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Rapid Climate Change international scientific conference


The government’s chief scientific advisor, Sir David King, warned scientists at NERC’s Rapid Climate Change International Science Conference earlier today that ‘If no action is taken [on climate change] we will be faced with an economic downturn of the kind that we haven’t seen since the great depression and the two world wars.’

Professor King's words come days before the Treasury publish the Stern report, a global economic analysis on the impacts of climate change which many NERC scientists have contributed to.

Professor King, who was introduced by NERC’s Chief Executive Alan Thorpe, addressed the conference for thirty minutes and talked about communicating science to government, the importance of NERC’s climate change programmes, as well as the economic consequences if the international community fails to act on this issue.

Professor King's introduction and abridged speech follows.

Professor Alan Thorpe

"The Rapid Climate Change programme has brought together a community of researchers involved in observation, modelling and the problems associated with rapid climate change.

NERC has invested about £20 million in the programme which was originally was set up to look at abrupt or rapid climate change. Of course we know how important it is to the climate change problem as it is a critical indicator of whether the theory and knowledge of climate change is being translated into observational fact.

The programme has grown into an international activity and I am very pleased that we have partners in the US, Norway and the Netherlands.

The Rapid Climate Change programme fits very strongly within where NERC wants to go next, particularly regarding the new NERC strategy and the government’s spending review 2007. This is a flagship programme for NERC and it is an important example of where the UK plays a leadership role in climate change science.

I would now like to introduce the Chief Scientific Advisor to the Prime Minister, Sir David King. David has played a key role in raising the level of knowledge of the importance of climate change science within government."

Sir David King

"Thank you Alan, let me start by saying that I would like to thank this community of scientists because it is your work that provides most of the input to my presentations within government. As a matter of fact I see my role in government as seeing that government is able to be an intelligent consumer of scientific output, so I have to absorb what you are doing.

When I talk about the changing climate of global warming I’m really referring to two climates, the physical climate and the political climate. The Boxing Day tsunami and Hurricane Katrina tell us that governments ignore the advice and extraordinary capability of scientists today at the peril of their own population.

We all know we have already witnessed a global average temperature rise of 0.7 degrees Celsius in the last century and that this is the most dramatic rise on record for at least 1000 years. Did this come as a surprise to all of us? No. The scientific community is very clear about the background to this. With all the inputs from earthquake activity, solar activity, carbon dioxide changes, there’s a pretty good description of past climate. So what we see is that the theory fits rather closely with the outputs of experimental measures, which is usually what scientists like to see.

What we’re also seeing is that extreme events are becoming more frequent, glaciers are melting, sea ice and snow cover is declining, sea levels are rising up to 88 cm by 2100 - that was the last IPCC top end, now we’re waiting to see what the IPCC will make of the latest data [The next report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is due to be published February 2007]. By 2100, sea level rise will threaten 100 million people because a large percentage of our population live on the coastline.

Already the number of people affected by flooding has risen from seven million in the 60s to 100 million today. In Europe we know that in 2002 floods cost an estimated 16 billion Euro and the summer heat wave of 2003 killed over 30,000 people. Analysis shows the summer heatwave was an extreme event of enormous magnitude. But what we can see is that this extreme event is sitting on top of a rising baseline making it a much more likely event [in the future] and so the language of one in 50 years, or one in a 1000 years is something we’ll all have to move away from.

As we move forward in time to 2040-2050 the mean temperature in central Europe will be that 2003 figure. It’s no longer relevant to talk in terms of static baseline temperatures when we look at extreme events. That’s a very important and difficult message to get across within political spheres, and we just have to keep hammering away.

These effects are already being picked up by the insurance industries. The insurance industries have to be smart. They have to be intelligent customers of what the science base says because they are laying out bets with all of us who take out insurance policies, and they can’t afford to lose. And so if you talk to companies like Swiss Re they are very much aware of what you people are doing and they are redoing their calculation yearly, on the basis of your outputs.

Swiss Re are the world’s second largest reinsurer. They estimate the economic costs of global warming, and nothing else, are likely to double to 150 billion euro each year in the next ten years. We are seeing them predicting a massive increase in insurance costs as we move forwards in time.

We know there is now developing a global scientific consensus on the scope of the problem, certainly amongst the scientists. Following this is an understanding within the global community as well. A recent MORI poll showed that 92% surveyed thought that, yes, they felt that global warming was a serious problem.

