climate change

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Climate change is one of the most urgent issues facing humanity. While we will all feel its impact, it hits hardest the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet. To mark the UN World Day of Social Justice 2018, we highlight our new Reading Centre for Climate and Justice which was launched last month by Mrs Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Image by Asian Development Bank licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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By Christian Pfrang, Department of Chemistry, University of Reading

 

Our new study found surprisingly complex arrangements of molecules inside droplets mimicking atmospheric aerosols.

These types of aerosols are typical of pollution emitted in large quantities by cooking processes in Greater London. This self-assembly is caused by molecules –such as fatty acids– containing both water-loving and water-hating parts.  While the general concept of self-assembly is well-known and surface films of these molecules have been studied before, complex three-dimensional arrangements inside water-based droplets found in the atmosphere have not previously been considered.

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It isn’t just polar bears being affected by climate change – people all over the world are already being negatively affected by changes to the climate, from droughts, flooding, and ruined harvests. That’s not fair. Particularly as these communities had no role in making the problem in the first place. Fast forward a few years, and the environmental situation for our children’s children is not looking too peachy either… but could it look green?

If we changed the way we thought about climate change instead of it being ‘just a problem for science to solve’ to a problem about social justice, could we come up with a solution that addresses injustice that would help these communities and climate change at the same time? Can fairness create a green future?

As part of the ESRC Social Science Festival, the Climate Justice Scholars from the University of Reading will be hosting an afternoon exploring different climate justice topics through presentation-slams, interactive posters and challenges.

To top it all off, there will be a screening of the thought-provoking film ‘Greedy Lying Bastards’ – which exposes the deceit of the fossil fuel industries affecting vulnerable people – followed by an audience discussion chaired by university academics.

The event is free, and drinks & snacks will be provided to fuel the fun and debate!

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By Professor Keith Shine, Regius Professor of Meteorology and Climate Science

The United Nations Climate Conference

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the principal negotiating forum where countries agree ambitions for limiting greenhouse gas emissions; the aim is to avoid “dangerous human interference with the climate system”.

The UNFCCC meets annually at its “Conference of the Parties” (COPs). Sometimes COPs culminate in headline-grabbing agreements. COP3 led to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997; COP21 resulted in the Paris Agreement in 2015. More often, COPs focus on issues of implementation and preparing the way for future agreements. This year, COP23 (https://cop23.unfccc.int/) is being held in Bonn, Germany (6 – 17 November) and is focusing on implementing the Paris Agreement.

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By Lydia Messling, University of Reading

Is it fair that climate change has the worst effects in areas that contributed to the problem the least?

It isn’t just polar bears being affected by climate change – people all over the world are already being negatively affected by changes to the climate, from droughts, flooding, and ruined harvests.

That’s not fair. Particularly as these communities had no role in making the problem in the first place. Fast forward a few years, and the environmental situation for our children’s children is not looking too peachy either… but could it look green?

If we changed the way we thought about climate change instead of it being ‘just a problem for science to solve’ to a problem about social justice, could we come up with a solution that addresses injustice that would help these communities and climate change at the same time? Can fairness create a green future?

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By Dr Martin Lukac, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading

Europe’s forests make a very important contribution to current efforts to decrease EU carbon emissions, as it seeks to satisfy its commitments to the Paris agreement.

Under a new proposal, all carbon lost from forests as a result of harvesting will count towards overall emissions. Some of the most forested EU countries argue that forest harvesting operations should not be included, because the total amount of carbon stored in forests will not change much.

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By Phil Newton, Research Dean for Environment, University of Reading

Science is a global business. Very few truly great advances in science happen these days without some level of international collaboration. A quick look at the list of recent Nobel Laureates for Physics tells that story.

But the organisation of science, like many other things, is influenced by politics. Which is how we should view the offer of French President Emmanuel Macron to recruit foreign climate scientists to French institutions.

Macron is riding the wave of populist politics that also helped sweep Donald Trump to victory in the United States. But Macron’s popularity is based on very different foundations to Trump’s. He has wasted little time in opposing the US administration’s policy on pulling America out of the Paris climate change agreement.

What’s really going on here?

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President Donald Trump has indicated an intention to withdraw the US from the Paris accord on climate change.

His announcement, made on Thursday 1 June, means the US will no longer recognise the collective aim of mitigating the impact of climate change.

The University of Reading is a world leader in climate science and research into the physical, economic and social impacts of climate change, helping to provide the strong scientific evidence upon which the Paris agreement was based.

Here, we look at some of this celebrated research, which remains central to the aims of the 194 countries that remain signed up to the Paris Agreement.

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By Hannah Parker, Walker Institute, University of Reading

During the wet season of 2012 heavy rainfall across West Africa led to flooding with devastating impacts. More than 3 million people were affected, with hundreds of thousands made homeless (Figure 1). When extreme events such as this occur, it is important to question whether climate change had a role to play. At the Walker Institute we have investigated the impact of climate change on this event, by assessing whether the probability of such high precipitation in the 2012 rainy season was affected by anthropogenic emissions.

Impacts of heavy rainfall-induced flooding across West Africa in 2012

Observations show that there was anomalously high rainfall across much of West Africa during the 2012 rainy season. To look at changes in the probability of such high precipitation, we used hundreds of climate model simulations of the year 2012. By comparing simulations with and without anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, we were able to assess whether the probability of the event had been changed.

We found that the probability of such high precipitation in West Africa had been decreased by climate change. This was the case under both general climate conditions (using simulations with the atmosphere coupled to the ocean, therefore including all climate variability), and with conditions specific to 2012 (using atmosphere-only simulations with observed sea surface temperatures (SSTs)). Using different model ensembles, the decrease in probability was found to between a factor of 0 and 16.

However we also found some disagreement between the climate model ensembles. When considering the world without anthropogenic emissions, in the atmosphere-only simulations the effect of anthropogenic emissions had to be removed from the SSTs as well as the atmosphere. We estimated the effect on SSTs using coupled climate model simulations, which showed a decrease in the probability of high precipitation in 2012. However we also used an estimate based on the observed trend in SSTs, and in this case the probability of high precipitation was shown to have been decreased by anthropogenic emissions. Further analysis showed that this discrepancy was likely due to the climate models having much greater warming trends than observations did in the Niño3.4 region in the Pacific Ocean.

Understanding how individual events such as this have been affected by climate change is relevant for policymakers to better understand climate change impacts on extremes. In particular, comparing results from different climate model ensembles is important if we are to better understand such attribution results and their uncertainties, to characterise whether or not they are robust. Few event attribution studies have done this to date, but this will be key if results are be used appropriately in climate policy to address the impacts of such events.

 

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By Paul Williams, University of Reading Department of Meteorology

‘As important as political leadership is, individual people and companies will have to make key decisions to deal with the impacts of climate change’

Climate change is never far from the news headlines – but often it’s not because of the science.

As much as I think that complicated mathematical calculations about the circulation of air and water around the globe should make people stop in wonder, I fear my beliefs are not widely shared by most other people.

And they would have a point. Most people don’t talk maths over the water cooler or when down the pub, beyond adding up the cost of their drinks.

So if it’s not the science, what makes climate change so appealing to journalists? Often, it’s the politics.

News media love to observe a good old-fashioned fight, and politics is the arena where disagreements get aired every day. Not only that, but politics tends to have a bearing on how we live our lives, too.

So while the basic facts of human-caused climate change are agreed by just about all scientists working in the field, a handful of doubting politicians often hog the headlines.

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