Urgent new research needed to underpin policy changes

Urgent new research needed to underpin policy changes

The Paris Agreement was signed by 177 countries on Earth Day (22 April 2016), aiming to "pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels". However, climate scientists have been quick to recognise the paucity of information in existence on the risks associated with this level of warming and say that new and different kinds of research need to be undertaken immediately if the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report due in 2018 is to contain sufficient evidence to distinguish between impacts at 1.5ºC and 2ºC.

If the community do not act quickly, a new paper says, the IPCC are in danger of reporting all the negative economic impacts of achieving a 1.5ºC world, without reporting on the potential positive impacts of reduced extreme weather activity that such a scenario could bring.

The Nature Climate Change paper by Mitchell et al, including collaborators from the Universities of Oxford, Leeds and Exeter, the Met Office Hadley Centre and the National Institute for Environmental Studies, Japan, highlights the need for the climate community to refocus their research priorities in order to inform on the impacts of a 1.5ºC warmer world. A new way of performing the climate projections must be developed, because the community have largely assessed far higher CO2 scenarios.

Co-author Piers Forster, from the Priestley International Centre for Climate  at the Unversity of Leeds, says: "Policy choices need underpinning by robust research. As a science community we have concentrated on high temperature futures and have been remiss at providing the research necessary to assess the impacts of temperatures not much warmer than today's."

Such studies can be explicitly designed using large ensemble methodologies that have been tested over the last decade. Large ensembles of ten-year periods for recent observed and 1.5ºC and 2ºC warmer worlds, using projected changes in sea surface temperatures drawn from existing coupled model simulations, could directly address the differences between the two scenarios. Co-author Hideo Shiogama, of National Institute for Environmental Studies (Japan), says: "Such large ensembles allow us not only identifying differences in extreme weather due to +0.5ºC warming, but also testing linearity in responses of extreme weather to the global warming".

Lead author Dann Mitchell, of Oxford University, says: "Important impacts in a 1.5ºC warmer world will be seen in changes in extreme weather. This is especially concerning for developing countries and could lead to serious health and economic problems".

The paper concludes, "For once, we have been asked a very specific question [by our policy makers], so we need a very good reason indeed not to step up and answer it".

Project website: www.happimip.org


The paper 'realizing the impacts of a 1.5C warmer world' was published online in Nature Climate Change on Monday 6 June 2016. The study involved researchers from the UK: University of Oxford, University of Leeds, Met Office and from Japan: National Institute for Environmental Studies.

For further information, please contact:

Julie Meikle (Communications Officer, Oxford e-Research Centre): julie.meikle@oerc.ox.ac.uk or +44(0)1865 610623.

Dann Mitchell (Oxford University): Mitchell@atm.ox.ac.uk, +44 (0)1865 275865 or +44 (0) 7921 154 136

Rachel James (Oxford University): rachel.james@eci.ox.ac.uk, +44 (0)1865 275895 or +44(0) 7891 760 087

Grahame Madge (Met Office press office): pressoffice@metoffice.gov.uk, +44 (0)1392 886655.

Members of the public can get involved by running simulations on their home or work computers. Co-author Myles Allen, of Oxford University, says: "The academic community have been called into action, we are doing our part, you can do yours by running climate simulations on your home PCs. The more citizen scientists we get on board, the better our science." Sign up at www.climateprediction.net.

Priestley International Centre for Climate

The debate about achievable solutions for limiting climate impacts at 1.5°C level is being raised at a special Climate Question Time event at the University of Leeds on Tuesday 14 June 2016.

Part of the launch of the Priestley International Centre for Climate, panellists include astronaut Piers Sellers – a climate scientist and an alumnus of the University of Leeds – and Lord Deben, Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change. Joining them will be Laurie Goering, from the Thomson Reuters Foundation and Kristin Halvorsen, Director of the Norwegian climate research institute CICERO.