If you asked people if the Earth is spherical or near spherical you wouldn’t get 92% agreeing on that so I think you’ve done a remarkable job at least with the British public. 4% said no and 4% said don’t know. And we now have political consensus in the UK: all three main political parties all fully agree on action. The only thing they are scrapping about is which party is going to take the greatest action. And perhaps this isn’t a bad place to be.

Robust and urgent action is what each party is demonstrating to the public that they are in favour of, and that puts me in rather a good place. So what we need is global leadership. The UK produces two per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide, we are aware that we do not solve the problem by switching to a carbon free economy. What we need is international leadership and in the absence of leadership from the US I think the UK has stepped into that position.

We are also moving away from the direct science to the economic impacts. I was hoping to tell you a little detail of Sir Nicholas Stern’s review [the review team interviewed many NERC scientists including Alan Thorpe and NERC’s director of Science and Innovation, Steven Wilson, as part of the process].

"... immediate action is required if we are to bring this under control with the least economic hurt."

I have had a detailed briefing of the review which will be published next week. In brief, what his review will demonstrate, in the most detailed economic analysis that has yet been conducted, and it is a global economic analysis, that first of all, if no action is taken we will be faced with an economic downturn of the kind that we haven’t seen since the great depression and the two world wars. And his analysis will also indicate that immediate action is required if we are to bring this under control with the least economic hurt. So I think we are going to see a very detailed and robust analysis of the economics emerging from the UK.

Nick Stern by the way is a man of massive international standing. He was previously the chief economist at the world bank so he comes to the task with a tremendous record.

I’ve passed over the recent meeting in Monterey. May I just say that that meeting, behind closed doors, of the 20 leading economies around the world was the first time that we have seen complete agreement on the science, and, through Nick Stern’s presentation at that meeting, the economics. Therefore the need to act was seen by all 20 nations.

What is now required is for us to find the political process that will lead to an equitable solution that leads to a steady reduction of carbon dioxide emissions around the world. There is no question that this requires a fiscal process to drive this through and it requires agreements in addition to the technologies that we all know are needed."

Further information

NERC Press Office
Natural Environment Research Council
Polaris House, North Star Avenue
Swindon, SN2 1EU
Tel: 01793 411727
Mob: 07917 086 369



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    Illinois State Water Survey/National Weather Service Asks Volunteers to Keep an Eye to the Sky - Grassroots volunteer program wants weather watchers in Illinois

    Champaign, IL – Weather affects all of us and can vary greatly even over short distances. In an effort to increase the density of rainfall observations over the United States, a fast-growing, volunteer program needs weather observers in Illinois.

    The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow (CoCoRaHS) network began in Colorado in 1998 and has already grown to more than 2500 observers in 14 states. Program coordinators for Illinois include the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS), the National Weather Service, and the University of Illinois Extension Natural Resources Management team.

    “This project benefits the entire state. Anyone can help, regardless of age or education,” said Steve Hilberg, ISWS meteorologist and CoCoRaHS co-coordinator for Illinois.

    The nonprofit CoCoRaHS network stresses training and education. The National Science Foundation and other contributors provide funding. CoCoRaHS volunteers are backyard weather observers of all ages, working together to measure and map local precipitation as rain, hail, and snow.

    Volunteers use low-cost measurement tools and an interactive website to provide the highest quality data for natural resource, education, and research applications. Data users include organizations and individuals, including climatologists, hydrologists, water managers, and the National Weather Service, who use these data to monitor drought, heavy rainfall, and precipitation patterns.

    “The only requirements for observers are an enthusiasm for watching and reporting weather conditions, and a desire to learn more about weather impacts on our lives. Participation takes just a few minutes a day,” said Hilberg.

    Training is required, and local training sessions teach new CoCoRaHS observers how to install their instruments and measure precipitation. A workshop will be held at the ISWS in Champaign at 7:00 p.m. on February 1. The ISWS at 2204 Griffith Drive is located near the intersection of First Street and Windsor Road.

    Additional training sessions:


    Lincoln Nat’l Weather Service Feb. 3 1:00 P.M.
    Morton Morton Public Library Feb. 13 6:30 P.M.
    St. Charles Kane County Extension Feb. 26 7:00 P.M.

    The sessions are free, but you must pre-register. To sign up for any of the above sessions please call 217-333-8495 or register by e-mail (

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    Cities Key to Tackling Poverty, Climate Change


    Washington, D.C.—If global development priorities are not reassessed to account for massive urban poverty, well over half of the 1.1 billion people projected to join the world’s population between now and 2030 may live in under-serviced slums, according to State of the World 2007: Our Urban Future, released today by the Worldwatch Institute. Additionally, while cities cover only 0.4 percent of the Earth’s surface, they generate the bulk of the world’s carbon emissions, making cities key to alleviating the climate crisis, notes the report.

