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Climate change: evidence from the geological record

Climate change is a defining issue for our time. The geological record contains abundant evidence of the ways in which Earth’s climate has changed in the past. That evidence is highly relevant to understanding how it may change in the future. 

The Geological Society’s Statement on Climate

The Geological Society’s Scientific Statement “What the Geological Record Tells us About our Present and Future Climate” shows how carbon emissions from human activities are causing climate change. The geological record provides powerful evidence that atmospheric CO2 concentrations drive climate change, and supports multiple lines of evidence that greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are altering the Earth’s climate. These changes directly affect our environment as well as the health and wellbeing of humans across the world. Anthropogenic climate change needs to be slowed, stopped and ideally reversed by meeting or exceeding the targets for emissions reductions set out in the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Meeting these targets will require a fundamental shift in how we produce and consume energy. Earth scientists have a vital role to play in supporting this shift. The transition from hydrocarbons to renewable energy will require more mining for critical elements and resources, such as lithium and cobalt. Earth scientists will also be vital in developing the infrastructure to support renewable energy technology and delivering low carbon energy solutions. Furthermore, Earth scientists are currently at the forefront of maximising efficiency in the recovery and use of the non-renewable energy resources needed to support societies while low carbon energy sources come into widespread use. Resource extraction to support the energy transition should operate in ways that, at a minimum, meet fundamental responsibilities in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption as defined in the UN Global Compact and Sustainable Development Goals.

As a Society, we have embedded these considerations into our responsible investment policy and our science programme. Through a refreshed approach to our science programme, we seek to support Earth scientists through the energy transition and leverage their collective expertise to reduce the risk society faces from various Earth hazards, including those exacerbated by rapid climate change, and contribute to a sustainable future on our planet.

Tackling anthropogenic climate change is imperative, as our Scientific Statement demonstrates, and Earth scientists have a key role to play in the solution to this challenge. In partnership with others, we can help secure a better and more equitable future for all.

This statement was approved by Council in September 2022

What the geological record tells us about our present and future climate

map of antartica with black background  In 2018, the Geological Society of London and the UK Paleoclimate Society jointly convened an expert panel to assess the current state of understanding of climate change in the geological record. The group of 16 researchers used published literature and comments submitted from Fellows to construct an up-to-date assessment of the geological record of climate change. The report also details what the resulting records of past climate can tell us about future climate change, with a particular focus on ancient CO2-driven warming. 

The report was approved by Council 25 November 2020, and published in the Journal of the Geological Society on 28 December 2020. The findings, and their implications for future climate change, are highlighted in the Executive Summary

This statement supersedes the 2010 statement entitled “Climate change - evidence from the geological record” and the 2013 addendum, which have been archived. 

You can also read our Joint Communique on tackling climate change, which was signed in July 2015, ahead of COP21.

November 2020 - Geological Society of London Scientific Statement: what the geological record tells us about our present and future climate

July 2015 - Climate Communique

The Geological Society's statement on COP26

As observers at COP26, the Geological Society welcomes the agreement reached to keep the 1.5 degrees centigrade target within reach through reductions in fossil fuel use, and the commitment to increase finance for climate mitigation and adaptation.

Meeting the emissions reductions pledged will require bold thinking and rapid transformation of the energy sector. Earth scientists and practitioners will be at the heart of this innovation, from securing offshore wind farms to discovering the critical mineral resources needed to deliver new battery technology and implementing the geological storage of carbon required to abate CO2 emissions in industry and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  

The Society also welcomes the renewed focus on climate adaptation and resilience. Even limited warming poses a substantial threat to humans and infrastructure. Earth scientists are key to developing solutions to protect people and the environment from changing climate extremes and rising sea level.

The Society therefore urges governments and industry to invest in Earth science education and research and in the continued development of professionals to meet the challenges posed by ongoing climate change and the need to rapidly reduce carbon emissions. As a Society, we will continue to support our community, and their work to achieve the ambitions of the Glasgow Climate Pact, through our science programmes, professional development, education, and outreach.  

Climate Change Symposium 2021

On 26-27 May 2021, the Society hosted a conference entitled Climate Change in the Geological Record. You can view the talks from day 1 and day 2 via the Society's YouTube channel. The conference abstract book is available here