This conference was held on 6th Oct and these notes were taken at the time to highlight points of interest and summarise the talks.
Please therefore excuse the poor grammar !
Hopefully the full recordings will be made available soon and I’ll then add the links (these are in line below). This summary should then guide folks to the points of individual interest.
So, here are our summary comments and thoughts from the RSE (Royal Society of Edinburgh) + Scottish Centre of Royal Meteorological Society – on line conference on climate change science on the run up to COP26. Please do note that of course, there are points that may have been picked up incorrectly. Apologies!
The event aimed to consider current and future impacts of weather patterns, food production and what society needs to do to limit the impact.
The introduction was from Professor Zoe Shipton, RSE Fellowship Secretary who shared what her primary school age child wanted to see from COP. She was worried that it wouldn’t produce lasting effects but wanted:
- more electric cars
- Houses converted to solar
- More veggetarians
- An aerosols – not recyclable
- More people need to know how to save water
- Invite lots of poor people to cop
The talks were from:
1 Mr David Warrilow OBE, Vice President, Royal Meteorological Society Explaining the COP process
2 Professor Gabi Hegerl FRS FRSE, University of Edinburgh – Human influence on climate: from global warming to extreme events
3 Professor Pete Smith FRS FRSE, University of Aberdeen – Nature-based solutions on land
4 Dr Neil Fraser, Scottish Association for Marine Science, University of the Highlands and Islands – Changing oceans in a changing climate
5 Dr Michael Byrne, University of St Andrews – Storms, floods and heatwaves: extreme weather in a warming world
6 Professor Jan Webb MBE, University of Edinburgh – Perspectives from social studies of energy and climate change
Talk 1 covered how the COP works
Talk 2 covered the science of climate change focussing in on the IPCC report
Talk 3 looked at nature based solutions such as peat and forests considering how they compare with other solutions and best implementation
Talk 4 explained how ocean currents work, and how their change is influencing the weather.
Talk 5 clearly explained the basic physics and concepts on why climate change is creating wetter wet days and warmer hot days.
Talk 6 changed the flow and looked at society, how it functions with the other institutional controls on our lives and compared change in Hamburg and Glasgow.
And the wrap up Q&A looked at many general questions on what should be focussed on
1. Mr David Warrilow OBE, Vice President, Royal Meteorological Society Explaining the COP process
This talk introduced the background of COP and its purpose, function and workings. Lots of work is done in the run up to COP including building consensus and trust and evaluating scientific evidence through consultation and dialogue involving many parties. Country attendees are in different groupings to allow all voices to be heard through their representatives; these have met before to come to consensus. The main meetings are held in a room with flags highlighting where folks are from.
The main ambition of this COP is to raise ambition and action to aim to reach the 1.5 target. This includes: phasing out coal, curtailing deforestation, increasing electric vehicles, investment in renewables, encouraging countries to protect the natural habitat.
Finance mobilisation of $100bn per year to help developing countries.
Fundamentally then, it’s about working together to increase action and to support countries that need help.
Q&A – Global Carbon Budgets and COP26 – countries not negotiating as such, but IPCC needs 45% reduction by 2045. UK is not in G77 (we are a developed country) – who are we lined up with now not EU. So we may not be represented within group but this may have been left because we are the presidency this year. Industry groups are not represented per se, but more as part of other representations. Concern about funding for developing countries and measurement.
Q&A – Individual changes need to be made easier: govts need to act e.g. electricity generating systems; transfer to e.g. heat pumps significant issue, challenge in designing solution where we can do out bit where we can; best to support govts into changing.
2. Professor Gabi Hegerl FRS FRSE, University of Edinburgh – Human influence on climate: from global warming to extreme events
The talk included much of the information in the IPCC report. Three scientists were awarded the 2021 Nobel prize for their work contributing to the understanding of climate change and action. Warming increased from 1850-1940, then settled and then rapidly increased from 1950.
Human influence has warmed the climate at a rage that is unprecedented in at least the last 2000 years. We looked at ways that the temperature increase is calculated extracting out natural increase vs human influenced increase. Each incremental increase further steps up the land temperature, sea temperature, drought impact etc. [Detailed graphs are in the IPCC report.]
