Blog posts

UNFCCC climate negotiations: reflections from the Rhine

By Dr Simon Buckle, Grantham Institute

I spent a few days at the recent Bonn climate change conference (4-15 June) during the High Level Ministerial events on 5-6 June.  Not that these were the most interesting things happening there. Unsurprisingly, by and large, Ministers did not stray from well rehearsed positions, reflecting the continued skirmishing over the interpretation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) term “common but differentiated responsibilities” in a world that is radically different from the one in which the Convention was conceived.

More interesting were the briefing session on the UN Secretary General’s forthcoming climate summit in New York on 23 September and a series of special events where negotiators got the chance to hear from and question IPCC authors about the implications of the IPCC AR5 reports for the UN negotiations and the review underway of the long-term target (2°C or 1.5°C?),

What is the best way to write about climate change in fiction?

By Dr Flora Whitmarsh, Grantham Institute

Last week I attended Weather Fronts, an event organised by Tipping Point. The event brought climate scientists together with writers of fiction and poetry to discuss how authors can bring climate change into their work.

Climate change is a global problem and solving it requires collective action. When too many citizens fail to exercise their voice, it is harder for such problems to be adequately addressed at the societal level. Artists have a voice they can use to communicate about the things that concern them. Writing about global warming of course has the potential to raise awareness of its impacts and possible solutions.

Science and an open society

By Dr Simon Buckle, Grantham Institute

Professor Lennart Bengtsson’s resignation from the GWPF (Global Warming Policy Foundation) Academic Advisory Council has received wide coverage and raises important issues.

Whatever anyone’s views are on the role, motivation and integrity of the GWPF in this matter, it is up to individual academics whether or not to associate themselves with it in an advisory role.

It is regrettable that perceived political stances on the climate issue are apparently so affecting academic activity.  The Grantham Institute at Imperial has always opposed such behaviour, believing that scientific progress requires an open society.  We try to engage with a wide range of figures, some with radically different views on climate change.

Collaboration with Stanford University and Biofuels Research at the Joint BioEnergy Institute

By C. Chambon, Research Postgraduate, Department of Chemistry

As part of a group of six Imperial students who visited California, I travelled to San Francisco to work on two projects: the New Climate Economy project, and a research collaboration with the Joint BioEnergy Institute.

The New Climate Economy project is a government-commissioned project looking at how economic goals can be achieved in a way that also addresses climate change. The Innovation stream, led by Stanford University and the Grantham Institute at Imperial, is focused on the potential economic and environmental impact of disruptive technologies. Beginning in January, a group of six Imperial students each focused on a different technology for the project, researching and preparing case studies for our weekly teleconferences.

The challenge of seasonal weather prediction

By Hannah Nissan, Research Assistant in Regional Climate Modelling, Physics

In April 2009 the UK Met Office issued their now infamous forecast: “odds-on for a BBQ summer”. By the end of August, total precipitation since June had climbed to 42% above average levels for 1971-2000 (UKMO, 2014). Why is it so challenging to provide seasonal forecasts several months ahead?

A question which arises often in conversations about climate change is “how can we predict the climate in 50 years when we can’t even get the weather right next week?” While we have no skill in forecasting the weather on a particular day in 2060, we can make much more confident projections about the average conditions at that time.

Stranding our fossil assets or stranding the planet

By Helena Wright, Research Postgraduate, Centre for Environmental Policy

Earlier this month Carbon Tracker came to Imperial College London to discuss their report on ‘Unburnable Carbon’.  The report outlines research which shows between 60-80% of coal, oil and gas reserves of publicly listed companies are ‘unburnable’ if the world is to have a chance of keeping global warming below the globally-agreed limit of 2°C.  The event was followed by a lively debate.

The research, led by the Grantham Research Institute at LSE and the Carbon Tracker Initiative, outlines the thesis that a ‘carbon bubble’ exists in the stock market, as companies with largely ‘unburnable’ fossil fuel reserves are being overvalued.

New Climate Economy Collaboration with Stanford University

By Phil Sandwell, Research postgraduate, Department of Physics and Grantham Institute for Climate Change

This March, six Imperial students travelled to Palo Alto, California, to work with Stanford University students on the innovation stream of the New Climate Economy.

The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate was established to investigate the economic benefits and costs associated with climate change mitigation and adaptation. The flagship project of this is the New Climate Economy, a worldwide collaboration of internationally renowned research institutions. One such stream, focusing on innovation, was spearheaded by Stanford University and the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London.

