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3 Critical Ways Optica and Its Members Have Battled Climate Change This Year

David Lang

As 2021 winds down, it’s only natural to reflect upon our efforts and achievements, and when it comes to our work in support of the green economy, this year has been one of increased momentum.

Professor Donna Strickland – University of Waterloo, Nobel Laureate in Physics 2018, 2013 President of OSA

While environmental initiatives have been a significant focus of our community for years, this year, the members of Optica have increased emphasis on tangible programs to drive transformative impact. For example, Optica members in the areas of sensing, imaging, and spectroscopy have been instrumental in developing programs to drive government action through our Global Environmental Measurement & Monitoring (GEMM) initiative, a collaboration with the American Geophysical Union (AGU). In addition to providing this “actionable science,” we have been engaged on climate change on a worldwide scale. From participating in climate change events to joining forces with global scientific colleagues through definitive policy statements, we have prioritized our work in support of the green economy in three important ways:

  1. We participated as delegates at the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland. As one of only a few scientific societies formally admitted as observers, Optica joined COP26 to assert optics’ and photonics’ importance in the transition to the green economy and the role they play in the fight against climate change. We participated to listen and learn, but also to serve as a facilitator, bringing together scientists, engineers, policymakers, and other leaders to address the issues at hand. For example, we helped to broker and support a meeting between California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis and Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Angus Robertson at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow to share how real-time monitoring of greenhouse gas (GHG) and pollution emission data can provide local leaders with essential information to support strategic policy decisions.
  2. Alongside the COP26 event, on 03 November 2021, Optica and its cosponsor AGU held Cities are the Key to the Climate Solution: Meeting Global Greenhouse Gases and Air Quality Targets Through Real-Time Measurement. This summit served as the next step for GEMM, bringing together city leaders, policymakers, scientists, and the business community to address GHG emissions through real-time data and accurate model forecasts. With more than 300 registrants from 43 countries, the summit furthered the goals of the GEMM initiative. In fact, we are now starting discussions with potential new partners as a result of summit introductions.
  3. Optica signed onto the joint policy statement,A call to action: the role of physics in delivering the global green economy.” In this statement, physics societies from around the world collaborated to send a clear message that we stand united and committed to doing everything we can to help humankind in the fight against climate change. This statement emphasized three fundamentals for future scientific progress: 1. a multidisciplinary approach; 2. national policies that support scientific mobility; 3. a diverse and inclusive workforce, and each has a corresponding call to action. These principles align with the core values of Optica and of the GEMM initiative. The statement articulates our role as a global scientific organization that stands side-by-side with colleagues around the world.

While expansive, these efforts only scratch the surface of what’s to come as we continue to engage the optics and photonics community in tackling climate change. In fact, in the first quarter of 2022, we plan to jointly publish a study with the American Physical Society (APS) on methane sensing that explores how to detect—and ultimately mitigate—gas oil leaks and emissions. In addition, from that work, we plan to produce a policy report that will be shared with the membership at large.

Certainly, there is no quick solution for addressing climate change, but as the proverb says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Initiatives like GEMM will play a critical role on the path toward global solutions. So, we remain resolute in advancing the work of the worldwide optics and photonics community as we chip away at the problem, one initiative at a time.

For more information on how to engage with green economy initiatives at Optica, contact

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