Extreme events are how we most notice climate change – flooding, fires, drought. But, climate change is already affecting every inhabited region across the globe. [SPM AR6 graphs split regions for consideration. The UK is split in about the middle of England to 2 different regions].
Two extreme events focussed on were:
European floods – 184 deaths in Germany – heavy rain on saturated soil and complex terrain. Estimated as a 1/500 year event with human influencing the probability of such events. The flood models predicted the floods 7 days ahead but insufficient action due to various reasons. Message – we need to increase our adaptation action.
Record heat in June 2021 in Western US – far above 40c. Cooling rooms were needed. Canadian temperature 49c. Pakistan 52.8c These are extreme temperatures and at some point thresholds are crossed for humans, wildlife and agriculture.
IPCC report indicates temperature increase will continue til mid century under all emission scenarios!
Tipping points: low probability high impact events such as drought causing sudden die back of Amazonian rain forest or loss of Greenland Ice sheet – Fig 1.17 IPCC report – further investigation needed. Human influence includes such as ploughing up land to grow wheat which may be successful at some point but then devastated by drought – non recoverable.
Q&A: are computers and blockchains (computer banks) influencing climate change – not much; but less if energy is green. Volcanic activity – loss of ice sheets relationship – small factor presently – probably increase.
3. Professor Pete Smith FRS FRSE, University of Aberdeen – Nature-based solutions on land
Works on climate change mitigation. Today looking at nature based solutions; one of the focus areas for the UK at COP26. Noting that not dismissing ocean based solutions, just noting talk focus.
Using conventional tech, there’s a 2/3 chance of keeping warming below 2dc. We will still have emitting tech in the mix (flying). Carbon removal tech is needed to get to net negative. Scotland net zeo 2045 target vs UK 2050.
Tech – direct air capture, expensive and energy intensive. Accelerated weathering uses natural minerals to react. Ocean alkalinity enhancement. Tech however is less vulnerable to reversal.
Natural – Forests, Biochar, Soil carbon sequestration, change in land use / wetlands. Natural is much less costly than tech. More vulnerable to reversal (forest fires).
Combined is mid cost – bioenergy + capture CO2 – controversial
Natural – reforestation + avoiding conversion is highest impact. All solutions together. These solutions should be seen as additional to all mitigation solutions. Notes: not all land based solutions benefit biodiversity and human wellbeing. Sustainable solutions benefit both e.g. native trees vs sitka production forestry.
If delivered like this then significant co-benefits.
How do we decide best co-benefits. See pizza diagram – Smith et al ARER (2019). Tool for evaluating impacts and ensuring holistic positive.
What can we do in the UK? Protect peatland and woodland and permanent grassland. Restore degraded peatland, forest. manage woodlands and soil better. create new woodland with native trees. Existing carbon sinks save over 16k MtC02e.
But the land can’t do it all. Ocean based approaches are comparatively under-researched. Poor implementation is bad. Immediate and aggressive action needed.
Q&A – Can nature based solutions be long term? Reversible due to management change or disease. Need future proofed. When trees reach maturity they sink + release Co2 are the same. But even tho – we can use trees to benefit next 30 years whilst look at other decarbonisation solutions. Domestic wood production good for local economy + reduce imported timber.
Will future scenario impact on benefit of nature solutions – yes it may improve or if get extreme events may lose crop – so manage risk of viability of planting
Agriculture motivation? e.g. sell carbon credits? issues is about measuring soil carbon increase (large background level, small increase). Improved monitoring work underway.
Value of trees vs peatland? restore peatland 1st – 30tco2e ph py – rewet peatland, then net carbon sequestration. But where shallow peat – grey area. Not both in same place.
4. Dr Neil Fraser, Scottish Association for Marine Science, University of the Highlands and Islands – Changing oceans in a changing climate
Recent developments in Ocean physics in Scotland and beyond. North Atlantic is warming at below global average. Spot which is actually cooling. NA has 70 year time scale cycle. Gulf stream collapse, aerosol, volcanic activity? Ocean temp dictates weather around – extreme heat etc.
