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Expert comment: Climate action requires 'wholesale changes to our society’ – University of Reading

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Expert comment: Climate action requires 'wholesale changes to our society’

Release Date 20 September 2019

Scientists have called for governments to take the lead on climate action

Scientists are calling on governments to lead the fight against climate change ahead of a landmark UN Climate Action Summit in New York from 21-23 September.

World leaders will gather at the high profile summit, hosted by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, to discuss action to reduce their carbon emissions with the aim of stopping global temperature rise from exceeding 1.5°C under the Paris Agreement.

Ahead of the summit, more than 250 media outlets have join the #CoveringClimateNow campaign to dedicate a week’s worth of coverage to the issues surrounding climate change.

"If we all do our little bit, we'll achieve just a little bit, and we need to achieve a lot" - Professor Richard Allan, University of Reading

Professor Ed Hawkins, Professor of Climate Science, University of Reading and National Centre for Atmospheric Science:

“I am thrilled to see the warming stripes being featured in such high-profile and well-respected newspapers as the Guardian and the Economist, on a day when young people around the world are demanding action on climate change,” said Professor Hawkins. “I hope that the millions of people who see it, will stop and think about the reality of climate change, and their own role in finding a solution to an ever-warming planet.

“The power of the stripes graphic is not only that it shows the undeniable effect of global warming over time, but that it represents, in a single image, the entirety of more than a century of carefully assembled scientific evidence.

“It is made up of billions of individual pieces of data, collected at millions of different points over space and time, by thousands of committed scientists, many of whom are long dead. Yet the story it tells is one that our generation is the first in human history to be able to interpret and understand.

“What the story will be in the future is up to us. Young people today have taken the initiative by protesting and demanding action. Our fate is in our own hands.”

Professor Nigel Arnell, Professor of Climate System Science, University of Reading:

“This week, the United Nations General Assembly will be discussing how to encourage countries to be more ambitious in their targets to reduce future emissions of greenhouse gases. It’s clear that increased effort is needed if we are to avoid significant climate change impacts.

“We’re probably already seeing some of the consequences of climate change – heatwaves, wildfires, unusually slow and intense hurricanes – and things will get much worse if we continue on our current path of increasing emissions.

“We recently published a study showing the number of people exposed to major heatwaves would increase from 330 million per year now to up to 8 billion per year in 2050 – just 30 years away - the number people exposed to drought would increase from 400 million per year to up to 1 billion per year, and the number of people affected by flooding from major rivers would increase from 15 million per year now to up to 100 million per year. Reducing emissions now will reduce these impacts, but at the same time we also need to increase efforts to enhance resilience to the impacts that are inevitable following our emissions so far.”

Professor Richard Allan, Professor of Climate Science, University of Reading:

“Over the 21st century, there will be serious challenges facing human societies that are not yet even known about. If we are crippled by impacts from climate change, these unforeseen dangers could rapidly develop into an existential crisis. Fortunately, we know how to correct our current trajectory to a less dangerous pathway and be better prepared for what the future brings us.

"Actions by individuals to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide are important and commendable. Yet if we all do our little bit, we'll achieve just a little bit, and we need to achieve a lot. We can only do this through wholesale changes to our society through substantive and far reaching policy changes at every political level right up to our leaders."

Professor Rowan Sutton, Director of Climate Science, National Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of Reading:

“In 2007 the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon described climate change as 'the defining challenge or our age'. He was correct: in its scale and significance climate change is an unprecedented challenge for the human race. We are waking up to this reality too slowly, but at least we are now waking up.  The Paris Agreement was an important step forward, but there is so much more to be done.  The climate youth movement deserves great credit for demanding renewed, focused and unwavering attention to solving the problem we have created.   It is a task and opportunity that everyone - from individuals to governments - can contribute to addressing.

Professor Keith Shine, Regius Professor of Meteorology and Climate Science, University of Reading:

“We are coming to the end of another decade. Each of the past four decades has, when averaged over the whole planet, been 0.1 to 0.2 degrees Celsius warmer than the decade before; carbon dioxide levels have continued their relentless rise; and methane levels have grown much more rapidly than in the previous decade. Unless things start to change markedly over the coming decade, it is going to get harder and harder to meet the goals of the UN’s Paris Agreement on climate change.”

Dr Nicolas Bellouin, Associate Professor in Climate Processes, University of Reading:

“Covering climate change now matters because the need to decrease emissions is urgent. As a society we have so far collectively chosen to wait. But waiting forces us into a corner.

“The world's pledges on future carbon emissions put us on track for a 3°C temperature increase. The deep societal changes needed to stay under 1.5°C have not started, we are still looking for new sources of oil and gas, and recent research suggests that carbon budgets are smaller than previously thought.

“But irrespective of the temperature target, we need to take actions, big and small, that put us on the right tracks identified by climate research.”

Professor Andrew Charlton-Perez, Professor of Meteorology, University of Reading:

“It’s great to see so much climate coverage this week during the run-up to UN Climate Action Summit, much of which highlights the impact of the changing climate at a personal level for all of us.

“The role of the youth climate strikes and other direct action seems to have played a huge role in the boost in public awareness of the scale of the problem and the need for all of us to make major and meaningful changes to our work and personal lives. Of course this is challenging, but I think there is a great deal of optimism that the public energy that has built up over the last year can help to encourage governments to be ambitious both internationally and domestically.

“The recent progress report by the Committee on Climate Change shows that the UK government could do a great deal more to both achieve our 2050 net zero target and to prepare for climate change impacts. In our own department and University we have been inspired to re-double our own efforts to reduce our climate impact, with significant energy for this coming from our student population.

“My research is about improving our ability to predict weather and climate on timescale between three weeks and several months ahead. As we saw this summer, our ability to predict extreme events with wide-ranging impact for society is improving all the time. This is aided by increased understanding of how the dynamics of the atmosphere are responding to increasing temperatures, like the recent paper on changes to wind shear in the upper troposphere published in Nature by my colleagues Simon Lee, Paul Williams and Tom Frame.

“As we have already seen with the EU Copernicus programme and other open science initiatives, bringing climate forecasts to end-users and training them to make use of the forecasts will also be a vital part of our future climate adaptation strategy. I would also like to see an increased focus on this in the school curriculum, training a new generation of scientists to bring their skill and enthusiasm into meteorology and climate science.”

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