Met Office science at the heart of climate assessments

The Met Office Hadley Centre – which celebrated its 30th anniversary last year – has a long and proud history of working and supporting the IPCC. Indeed, one of the foremost scientists who propelled the IPCC, serving as co-chair and chairman of its scientific advisory group from its inception until 2002, was the late Sir John Houghton.

Sir John was Met Office Director General/Chief Executive from 1983-1991 and was instrumental in establishing the Met Office Hadley Centre, which was formerly opened by the then Prime Minister, Baroness Margaret Thatcher, on 25 May 1990. This was the same day that the IPCC First Assessment Report was published.

Professor Peter Stott has been working on climate research at the Met Office since 1996.

Professor Peter Stott joined the Met Office in 1996, a date which coincidentally aligned with the publication of the IPCC’s Second Assessment report. Before the days of widespread email use, Peter remembers fondly that this hefty volume arrived in a large envelope on the doormat at his home just before he started his Met Office career. He said: “Reading through the report, I immediately realised that this was the first official document to make a link between human activities and global warming, using the phrase that there was a discernible human influence on the global climate.”

The following year, Peter attended the global climate conference in Kyoto. Peter said: “Those of us who went were able to present the Met Office Hadley Centre’s work and the conclusions of that second IPCC report.

“It was an important moment because it was when governments first agreed to do something about climate change when they signed the Kyoto Protocol, based largely on the growing evidence from the IPCC’s second report.

“So it was already recognised there was a human influence of greenhouse gas emissions on the climate, but it was still very early days for putting any precision on what that may mean in terms of impacts; such as extreme weather for example.”

Peter added: “Looking back now to the late 1990s our predictions about global warming and global temperature rise were very accurate, even though we weren’t able to rely on the vast supercomputer power that we have today.

“Though, relatively speaking, the information we had from those projections and what it may mean for rising sea levels or agriculture, for example, were very broad brush.”

After two decades of scientific research and increasing technological capability, the sophistication and resolution of climate projections have increased enormously

Peter added: “It is only now with our climate models, that we can simulate climate aspects such as really heavy rainfall and extreme heatwaves at a regional level, putting a local precision on high-impact weather.”

Commenting on the current impacts of climate change, Peter Stott added: “What we are now seeing in 2021 is the very clear effects of climate change playing out in real time, with floods, wildfires and heatwaves.”

The sixth Assessment Report – published on 9 August 2021 – is the first IPCC report to state that it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.

Peter added: “The latest IPCC report is a big step forward because it is laying out clearly the risks of climate change at least in terms of some of the irreversible impacts of climate such as sea level rise for example which will continue to rise for many centuries. We are still at the early stages of mapping out those risks.

“The better we can understand those risks the better we can mitigate them. That is a big challenge for societies now to be more resilient to heatwaves and other climate risks. The big challenges to come will include being able to provide more information about high-impact climate risks such as heavy rainfall. This is an exciting development that will help us all be better prepared for what is coming at us in the future.

“New scientific information such as the latest IPCC report also helps governments as they seek to reach international agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions rapidly enough to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

“This historical and continued contribution the Met Office Hadley Centre has enjoyed with the IPCC acknowledges our status as a world-leading centre for climate science research and has helped to ensure that our observational datasets, climate modelling and peer-reviewed research is incorporated into the heart of the scientific assessments.”

Chris Jones has also recently been selected as an author for a future IPCC report, due for release in 2022. Chris said: “The IPCC represents the “go to” place to understand the state-of-the-science for policy makers and scientists alike. The rigour and comprehensiveness of the assessment brings together experts from all over the world. It’s been a huge honour, and immensely enjoyable, to be a part of this community activity.”

Bringing the Met Office’s journey with the IPCC to a full circle, during the press conference for the latest Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) publication, IPCC Chair, Hoesung Lee, announced that the report is dedicated to the memory of Sir John Houghton.

This entry was posted in Met Office News and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.