A slow start to a global climate treaty

By Gabriele Messori, Stockholm University (former Imperial PhD student)

The United Nations’ climate negotiations usually gain the press spotlight once a year, when the big Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting takes place. The most recent COP, which took place in Warsaw last November, was discussed on this blog here. However, the efforts to design a global climate treaty under the umbrella of the United Nations are ongoing, and additional negotiations take place throughout the year. These are particularly important in preparing the ground for the COPs, and provide the occasion to iron out the contrasts which might hamper later work.

2014 – A pivotal year for CCS?

By Dr Niall Mac Dowell, Centre for Environmental Policy

For centuries, all of the world’s economies have been underpinned by fossil fuels.  Historically, this has primarily been oil and coal, but since the mid-1980s natural gas has become increasingly important. Over the course of the last decades, there has been an increasing focus on electricity generation from renewable sources, and since about 1990 carbon capture and storage (CCS) has become an important part of the conversation around the mitigation of our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The role of CCS in addressing our GHG mitigation targets is clear and unambiguous – see for example the IEA CCS technology roadmaps which show that by 2050, almost 8 GtCO2/yr needs to be sequestered via CCS; a cumulative of 120 GtCO2 in the period from 2015 to 2050.

Moving from tactics to strategy: extreme weather, climate risks and the policy response

 By Dr Flora MacTavish and Dr Simon Buckle

In the press coverage of the recent floods, there has been a lot of discussion about whether the authorities could have been better prepared or responded more effectively. The National Farmers Union has called for the reintroduction of river dredging, although experts argue that dredging may be limited in its effectiveness. Local authorities have been criticised by experts for distributing sand bags rather than encouraging the use of more effective alternatives such as wooden or metal boards.

These are essentially tactical issues, however. It is the government and local authorities that have the vital strategic responsibility for fully embedding weather and climate risks into decisions on the level and focus of investment into flood defences and planning regulations about what can be built and where.

Workshop on climate science needed to support robust adaptation decisions

By Dr Simon Buckle

I just wanted to highlight the great event we held last week with Judy Curry at Georgia Tech on how we can use climate science to help us make better decisions – in business, government, health and development.  Do have a look at the presentations from the really diverse group we managed to assemble in Atlanta, from international organisations, business, development agencies, NGOs and research.

A few  points strike me as worth (re)emphasising:

  • Climate models are extremely valuable tools for assessing climate change over the rest of this century, but even the most advanced climate models are not yet able to provide detailed information with sufficient confidence on the variability and change of regional climate in the next few decades.

Climate change and health risks – new commission launched

By Siân Williams, Research postgraduate, Department of Physics and Grantham Institute for Climate Change

In 2009 a joint report between University College London and The Lancet stated, “Climate change is the biggest risk to global health of the 21st century”. The work highlighted extreme weather events, changing patterns of disease and food and water insecurity.

Now a second UCL-Lancet commission is underway. Last month, UCL’s Institute of Global Health hosted a launch event for the report entitled ‘Climate crisis: emergency actions to protect human health’.

The event was chaired by UCL’s Anthony Costello, head of the first Lancet commission.

The TROPICS research cruise from Tenerife to Trinidad: Tracing oceanic processes using corals and sediments

 By Torben Struve, Research Postgraduate, Department of Earth Science & Engineering  and Grantham Institute for Climate Change

How to start a retrospective on two amazing months at sea? Probably at the beginning! In the beginning there was…an idea! The idea was to reconstruct abrupt changes in chemistry and ocean circulation in the Equatorial Atlantic Ocean to learn about global climate and deep-water habitats. The plan was to do so by collecting sediments, seawater and deep sea corals and analysing all of these for their geochemical composition.

Developing this idea into our actual scientific cruise, JC094, took several years of planning and preparation, led by principal investigator and chief scientist Dr.

Beyond adaptation: loss and damage negotiation at the United Nations

By Gabriele Messori, Research postgraduate in the Department of Physics

The 19th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) took place last month in Warsaw, Poland. These conferences are at the core of the international negotiations on climate change, and set the scene for future climate policies around the world. By most accounts, the Warsaw meeting had mixed results – it marked progress in some areas and stagnation in others. One of the most contentious negotiation streams, and one where some measure of progress was made, was loss and damage.

The current approach to climate change is based on two pillars: mitigation and adaptation.

Seasonal chill

By Professor Sir Brian Hoskins

The US has been suffering from icy weather and snow storms in recent days.  This image from NOAA shows the surface air temperature anomaly for the week 2-8 December – that is the difference from the mean temperature for this time of the year.

It was very cold over North America (where we get lots of news from!) but very warm in Eurasia and parts of the Arctic (where we don’t!). This is the sort of thing the atmosphere can do on short timescales through having a particular pattern of weather.