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Stephen Emmott
director of the European Science Initiative at Microsoft Corporation, and visiting professor of computer science at University College London


I believe the greatest challenge we face for the 21st Century is the rapid changes in, and alarming loss of, Earth’s life support systems - most notably climate and biodiversity. I am not alone. Increasing scientific evidence suggests that this issue is of such fundamental importance and urgency, and so vast in its scale, that it is likely to determine whether our species, and millions of other species, will have sufficient natural systems able to support life in the 22nd Century.

Enter science. This unprecedented challenge to all life on Earth brings a huge scientific challenge: understanding Earth’s life support systems and changes to them and finding ways to help address this problem. This will require powerful predictive computational models simply not possible today. I say this because this is the one area of science where ‘observation’ is simply not feasible. We can’t wait and observe for the next 50 years what happens to the climate and to Earth’s biodiversity because by then, we will almost certainly have crossed an irreversible tipping point with unimaginably catastrophic global consequences.

Scientists from a wide range of disciplines - computer science, biology, earth science, ecosystem science, climatology to name but a few - must work together to build powerful, robust, predictive computational models of Earth’s life support systems and changes to these systems that will occur under given global conditions. But most important of all, they, together with the rest of the citizens of the world, will need to ensure we, and the politicians we elect, use this knowledge to ensure we have a planet able to sustain all life on Earth.



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