mean we only have to halve our emissions and mother nature will take care of the rest? Unfortunately, no, although many in the climate policy community used to think that way. With the help of an alkaseltzer and more pipes and plumbing, I’ll explain how, despite the vast reserves of carbon dissolved in the oceans, carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels does not get diluted away, but makes an indelible mark on climate for hundreds of thousands of years.

Lecture 5: The Trillionth Tonne of Carbon – and Why It Matters For Climate Change
Most of us scientists spend our lives finding things are more complicated than we thought. Just occasionally, we find they are massively simpler. When we connect the model of the global carbon cycle that we introduced in lecture 4 to the model of atmosphere-ocean temperatures from lecture 3, we find adjustment timescales cancel out, leaving us with a remarkably simple response: every tonne of CO2 we dump into the atmosphere ratchets up global temperatures, permanently, by around half a trillionth of a degree Celsius. So, to stop global warming, we need net zero carbon dioxide emissions. And to limit warming to 2°C, we need to limit the total amount of carbon dioxide dumped into the atmosphere to around 3.7 trillion tonnes, or one trillion tonnes of carbon.

Lecture 6: How The World Agreed On Net Zero
Climate had a bad year in 2009: UN talks collapsed in Copenhagen; a batch of hacked emails were ruthlessly exploited to make out that the whole issue was based on a trick; and to make matters worse, a series of papers (ours included) were published pointing out that even the 50-80% reductions that people were talking about back then weren’t going to be enough to stop global warming. And yet six short years later, in 2015, negotiators from 190 countries quietly acknowledged the need for net zero in the second half of this century in Article 4 of the Paris Agreement. They went even further, resolving to “pursue efforts” to limit warming to 1.5 °C. Given where we are today, that means net zero global emissions before or soon after 2050. Can it be done? It certainly can. Will it be done? That’s up to all of us.