Dr Phil Raymond explains how climate science is used to fuel policy and decision-making in government, and shows you how to get involved.
Since the 1800s, scientists have understood the greenhouse effect. We also know for certain that human emissions are driving this effect in the real world. But how important is new research in climate science? Do we already know enough to simply focus efforts on reducing emissions and adapting to climate change as quickly as possible?
It’s certainly true that we already know enough to act immediately – and it’s crucial that we do so. However, science has a vital role in driving climate policy and highlighting solutions at all levels, from international negotiations all the way down to local government.
The Paris Agreement, for example, is the international treaty governing climate action from 2020 onwards, and is grounded in science as assessed by the world’s authoritative and Nobel Prize-winning body on climate science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The IPCC’s first major report prompted the creation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), under which the Paris Agreement was negotiated. The Paris Agreement’s temperature goal to limit global warming to well below 2°C while pursuing efforts towards 1.5°C is based on the IPCC’s assessment of projected climate impacts at different levels of global warming.
Similarly, science on emissions reductions and carbon budgets led to the Agreement’s global commitment to balancing sources and sinks of greenhouse gases within the second half of the century.
Closer to home, the UK’s 2050 net zero target was only made law after a scientific assessment by the independent Committee on Climate Change, who showed that this was an achievable goal. They drew on another IPCC report, which demonstrated the global emissions cuts needed to achieve the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement, and the consequences of failing to do so.
We use science for almost every aspect of climate policy. It doesn’t just tell us about how challenging the problem is; it also guides the practical mitigation and adaptation solutions we need to build a net zero climate-resilient word. Regional information on climate impact can inform risk assessments and adaptation plans. Information on the positive and negative side-effects of different policies can help us to implement them more effectively. And with every new bit of information, science can build the public engagement and political will needed to drive ever more ambitious climate action across the world.
Science in government
The UK Government has its own Climate Science Team, based in the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), with many more climate experts across the Civil Service. Our job is to provide impartial scientific advice to policy teams and Ministers, and to support the research community to help it provide robust and policy-relevant research. We also represent the UK within the IPCC, where we work to ensure that climate science is communicated clearly and accessibly across the world.
This is obviously a huge job, which we can’t do alone – and you can help! Tackling climate change is an unprecedented challenge, requiring massive transformation in all areas of society. No matter where you work, it is highly likely that your area of work will be affected in some way. And outside of work, every single one of us can make changes to lower our personal carbon footprints.
Read the climate science narrative
To help you, the BEIS climate science team have drawn together the best available evidence on why we need more ambitious global climate action, and how science can help us find practical solutions to get us there. The Climate Science Narrative is an easy-to-understand resource summarising key information from the latest IPCC reports into just ten key points, with plenty of other useful facts and stats.
We need everyone to play their part by raising awareness and understanding of this crucial issue by drawing on the key messages for speeches, briefings, and other communications – whatever your field of work. But don’t forget that one of the best things you can do to tackle climate change is to talk to other people! So, before you strike up that conversation with a friend or family member about how to reduce your own carbon footprint, make sure you know your stuff and give it a read!
Review the latest science
But that isn’t the only way you can get involved! The IPCC is in the process of producing its 6th Assessment Report (AR6) on physical climate change, climate impacts, and adaptation and mitigation responses. This report will help shape national and global climate action at a crucial moment and needs to be reviewed by experts and governments from around the world.
We are seeking volunteers across all government departments to review relevant sections of the 3rd part of the AR6. This covers mitigation of climate change, including topics such as greenhouse gas emissions, energy systems, land use, social aspects of mitigation