    As recently as a century ago, the vast majority of the world’s people lived in rural areas, but by sometime next year more than half of all people will live in urban areas. Over 60 million people—roughly the population of France—are now added to the planet’s burgeoning cities and suburbs each year, mostly in low-income urban settlements in developing countries.

    Unplanned and chaotic urbanization is taking a huge toll on human health and the quality of the environment, contributing to social, ecological, and economic instability in many countries. Of the 3 billion urban dwellers today, 1 billion live in “slums,” defined as areas where people cannot secure key necessities such as clean water, a nearby toilet, or durable housing. An estimated 1.6 million urban residents die each year due to lack of clean water and sanitation as a result.

    “For a child living in a slum, disease and violence are daily threats, while education and health care are often a distant hope,” said Molly O’Meara Sheehan, State of the World 2007 project director. “Policymakers need to address the ‘urbanization of poverty’ by stepping up investments in education, healthcare, and infrastructure.” From 1970 to 2000, urban aid worldwide was estimated at $60 billion—just 4 percent of the $1.5 trillion in total development assistance.

    The Commission for Africa has identified urbanization as the second greatest challenge confronting the world’s most rapidly urbanizing continent, after HIV/AIDS. Only about 35 percent of Africa’s population is urban, but it is predicted that this figure will jump to 50 percent by 2030. “The promise of independence has given way to the harsh realities of urban living mainly because too many of us were ill-prepared for our urban future,” notes Anna Tibaijuka, executive director of UN-HABITAT, in the report’s foreword.

    State of the World 2007 also describes how community groups and local governments have emerged as pioneers of groundbreaking policies to address both poverty and environmental concerns, in some cases surpassing the efforts of their national governments. “The task of saving the world’s modern cities might seem hopeless—except that it is already happening,” said Christopher Flavin, president of the Worldwatch Institute. “Necessities from food to energy are increasingly being produced by urban pioneers inside city limits.”

    Among the many examples of cities taking the lead in shaping a sustainable future cited in the report:

    • In Karachi, Pakistan, the Orangi Pilot Project has linked hundreds of thousands of low-income households in informal settlements with good-quality sewers. By taking charge of the pipes connecting their houses to lane sewers, local residents cut costs to a fifth of what they would have been charged by the official water and sanitation agency.
    • In Freetown, Sierra Leone, after the cessation of a multi-year civil war, a swelling population has successfully turned to urban farming to meet much of its food demand.
    • In Rizhao, China, a government program enabled 99 percent of households in the central districts to obtain solar water heaters, while most traffic signals and street and park lights are powered by solar cells, limiting the city’s carbon emissions and urban pollution.
    • In Bogotį, Colombia, engineers improved upon the iconic bus rapid transit system of Curitiba, Brazil, to create the TransMilenio, which has helped decrease air pollution, increase quality of life, and inspire similar projects in Europe, North America, and Asia.

    Cities around the world have also begun to take climate change seriously, many in response to the direct threat they face. Of the 33 cities projected to have at least 8 million residents by 2015, at least 21 are coastal cities that will have to contend with sea-level rise from climate change.

    In the United States, over 300 cities—home to more than 51 million Americans—have joined the U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement, committing to reducing their emissions and lobbying the federal government for a national climate policy. Chicago, for example, has negotiated with a private utility to provide 20 percent of the city government’s electricity from renewable sources by 2010, and aims to become “the most environmentally friendly city in America.” Not to be outdone, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg recently announced plans for his city to become the nation’s leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

    While no single set of “best practices” would enable all cities to successfully address the challenges of poverty and environmental degradation, State of the World 2007 focuses on areas where urban leadership can have huge benefits for the planet and human development. These include providing water and sanitation services to the urban poor, bolstering urban farming, and improving public transportation. Additionally, the report recommends devoting more resources to information gathering on urban issues so that city, national, and international entities can better assess development priorities.

    “A city is a collective dream. To build this dream is vital,” observes Jaime Lerner, the former governor of Paranį, Brazil, and the former mayor of Curitiba, in his foreword to the report. “It is in our cities that we can make the most progress toward a more peaceful and balanced planet, so we can look at an urban world with optimism instead of fear.”

