Seamless climate prediction, tipping points feature in lecture on The Climate of Tomorrow

Seamless climate prediction, tipping points feature in lecture on The Climate of Tomorrow



9 May 2019

A new World Meteorological Organization (WMO) public science lecture series started on 8 May with a presentation from Thomas Stocker, Professor of Climate and Environmental Physics at the University of Bern on The Climate of Tomorrow: Building the Knowledge for Earth Stewardship.

Mr Stocker, who is former Co-chair of Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),  highlighted the need for better investment in observational capacity, and for enhanced climate models that enable seamless climate prediction.

He said that understanding of tipping points in Earth’s system is growing, but that there is a confusion of messaging. An authoritative IPCC assessment of tipping points by the IPCC was therefore necessary. Mr Stocker also warned against the risks of geoengineering as a “solution” to global warming.

public science lecture Scientific knowledge of climate change dates back more than 40 years.

“Science had it right. Science had it right for many decades. Scientific knowledge on which decisions could have been taken,” he said. Because of the lack of response to the warnings, concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are now “totally out of balance,” said Mr Stocker.

The inaugural lecture on 8 May was co-organized with the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP). It was opened by WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, Detlef Stammer, Chair of WCRP's Joint Scientific Committee, and WMO Chief Scientist and Research Director Pavel Kabat, who convened the lecture series.

It included an address by Luis Alfonso de Alba, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the 2019 Climate Action Summit. UN Secretary-General António Guterres  convened the 23 September summit, which will embrace governments, local authorities and businesses, to increase the level of ambition and mobilize commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The summit is meant to be an “agenda for action,” to implement the Paris Agreement by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

“If we take all the commitments … to date, we will be at about one third of what we need if we want to keep the increase in temperature to below 1.5°C, said Mr de Alba. “That is the size of the challenge we have. It is about time we all concentrate on what we have committed to do,” he said.

WMO Secretary-General Taalas is a co-chair of the Scientific Advisory Group to the Climate Summit and Mr de Alba described WMO’s support as “extremely important.”

The Scientific Advisory Group will provide the most up-to-date information on the state of the climate, greenhouse gas emissions and concentrations, as well as the overall carbon budget.

Much of this information is generated by the wider research community and networks linked to WCRP and WMO.

Mr Stocker examined the development of contemporary climate science in his presentation. He highlighted the need for high quality, standardized, comprehensive, and global observations, coordinated model development, and operational Earth system simulations, as well as an improved understanding of the fundamental climate system processes.

He discussed  four specific challenges that need to be overcome in order to build the knowledge required for better Earth stewardship.

Those challenges are to obtain:

  • Real-time simulations of extreme events, as these are essential for disaster risk reduction.  Much-improved climate models must be developed to achieve this.
  • Seamless climate prediction, which is necessary for forward-looking resource management in exposed and vulnerable countries. Regional climate phenomena, such as the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and monsoon systems around the world, may influence resource availability.
  • A better understanding of tipping points in the Earth system, as these represent potentially irreversible changes affecting all life on Earth. In particular, instabilities in ice sheet extent caused by ocean warming and tipping processes in marine ecosystems through the combined impact of acidification and warming are still little understood.
  • Comprehensive climate-chemistry models, as these are required to assess the potential impact of emerging technologies such as geoengineering, and to ascertain their governance and their ethical consequences. Such technologies may themselves be dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.

“Geoengineering bears risks that are global, unknown and unquantified,” said Mr Stocker.

The lecture was be followed by a high-level panel discussion. Panelists included:

Detlef Stammer - Chair, WCRP Joint Scientific Committee

Helen Cleugh - Vice-chair, WCRP Joint Scientific Committee

Amy Luers - Executive Director, Future Earth

Maxx Dilley - Director, Climate Prediction and Adaptation Branch, WMO

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