We write this in the throes of COP27 in Egypt, framed by commentators worldwide who are increasingly pessimistic about our efforts to keep rises in global temperatures to within 1.5 degrees of pre-industrial levels. To quote UN Secretary-General, António Guterres: 1.5 degrees is ‘on life support’.
What is so problematic here, is that 1.5 degrees is an optimistic best-case scenario. It doesn’t stop climate change; it merely limits the impact. It is becoming increasingly clear that a changing climate is already with us. Look no further than the catastrophic floods in Pakistan this year that covered a third of the country. If you wish for an example closer to home, think back to the unprecedented heatwave experienced by the UK this summer with maximum temperatures smashing all records and peaking at 40.3 degrees.
Overall, it appears that, we are already irreversibly committed to having to live with the impacts of a changing climate. We are heading into uncertain times of increasingly frequent and more powerful storms, warmer & wetter winters and hotter and drier summers.Professors Lee Chapman & Gregor Leckebusch - Joint Met Office Chairs, University of Birmingham
However, one argument against action is that it can be difficult to directly attribute such weather events to climate change. Whilst the natural variability of the monsoon makes it difficult to say with certainty that climate change led to the floods in Pakistan, climate modelling shows that it is virtually impossible for UK temperatures to hit 40 degrees without human influence. Overall, it appears that, we are already irreversibly committed to having to live with the impacts of a changing climate. We are heading into uncertain times of increasingly frequent & more powerful storms, warmer & wetter winters and hotter & drier summers.
Climate scientists have been warning of this for decades, but COP reminds us each year about the difficulties of achieving unilateral and equitable agreement to reduce fossil fuels and mitigate climate change. Unfortunately, the failure to carry out commitments in a timely manner means that reducing emissions is now no longer enough and that we also need to rapidly adapt society to cope with the changing climate.
Academics at the University of Birmingham have been active in this space long before the publication of the 2007 UK Climate Change Act. Birmingham experts have since helped to co-author all three of the UK Climate Change Risk Assessments, consistently highlighting an adaptation deficit in the UK. Our work is frequently, and heavily, cited in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports and most recently, we responded to COP26 by producing a position paper entitled ‘keeping 1.5 degrees alive’ and calling for an international climate year.
Recently, the University was selected as one of a small number of academic partners of the Met Office in a newly-established cluster of research excellence to advance the science of weather and climate prediction. The cluster will play a key role in developing the worldwide response to climate change, not just through mitigation, but ensuring that impact-based services exist so that we are better prepared to adapt to what the changing weather has in store for us. Working across the Birmingham Institute for Sustainability and Climate Action (BISCA) and the Institute for Interdisciplinary Data Science and AI (IIDSAI), we will achieve this by using our expertise in data science, observations and modelling to ensure that we can better capture environmental complexity and improve our decision making in light of changing weather hazards.
Whatever happens in COP27, we really can’t afford to let 1.5 degrees fall off life support - only to be replaced by the old 2-degree target - or worse. We need unilateral action now to reduce the use of fossil fuels and limit the severity of future climate change, backed up by a comprehensive suite of adaptation measures to ensure we can cope with the here and now. To this end, we not only await the outcome of COP27 with bated breath, but also the publication of the long-awaited UK National Resilience Strategy as well as the next National Adaptation Programme.
Professors Lee Chapman & Gregor Leckebusch - Joint Met Office Chairs, University of Birmingham