Oxford Martin experts react to report on impacts of climate change

04 April 2014

Oxford Martin School academics have been giving their views on the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which assessed the impacts of climate change on human and natural systems, and looked at options for adaptation.

Published on March 31, the report says the effects of climate change are already occurring on all continents and across the oceans. The world, in many cases, is ill-prepared for risks from a changing climate, the authors found. But they also concluded that there are opportunities to respond to such risks, though the risks will be difficult to manage with high levels of warming.

"The key new finding is that climate change is being felt by people and not just by polar bears," Professor Myles Allen, Co-Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Resource Stewardship, told the Wall Street Journal. Since the IPCC's last impact assessment, he said, "the scientific literature has advanced and we have a lot more information, especially about the opportunities for adapting to climate change."

Professor Charles Godfray, Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, told BBC Radio 5 Live that the threats of climate change to food supply and food security needed to be addressed. "We are already facing challenges due the world's growing population: people are becoming wealthier and want a diet richer in meat, which will have an impact on the environment," he said. "What the IPCC's excellent report says is that we need to pursue these challenges even more vigorously

"In this country we need to have an agricultural system that is more resilient to the type of shocks that we have seen in the past couple of months but also more efficient at responding to an increase in global food prices.

"With changing patterns of rainfall we need to think ahead about what types of crops will be appropriate. In different places crops will be easier to grow than they are today. What's worrying is that all the models say we will see an increase in extreme events. We need to think about farming resilience but also financial resilience, such as having the appropriate insurance."

Professor Jim Hall, Director of Oxford's Environmental Change Institute and Co-Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Resource Stewardship, told The Daily Telegraph that the latest evidence showed temperatures would increase, as would extreme weather events such as floods and droughts.

"It's very difficult to attribute a specific event to climate but what we've seen this winter is consistent with what we would expect from a changing climate. We need to be looking to the long term; there are lots of decisions we need to make now in terms not building where it could exacerbate flooding, and protecting against flooding. Human beings are very much going to feel the impact of climate change."

Professor Cameron Hepburn, Director of the Economics of Sustainability Programme at the Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School, took issue with the basis for the withdrawal of Professor Richard Tol's support for the IPCC report.

In a letter to the Financial Times, he said: "Climate scientists have shown current trends in annual global emissions of greenhouse gases to be more consistent with warming of 4 centigrade degrees than 2 centigrade degrees, which would create much higher risks of catastrophic impacts.

"Although a 4 centigrade degrees increase is not yet unavoidable, there are massive lags created by the lock-in of high-carbon energy infrastructure and the relatively slow response of the Earth’s climatic system to rapidly rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

"Accelerated cuts in emissions are required to avoid the biggest risks. The economically rational prescriptions are a strong carbon price, support for R&D to reduce costs of cleaner technologies, and measures to address related market failures."