AMOC – Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation is used by ocean scientists instead of gulf stream. This cycle does not occur in Pacific or Indian due to high salt content +. AMOC pumps heat northwards through atlantic. Northern hemisphere warmer than southern. 20m cub m per second is carried around the AMOC -> 100 greater than amazon discharge. 1.25 Petawatts per second! Significant impact if reduces. 2010 had low movement point, increased again. Don’t have AMOC data on climate change timescales; proxies are used, all show weakening; is disagreement on how well proxies work, but other models all agree that AMOC weakening significantly over next 100 years. IPCC report highlights that our confidence in current modelling is increasing but confidence in passed is low. Mathematical modelling has helped to build confidence. Prediction of AMOC helps to predict significant weather events.
What’s the cold blob – salinity south of iceland reduced 1970 sudden drop. recovered to 2010 then even further significant drop. Wind patterns changed direction of current in upper part or NA + cold fresh water directed to middle. Low salinity it like to slow the AMOC.
Point to see here is that NA temp increase is lower than other areas.
Q&A – would we know if it’s passed tipping point? Don’t know. Large melting greenland ice sheet could have significant impact. Wind conditions. AMOC weakens then less warm.
End morning Q&A general.
Do scientists need to be more doom – scientists should give data – vs advocacy. Govt should make decisions. Need to be objective. Difficult to step back now tho even as compared with 10 years ago, much more worried.
Are scientists being listened to? Yes more so than 10 years ago. Dialogue has completely changed. Not denying now. Conversation is now, what can we do.
Isn’t solvable by personal interest alone, need strong govt action.
100 companies contribute most Co2 so why COP not have business group. Can’t deliver solution by just govt action. Need business action.
5. Dr Michael Byrne, University of St Andrews – Storms, floods and heatwaves: extreme weather in a warming world. Climate Dynamics Lab.
Why should we care about extreme weather in a warming climate. Significant this year – Europe, New York, Canada(Lytton raised to the ground). Every degree temp rise, increases likelihood of warmer also very wet days. The talk explained basic physics of it.
Wet days getting wetter – science more straight forward here – as air warms, the warm air rises and then condenses. Rain = amount of water vapour & speed air is rising. Warmer atmosphere holds more water vapour. 1 degree air warm -> 6/7 % increase in water vapour. Considers how much more rain we get in a 1-1000 wettest days. Scotland (extra-tropics) expect 6/7pc rain. Closer to the tropics much more uncertain – huge high and low (30 to 0 pc change) because more likely in thunder storms. Models currently only explicit to 10-20square km, storms smaller than that so difficult to model. Model improvement work ongoing: deeper learning to coarse size and then deep data.
Hot days hotter and more frequent – consider normal distribution curve on average day temperature; as curve shifts to the right, the area under the curve at higher temperature is larger and therefore more change of higher temperature and less chance of lower temperature. This simplistic considering weather pattern not changing, can see this by changing shape of tail or normal distribution curve. Curve shape changing due to dynamics of gulf stream; slows and becomes wavier, so cold masses of air from Greenland may linger longer. Northern hemisphere warming faster. Reasons for potential cold days getting colder is being hotly debated. Goal – evaluating actionable information.
Q&A – are we better using computing power to further develop models to better predict data or to apply that to mitigation and adaptation? Best estimates at the moment are 2.5-5 degree – huge uncertainty range to guide change / engineering etc.
What about wind change ie change re wind farm effectiveness. Basic science not taking us far into variability of wind re climate change, studies continue.
6 Professor Jan Webb MBE, University of Edinburgh – Perspectives from social studies of energy and climate change
What is the social science perspective: social + technical arrangements for energy production and consumption. What do we use energy for. Who uses it for what. Change is slow despite urgency. To do with the institutions (state, market, society) that govern our behaviour. Need to connect macro and micro change. Easier to study in cities.
heatandthecity.org.uk – collaborative research.
Hamburg initiative discussed.
Civil society needs to generally trust markets and governments for them to work?
What about civic society projects to change energy use? Some stop upwards to govt.. Some focus downwards on energy initiatives. Some pose systemic questions, nature of public goods, ownership, control etc.
In Hamburg 2013 > 50% voted to retune city energy to public ownership. Had been sold to private ownership for only 20 years so citizen initiative feasible. Also voted for socially just, democratic, climate friendly; public owned more likely to be environmental. So bottom up and systemic change.
