I initially though I had the wrong address for this event. In the shadow of the Swiss Re gherkin and the Lloyds building, I wandered into the Willis Tower and was surprised not to be asked to leave. Then, my second surprise, I saw the registration desk for Climate Change Question Time.
It turns out that the event, organised by the Knowledge Transfer Network in Industrial Mathematics, was aimed largely at City types, particularly the insurance industry. That said, there were some big names in policy circles and high-level representatives from most of the big climate science groups within a short-ish train ride from London (Reading, Imperial, Cambridge, Oxford, UEA, BAS, Southampton and, of course, Brunel ).
It was interesting stuff though I expect what most people took away from the meeting was that Tim Palmer really (really) wants a massive computer and he doesn’t care who pays for it.
I’ve no idea how successful it was as a networking event between the financial sector and academia. I spoke to one old boy from Lloyds who seemed well into risk associated with weather events. His point of view was that he couldn’t do anything with current climate projections. I guess the second problem here is that the climatological data that was so useful to him in the past is going to become equally useless in a changing climate. I suppose the challenge for the insurance industry is to recognise the point where low-resolution, uncertain climate projections become more useful than historic data that no longer represents the background climate. Hmm, that sounds like a project…
Anyway, rather than a full meeting report, what I want to share here were a few (probably slightly paraphrased) quotes from some of the panel members. I’ll give a little context where necessary. Here goes:
Tim Lenton: Don’t fall in love with your model.
Whilst the results of a model projection give you enormous ability to understand processes within the model, you mustn’t forget that the model is not the real world.
Tim Palmer: If God exists, he isn’t a climate modeller.
…because the two key scales to successfully modelling global climate are those relating to baroclinic instabilities (on the order of 1000s km) and convective instability (10s km). Achieving this is not easy.
Vicky Pope: Low climate sensitivities (below 2°C) look unrealistic from latest model runs.
As cloud processes have improved in Earth system models, it looks like it is the lower end of the IPCC climate sensitivities that will be affected most.
Alan Thorpe: Parameterisations are not dirty.
…in response to a question about “tuning” climate models.
Abyd Karmali: We use yesterday’s science to inform today’s policy that drives tomorrow’s financial markets.
Adair Turner: Achieving 80% emissions cuts in the UK by 2050 is still possible.
John Beddington: Identifying and monitoring signatures of tipping points is essential.
Ralph Cicerone: The public think that a “climate model” is a [physical] toy.
Just for completeness, here’s a little run down of the contributors to the two session:
The scientific uncertainties and their implications
Tim Lenton (University of East Anglia)
Tim Palmer (University of Oxford, and the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting)
Vicky Pope (Head of Climate Change Advice, the Met Office)
Alan Thorpe (Chief Executive, Natural Environment Research Council)
Chair: Jonathan Leake (Science & Environment Editor, The Sunday Times)
Policy in the face of the uncertainties
Sir John Beddington (Government Chief Scientific Adviser)
Ralph Cicerone (President, National Academy of Sciences of the USA)
Abyd Karmali (Managing Director, Global Head of Carbon Markets, Bank of America Merrill Lynch)
Lord Adair Turner (Chairman, Financial Services Authority, and Committee on Climate Change)
Chair: Oliver Morton (Energy and Environment Editor, The Economist)