University of Edinburgh: Edinburgh scientists add voices to UN climate report

Climate and food security experts at the University have contributed to the latest UN report on the state of the world’s climate.

Edinburgh academics have been involved in the new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the branch of the UN responsible for assessing human-led climate change.

The new findings highlight the vulnerabilities of the world’s socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, its wide-ranging consequences and options for adapting to it.

The new report warns that many changes to the climate are likely to be irreversible, and that they are unequivocally the result of human actions.

Edinburgh expertise
Among the Edinburgh contributors to the new report is Dr Peter Alexander, Senior Lecturer in Global Food Security. Dr Alexander, whose research looks at the interface of social, economic and ecological aspects of land use, was a lead author of a chapter about Europe.

One of the chapter’s key findings is that the current global temperature increase of 1.1°C is already affecting natural and human systems in Europe. This can be seen in ecosystems, food systems, infrastructure, energy and water availability, the economy and public health and wellbeing, Dr Alexander says.

However, there is scope to adapt to many climate risks, although these become more limited the further 1.5°C global warming is exceeded.

Dr Isla Myers-Smith is a contributing author to a chapter on terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. A Chancellor’s Fellow in the School of GeoSciences, Dr Myers-Smith’s research focusses on the effects of climate change on vegetation in Arctic and alpine tundra.

Among the main findings of the chapter is that Arctic ecosystems are responding to rapid rates of warming. The Arctic is warming more than twice as rapidly as other regions of the planet, with an average 2°C rise since 1950. This warming is leading to changes in ecosystems such as increases in shrubs, movement of species towards the North and South Poles, and shifts in the timing of plant growth.

Global insights
IPCC publishes in-depth climate assessments every six or seven years, with each made up of three individual reports each written by hundreds of academics and approved by 195 governments.

The new report is the second part of the IPCC’s latest analysis, its Sixth Assessment Report (AR6).

The first contributions to AR6 were released in August 2021, and detailed the findings of Working Group I, which focusses on the scientific basis of climate change. Findings from Working Group III, which deals with efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change, will be made public in April 2022.

Researchers involved in the new report – members of Working Group II – assess the impacts, adaptations and vulnerabilities related to climate change.

The previous assessment – AR5 – provided the scientific basis for 2015’s Paris Agreement, in which nations agreed on the goal of limiting global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

This report underscores the need to limit warming to as close to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels as possible, and to avoid pathways that do not limit warming to less than 2°C.

Dr Peter Alexander
School of GeoSciences / Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security

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