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Vallance Briefing on Climate Science

Sir Patrick Vallance, by British Government, Open Government Licence 3.0
Sir Patrick Vallance, by British Government, Open Government Licence 3.0

The Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance briefed 70 MPs on climate science on 11th July 2022. It followed a 37-day hunger strike by Angus Rose, asking that the presentation be arranged.

The main presentations were from:

  • Professor Stephen Belcher (Met Office)
  • Professor Emily Shuckburgh (Cambrige Zero) and
  • Professor Gideon Henderson (DEFRA)

Caroline Lucas

Green MP Caroline Lucas, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change, introduced the speakers.

Sir Patrick Vallance

Sir Patrick Vallance began with the observation that we’ve had 2.5 years of pandemic, but we are looking at 50 years of big problems with the climate. Governments can’t ignore climate change and will have to focus on it.

Three observational facts:

  • the world is warmer than it was
  • the CO2 levels in the atmosphere are higher than they have ever been before
  • extreme weather events are more common than before

He said that while technology is important, it is not a magic bullet and will not solve the problem on its own. New technology that we don’t have now will not save our bacon, so we need to implement what we already have. 2050 is not a long way away.

Professor Stephen Belcher

Global average temperature difference, Crown Copyright 2022, Met Office
Global average temperature difference, Crown Copyright 2022, Met Office

Professor Belcher noted that it was appropriate to be making this presentation with extreme heat forecast in the coming days.

Looking at the climate over an extended period of time, there has been warming in recent decades.

During most of the time that Homo Sapiens has existed, levels of CO2 have been roughly constant. Recently they have increased very rapidly. That increase is unprecedented in 100,000 years. There is an unequivocal link between CO2 increases and temperature rises.

Global Average CO2 Concentration, Crown Copyright 2022, Met Office
Global Average CO2 Concentration, Crown Copyright 2022, Met Office

As well as CO2 levels and temperature rises, there are many other observed changes (not models), including sea level rise, and ice loss. 12% of Arctic sea ice has been lost every 10 years.

CO2 stays in the atmosphere for decades. Prof Belcher presented a graph that shows a direct relationship between cumulative CO2 emissions and temperatures.

We don’t have much more CO2 left to emit if we want to stay within warming of 1.5C. That’s why we need to get to Net Zero quickly. The longer we wait before cutting emissions, the more dramatic the cuts in emissions will have to be.

Cuts needed to stay within 1.5C
Cuts needed to stay within 1.5C

This is the PowerPoint that accompanied Professor Belcher’s presentation.

Professor Emily Shuckburgh

UK CO2 emissions
UK CO2 emissions

Prof Shuckburgh spent 10 years as a scientist at the British Antarctic Survey.

To stay on track for 1.5C, CO2 emissions have to be halved by 2030, she said. Countries have made pledges, but they need to be turned into action.

The UK has made progress, especially on emissions from energy supply (the blue line on the graph below).

UK emissions by sector
UK emissions by sector

Surface transport is now the largest emitter; the recent drop in those emissions is entirely due to travel restrictions during the pandemic. Other than the pandemic, there has been no significant reduction in transport emissions.

Surface transport graphic
Surface transport graphic

Another big emitter is buildings. Emissions reductions need to speed up, and we need better plans for houses and agriculture/land use.

Buildings graphic
Buildings graphic

Prof Shuckburgh said that climate change is predictable and preventable; it is also a predictable and exploitable opportunity, she claims, although many will feel we have done enough exploting already and that is the problem.

This is the PowerPoint that accompanied Professor Shuckburgh’s presentation.

Professor Gideon Henderson

Imagined July 2050 forecast, looking remarkably like the actual forecast for 19th July 2022
Imagined July 2050 forecast, looking remarkably like the actual forecast for 19th July 2022

Prof Henderson of DEFRA spoke about adaptation.

He showed the warming and changes to date, and future predictions. We can expect hotter average temperatures, drier Summers and wetter Winters, heatwaves, heavy rainfall and wildfires.

A lot of risks are associated with climate change, including to agriculture, forestry and human health.

Agriculture risks from climate change
Agriculture risks from climate change

There is also a problem with sea level rise. London could become undefendable in the case of high-emissions.

Sea level rise graphic
Sea level rise graphic

This is the PowerPoint that accompanied Professor Henderson’s presentation.

Vallance Briefing on Climate Science

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