Climate Change Question Time (or Climate Science goes to the City)

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to recognise the point where low-resolution, uncertain climate projections become more useful than historic data that no longer represents the background climate.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)

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4 Responses to “Climate Change Question Time (or Climate Science goes to the City)”

  1. Will Morgan Says:

    Nice post Andy, really wish I could have gone to this – damn southern bias yadda, yadda…

    Anyway, on the topic of Lloyds and assessing risks from climate/weather changes; one of my mates from undergraduate is actually doing a CASE PhD with them looking at how the information from current climate models can be best used for assessing risks from an insurance point of view. Or at least that is what I think he is doing! He may have even been at the event as he is based at LSE.

    I’ll send this along to him and see if he has any nuggets of information – he is writing up so he might have come to some sort of conclusion by now!

  2. Joseph Daron Says:

    Indeed, young William is right – I was at the event and his brief summary of my PhD is pretty much spot-on. I am one of two PhD students being sponsored by Lloyd’s at the LSE and I think it is safe to say that in the past 5 years, large insurers and reinsurers have taken a keen interest in the climate change issue. Essentially, the whole industry of insurance exists because of uncertainty so they are well placed to deal with uncertain information. What they really want to know is how uncertain the uncertainties associated with climate change really are. In other words, is it possible that some catastrophic weather-type events which haven’t been “observed” in the climate record could be realised in the near future – they have a particular interest in landfalling hurricanes and European windstorms.

    Anyhow, if you would like to know more about what the industry is doing in collaboration with academia then send me an email.

    Glad you enjoyed the event at Willis Andy – will have to look out for you at future events.


    • andyrussell Says:

      Thanks for the message Joe.

      I’ll have to keep an eye out on the LSE web page to see if there’re any seminars coming up at your group. It’s not something that I’ve really been interested in in the past but I’ve been working on something that might benefit from some input from the risk and planning sides of things. Still just a “back burner” idea at the moment though.



  3. Harold Forbes Says:


    I think it would be great if there was more interaction between the financial community and climate scientists as it might actually lead to something getting done. A few weeks ago I went to a couplke of presentation, one on pensions and one on a “sustainable” economic model for Europe and neither even mentioned climate change until they were asked about it in the Q&A. At the start of 2011, PwC received a lot of press coverage about the relative size of world economies in 2050, which had been forecast from a model that, again, had no input on possible emerging costs of climate impacts.
    Sooner we get the money world together with the real world, the better.

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