April 22, 2024
Staff Accomplishment

Gokul Iyer, Others From PNNL, Honored for Climate Paper

The paper, published in Science, examined nations’ pledges to prevent global warming

Gokul Iyer

PNNL research scientist Gokul Iyer was co-lead author of a paper published in Science that has been honored with a Frontiers Planet Prize award.

(Photo by Andrea Starr | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

Gokul Iyer, a research scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), was co-lead author of a paper that was named National Champion of China within the Frontiers Planet Prize. Yang Ou, a former PNNL scientist, was the lead author of the paper. The global competition affiliated with the International Science Council seeks scientific solutions to stabilize the planet’s ecosystem and supports the scaling-up of the most promising strategies. The paper assessed the impact of pledges of more than 100 nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The award and winners were announced April 22 to coincide with Earth Day. The paper was published in November 2021 in Science, “Can updated climate pledges limit warming well below 2°C?”

Iyer is an Earth scientist and team leader at the Joint Global Change Research Institute (JGCRI), a partnership between PNNL and the University of Maryland. Iyer and other JGCRI scientists explore interactions between human and Earth systems so decision makers can make informed choices about a wide range of challenges, from decarbonization strategies to meeting emissions goals. 

The study found that the revised and new commitments made by nations in 2021 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could chart a course where limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius and under within this century is now significantly more likely. However, limiting warming to 1.5 degrees—the aspirational goal of the Paris Agreement—remains out of reach. The original pledges were made as part of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Ou, now an assistant professor at Peking University, was the paper’s lead author. Haewon McJeon, the paper’s corresponding author, is on leave from PNNL while working as a visiting professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. Current PNNL scientists Jae Edmonds, Matthew Binsted, Pralit Patel, and Stephanie Waldhoff contributed to this influential study. Allen Fawcett, who was formerly at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and is now JGCRI’s Division Director, also contributed to the study. Other contributors include Sha Yu, a former PNNL scientist, and Nathan Hultman and Ryna Cui from the University of Maryland and PNNL joint appointees, along with researchers from other national and international organizations.

“This recognition is a demonstration of the global impact of JGCRI’s strong capabilities in multisector, human-Earth system modeling,” said Iyer. Iyer and a similar team of authors have published a series of high-impact papers on this and related topics since 2015 (see for example, this and this). Iyer and team also wrote a commentary in 2023 that outlines three areas that countries could prioritize to further increase the chances of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.

Ou initiated the application that led to final selection by the Jury of 100 of the Frontiers Planet Prize committee. Ou received the endorsement from a host institute—Peking University—and an official recommendation by the China Geophysical Society. The paper is now among several that are being considered for an International Champions prize, also presented by the Frontiers Planet Prize committee.

The national champions prizes will be formally presented at an awards ceremony taking place June 25–28 in Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland.