May 19, 2014

Transformational Climate Science at Exeter University

Last week the University of Exeter hosted a two day conference organised in partnership with the Met Office and the University of Leeds, under the banner of  "Transformational Climate Science". According to the conference's "About" page:

The world’s top climate change experts [met] in Exeter to present and critically reflect on the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).

The Transformational Climate Science conference [saw] world-leading researchers using the IPCC report’s findings to explore the next steps for climate science research.

The report assesses scientific, technical, and socio-economic factors concerning climate change, its potential effects and the options for adaptation and mitigation.

Conference participants included leading UK and international contributors to the IPCC report, who [gave] policy and scientific perspectives on the cutting edge of science, social science, and science-policy interface.

All this was far too much for me to resist, so I attended the public forum on Thursday evening and the whole of the Friday session which covered the work of IPCC Working Group III on "the challenge of mitigation". I was wearing the hat (and badge) of a member of the local press:

A couple of press passes for a couple of "summits"

A couple of press passes for a couple of "summits"

Since I have a great professional interest in energy security and hence energy policy I was delighted to discover that Catherine Mitchell, who is Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Exeter, was on both panels. When I arrived on Thursday evening there was still time to look around some of the assorted exhibits outside the conference room itself. There I spotted Professor Tim Lenton who was in charge of the Exeter climate change MOOC that I signed up for earlier this year:

Your faithful scribe with Tim Lenton at the Transformational Climate Science conference

Your faithful scribe with Tim Lenton at the Transformational Climate Science conference

Tim was wearing a badge that said "I'm a climate researcher. Ask me anything!", so I asked him something!

Tim Lenton's "Ask me anything" badge

Tim Lenton's "Ask me anything" badge

Tim told me that the Exeter MOOC had gone even better than expected, with over 16,000 people signing up for the course out of which over 10% managed to complete it. Apparently this is well above the "industry average", so Tim was very pleased with how things had turned out.

Next I bumped into three more people wearing "Ask me anything!" badges. They were Tom, Steve and Chris, and I asked them about their own research:

Tom Powell, Steve Beckett and Chris Boulton at the public forum of the Transformational Climate Science conference

Tom, Steve and Chris at the public forum of the Transformational Climate Science conference

We'd never met before but their faces were familiar to me since they were the ones asking Tim Lenton questions in many of the videos that constitute a large part of the Exeter climate change MOOC course materials. It turns out that Tom is researching "humans as a newly evolved but very significant element in the relationship between life and the Earth", Steve is looking at "the ecology and evolution of marine microbial systems, in particular the interactions and coevolution of bacteria and their viruses", whereas Chris is using computer modelling to investigate how to potentially get "early warning of environmental tipping points".

By now it was time for the evening's main event to start. I always try to sit at the front on such occasions, where this time I found myself sitting next to Professor Neil Adger. I was having a quick chat to him when he apologised for the fact that he had to go and stand at the front and introduce the forthcoming proceedings! Here's what the panel for the public forum looked like, and it seemed they would each have 7 minutes to present an overview of their specialist subject:

The panel for the public forum of the Transformational Climate Science conference

The panel for the public forum of the Transformational Climate Science conference

A video of the complete session should be available shortly is now available, so for now I'll concentrate on the question and answer session at the end. I had a couple of energy policy questions I wanted to ask Catherine, so I kept waving my arm in the air, but somehow I never managed to catch Peter Gibbs' eye. Somebody else did manage that tricky feat, and Peter described her as "the lady in the Green cardigan" when directing the microphone in her direction. She turned out to be Molly Scott Cato, the Green Party's lead candidate for the South West of England in the forthcoming European elections, who effectively asked one of my questions for me by suggesting that "if politicians aren't dealing with climate change perhaps we have the wrong politicians" and garnering a round of applause from the assembled throng as a result. Catherine didn't seem any keener on those politicians than Molly, saying that she had "very little faith in any governments" and "we really need a completely new way of thinking about [UK energy policy]".

The message was very clear that things are not moving fast enough if dangerous climate change is to be avoided. According to an article about the conference in The Western Morning News, Prof. Mitchell told them that:

Personally, I think the IPCC report shows how much mitigation we have to undertake if we are to meet the 2C target – in Britain we are nowhere near and we have to up our game.

The report shows that by 2030 globally we should be getting about 25% of our energy – for electricity, heat and transport – from low carbon sources but we have had a process in place since 1990 and we have only managed 3 to 4% so we are way off target.

The Government really has to start explaining, not in a scary way, what climate change means to people’s daily lives and manage that change.

There will be winners and losers – I would argue the Government spends too much time looking after the losers – the fossil fuel companies – rather than innovative new businesses.

Soon the Q&A session was over. Neil apologised for the fact that I hadn't got to pose a question to the panel. I thanked him but told him not to worry. I headed over to the table and asked Catherine some questions in person! More on that and Friday's events in my next post. Until then though, lots of the slides from the presentations on both days have already been made available.They should be required reading for every politician (and prospective politician) on the planet!

View the slides from Thursday's presentations.
View the slides from the public forum on Thursday evening.
View the slides from Friday's presentations.

Should said politicians prefer watching videos to reading IPCC reports they could always try starting here instead:

P.S. Some alternative interpretations of the Transformational Climate Science conference are now available at:

Simple Climate – IPCC: Millions of words on climate change are not enough

The Exeter Blog – Transformational Climate Science

Angus Ferraro – Transformational Climate Science – meeting report et seq.

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Comments on Transformational Climate Science at Exeter University »

May 19, 2014

Jim @ 11:17 am

Catherine Mitchell has asked me to elucidate the following point, about which it seems The Western Morning News were less than crystal clear!

Since 1990 we have added 3-4% – i.e. we were at 8% largely nuclear and hydro and now we are at about 12% which is nuclear, hydro, new renewables and interconnectors. But the main point that we are still well behind what we need is right, although if we had loads of energy efficiency we would need to have less supply.

May 30, 2014

Jim @ 8:33 am

The video recordings of the conference have now been made available by Exeter University. Here's Prof. Catherine Mitchell's talk about UK energy policy in the public forum, that I referred to above:

Please note that towards the end Catherine had this to say:

We really, really need to up our game in terms of increasing the efficiency of energy that we use, so we use a lot less of it and what we do use is efficient, and we really have to start making sure that we get more low carbon energy supply. It would be great if the Government was going to do that, but I have very little faith really in any of our governments at the moment to do that, and I think therefore it really is about businesses and NGOs and consultancies and, you know, society to really start to do these things.

I also think it's about having a huge amount of public engagement, and today is a really good thing. I think very few people understand what it is to live in a 3 degree, 4 degree, 5 degree world and that needs to change. Overall the thing that I want to try and get across is that I feel, as somebody who has been working in energy policy now for about 30 years and tried my best to move things along as quickly as possible, that we really need a completely new way of thinking about this problem to make sure that we do stay within that 2 degrees, lowest target.

Catherine has also now published an article of her own on this topic, on the iGov web site. For additional background information please take a good long look at:

"In Matters Of Climate Change, The Environmental Requirement Must Take Precedent Over Short Term Economic Goals"

Catherine's conclusion is that:

We as individuals and communities in civil society have to do all we can to get our politicians, neighbours, businesses, energy suppliers and so on to take climate change seriously. Climate and energy policy must take note of the IPCC warning and act now.

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