Climate change is affecting every dimension of society. From the food production of the food we eat and the water we drink, and from how we earn our livelihoods to how we spend our leisure time.
And climate projections – our best window on the future world – suggest that these impacts will continue to increase.
For decades Met Office climate projections have been providing valuable information on likely changes to our climate and the impacts those changes will have on society. The projections which look at the UK and the rest of the world are known as UKCP.
Recently we partnered with BBC Sport to run a series of projections around a series of six major global sporting events to see how those sports could be impacted by climate change in 30 years’ time. Many of these sporting fixtures have already been impacted by climate change and our projections suggest that the impacts will become greater as the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases continues to rise.
Dr Fai Fung leads the Met Office’s work on climate projections. He said: “Climate projections provide a vision of a future world that provide the best indications we have about how much our climate will change. This information has been useful so far to the water industry, the agricultural sector, engineers among many other professions, but we hadn’t really had an opportunity to apply our skills to factors affecting sport and leisure and we were intrigued to delve more into the project.”
The BBC’s request focussed on six sporting events taking place in the year 2050 and the brief was to see how climate change may have an impact on those fixtures.
The examples included a range of different sports from Alpine skiing to football, and from cricket, tennis and golf to baseball. Fai added: “Spanning five continents and approaching two kilometres of elevation, the six events provided an exciting opportunity for the team to investigate a spread of climate impacts on new disciplines. But in addition to the geography, the aspects of human endurance also gave the team opportunities to understand the climate tolerances, such as heat and humidity of half a dozen major sports.”
The sports covered include:
- Melbourne, Australia, Cricket and Tennis
- London, UK, Tennis (Wimbledon)
- Cape Town, South Africa, Golf
- Val d’Isère, France, Skiing
- Guangzhou, China, Football
- Houston, United States, Major League Baseball
Dr Fung added: “Climate projections are the best tool we have for understanding the future impacts of climate change, but no tool is perfect. Looking 30 years ahead we know that climate change will continue to have an impact. But exactly what will those impacts be? How many days of play are likely to be lost to heat stress at Wimbledon, and how likely is it that another drought could impact Cape Town, with implications for golf?
“The Met Office has developed increasing capabilities around climate projections and this has been of great use to industry and experts within specialist sectors, who understand the uncertainties. But a challenge that we faced with this project is how we communicate these uncertainties to the public, who are perhaps more used to consuming weather forecasts.”
Climate projections assess how meteorological and geographical factors, such as heat, rainfall and sea level rise are likely to change over time. Fai added: “To do this we have to make certain assumptions about the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and how this will affect the climate. Once we have set the parameters, we then let the supercomputer generate lots of model runs which we can then use to obtain a spread of results, showing for example the how heatwaves, droughts or snow conditions may change. This spread is then used as a basis for the final result.”
Obviously one of the challenges with climate projections is trying to establish which pathway greenhouse gas emissions will take. Climate scientists commonly use four different climate pathways known as RCPs, with each pathway describing a different outcome. Fai added: “The global set of UKCP projections use the highest emission pathway, known as RCP8.5. Ideally, we would have been able to produce projections for more of the pathways, but that requires so much computer resource to run the projections. Within 30 years most of the pathways show some overlap, and although RCP8.5 is thankfully looking like a less likely outcome it still remains credible if the world’s progress towards net zero takes another turn.”
The UK Climate Projections (UKCP) is a climate analysis tool that forms part of the Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme. The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) support the UKCP.