Compare Glasgow. Hamburg city state vs city council which is seen as administrator. Similar cities re industrialisation, river. Services privatised in Glasgow (outsourced city), 1990 privatised. Glasgow corporation closed in 1970.
Vattenfall senate encouraged them to double the size in 2006 from 2004, and then further monetise it including tunnelling in green space. Coal power station $bill. But civil control buy back. Cross sector collaboration.
Glasgow – and other changes – needs us to be extraordinary creative in finding solutions. Systems and set up would make the Hamburg solution significantly difficult.
Q&A – Is the UK model or German model more likely to be able to make change re climate crisis. Germany much more reliant on coal, but strong commitments to end nuclear. Ability of at city level more able to change.
How can we use social science and psychology to change – scientists considering that they work more collaboratively now than in last decade. Difficult to do this is education because of refined (in depth level) teaching.
Optimism of will, pessimism of societal change?
Politically, does nuclear have a future? But is is economically or socially feasible? Some discussions concluded that it would be far too slow and far too expensive. Comment from discussion forums on lack of variability to power need.
Wrap Up Q&A
1.5pc target – are we going to get there or are we going to be blamed for unjustifiable targets? Yes it is. Difference between 1.3 and 2 is significant (e.g small island stated – end of location) in some locations. COP26 has mantra – Keep 1.5 Alive!. Difficulty is if we slip the targets they will continue to slip until the edge of the cliff. We are aiming to reduce risk.
Key hopes and concerns for the COP – that momentum increases – concern that UK govt says we don’t need to worry about food – worried about short term interests re vote gains vs threat to livelihoods.
How important for Scottish people and govt re being heard in COP? Nature based solutions put us in a good place. Citizen assemblies want us to go further and faster. Young people are more engaged in climate change already. It’s older people that need pushed.
Education: Royal Met Soc just brought out a book on climate science, and has lots of educational resource. All agree much more could be done: geography, physics, maths and broader. Huge thirst for education from students, even in those not in actual dept. How can climate education get into primary + secondary; being discussed.
Glasgow city council – education in climate science. General evaluations – even tho emergency declared than taking action. Despite shortage of funds, procurement could be directed to better environmental choices.
Covid learning experience? Significant difference because Covid was short term and immediate. Short termism is baked more into some governance than others. Federalism may provide opportunity for longer term view vs our system where we have party in power and opposition; impacts on ability to inhibit working together. UK lost coal because of opposition against trade unions vs green energy (and we can’t have the same happen in oil/gas; just transition needed). Or perhaps our govts do think long term so that they don’t cause issues when they return to power! Covid disaster and tragedy – amount of money for recovery $$$ – same as money needed to fix climate change – thus not outside capacity of nations to deal with. Drop in emissions during Covid was blip and now back up to previous rate and rising faster.
Are we really underestimating the scale of the challenge? Considered people are changing mindsets e.g. academic and business travel
Lag in rise in CO2 and rise in global temperature – CO2 cumulative rise – there is a lag, difficult to compare. Would a fall in CO2 have a similar lag; no – probably longer lag – stays in weather system for long time, absorbed to ocean. Consider that when we get to net zero, we think that will cap the temperature rise, and stabilise; but the longer we take, the higher the temp.
Many politicians don’t know what climate is (perhaps not UK) – how do we deal with those, who will always vote against the problem – scientific arguments just don’t cut it – those with non evidenced based opinions are reducing. How do we counter the belief system culture? Perhaps we can focus on a potential rational debate such as desire actually to drive diesel car or fly; where the price tag is too high.
What is the reaction to small nuclear reactors? Seemed to be consensus that it’s ok for it to be part of the solution because it’s still better than the continuation of the impact of coal or other fossil fuel will have.
Our actions – should be focussing on using less!! And we’re not! e.g. we are still not building to climate standards despite 30 years of argument. Over-warm can now be a problem in the south without air-con.
Is the policy response on adaptation being underplayed? We shouldn’t think of this as giving up, but rather both are needed.
All in all this was an excellent insight into what academia is doing with regard to climate change, to better understand the science and how scientist are thinking, acting and working on influencing change. This, in addition to providing detailed explanation of the science of it all.