Royal Society: Next Steps in Climate Science

The IPCC working group I report and the Summary for Policy Makers report have just been published. Apropos of that, the Royal Society is looking forward to the new climate challenges. But inevitably there was a strong element of summarising what is in the 14k word SMP and some of the chapters of the 2000 page report. All that was very interesting, and some genuine ‘these are the questions that need to be addressed’ was addressed. There have been some major steps forward (sea level rise and cumulative emissions, notably) since AR4.

But there was also subtext that was difficult to avoid picking up on.

  1. The problem is not the science. We know about the science. We’ve known about the key bits of the science since 1990, when the first Assessment Report came out.
  2. There are still some things that we just have no idea about. These seem to be mainly the low risk, high impact type things. IMO, for the same reason that we don’t actually know that much about plane crashes (they don’t happen often, they’re difficult to model and predict) we don’t know much about sudden and serious climate events.
  3. The perceived problem is ‘communication’.

This communication issue is multifaceted. There are some legitimate concerns. There are many questions that are more political and social than they are scientific. There are some whose motives in criticising the science is somewhat opaque. Some motives are clear and self interested. It’s not simple, and there really aren’t easy answers.

Best bits:

I read those papers, but I didn’t really understand them.


It’s not a rust coloured top, it’s an expensive M&S sweater. ~Gavin Schmidt


What would be the temperature on Earth if the atmosphere was 100% carbon dioxide?

I don’t know, but it wouldn’t be very habitable.


What should scientists do about the media mis-quoting them?

That’s not my responsibility. ~Matt Collins