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    EPA ranks UC Santa Cruz the sixth largest 'green power' purchaser among campuses

    SANTA CRUZ, CA—A vote by UC Santa Cruz students to boost their own fees to enhance campus support for “green power” has brought national recognition from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

    The EPA’s College and University Green Power Partners, which promotes purchases of renewable resources, has named UC Santa Cruz its sixth largest green power purchaser in the country. The list is based on purchases through Dec. 31, 2006. (See the EPA’s top 10 list.

    “Based on national average utility subregion emissions rates, the U.S. EPA estimates that UC Santa Cruz's purchase is equivalent to avoiding the carbon dioxide emissions of nearly 7,000 cars per year, or avoiding the equivalent carbon dioxide emissions associated with nearly 3.6 million gallons of gasoline annually," said James Critchfield of the EPA’s Climate Protection Partnerships Division.

    "EPA applauds the University of California at Santa Cruz for its recent purchase of green power," said Bill Wehrum, acting assistant administrator of EPA's office of air and radiation. "The students, faculty and administration are taking action to address the impact they have on the environment. They are also looking out for their own mascot--the banana slug--one of nature's most unique species. It's an excellent example of how sustainability can be linked to the broader educational mission of a university."

    "UC Santa Cruz is honored to be included in this elite list,” said UC Santa Cruz Acting Chancellor George Blumenthal. “Our students' purchase of renewable energy is an especially heartening contribution to our efforts to promote conservation and clean energy throughout campus. I want to thank our students for their generosity and the UC Santa Cruz Physical Plant for its effectiveness in making this recognition possible."

    Students voted last spring to pay $3 more in tuition each quarter to purchase clean, sustainable energy. Tapping the student-generated fund, the campus purchased 50 million kilowatt hours of clean energy in the form of renewable energy certificates. The purchase, on top of UC Santa Cruz’s already existing electrical contract for 5 million kilowatt hours of renewable power, means the campus is now considered 100 percent green—offsetting all its projected electrical consumption for fiscal 2006-07.

    “The UCSC clean energy ballot initiative is a clear example of how students can take leadership on their campus and push for tangible change,” said Tommaso Boggia, the student who spearheaded the effort for a fee increase. “Students and administrators have joined forces to fight global warming,” Boggia said. “Only by continuing to reduce and refocus our consumption patterns will we be able to protect our planet.”

    Boggia, who plans to graduate in June, now works with UC Santa Cruz Physical Plant energy manager Patrick Testoni, and the two hope the campus’s green energy purchases can become a model for the rest of the UC system. The UCSC purchase agreement with Sterling Planet includes a clause extending the low price to other campuses that may follow its lead.

    "Serious use of clean, sustainable energy on a large scale is no longer a dream for the future--it's here,” said U.S. Rep. Sam Farr. “I'm proud of the students here at UCSC for proactively voting to turn their campus into a green energy campus. California, the UC system, and UCSC in particular have a tradition of being innovators, not just in developing new ideas but in implementing those ideas. It's good to see that tradition continue," he added.

    Green power includes electricity that is entirely generated from clean resources, such as solar, wind, geothermal, biogas, biomass, and low-impact hydropower. It is considered cleaner than conventional sources of electricity and has lower carbon dioxide emissions, a greenhouse gas linked to global climate change. Purchases are designed to accelerate the development of new renewable energy nationwide. At UCSC, the renewable energy sources purchased from Sterling Planet, a national renewable energy provider, were wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower, biomass, and landfill gas.

    The renewable energy purchase is part of a larger commitment to renewable energy and environmental awareness throughout the UCSC campus. UCSC already participates in the alliance to save energy’s green campus program and has partnered with the California public utilities commission and investor-owned utilities to retrofit equipment for conservation purposes. Completion of equipment retrofitting and energy-efficient building design has resulted in savings of 975,000 kilowatt hours of electricity and 26,000 therms of natural gas annually. Alternative-transportation programs include vanpooling, bicycle shuttles, carpooling, and Metro bus access for all faculty, students, and staff. Water use has also been targeted, resulting in a 32 percent reduction in per-student water consumption over the past 10 years. Issues of sustainability in agriculture have been confronted as well, with a mandate that locally grown organic produce be served in campus dining halls and eateries and that used cooking oil be recycled.

    Environmental issues play a major role in classrooms and in campus research as well. UC Santa Cruz’s environmental studies program, established in the early 1970s as one of the first such programs in the nation, focuses on conservation biology, environmental policy, political economy, and agroecology and sustainable food systems. The Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems is a leader in research into the environmental and social justice aspects of food production.

    Systemwide, the UC Board of Regents has established a green building and clean energy policy to minimize the university's environmental impacts.

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