Sitting in the COPCAS studio in the University of Reading we were able to watch the numerous talks and panels taking place each day. This allowed us to tune into the different discussions surrounding topics from the role of civil society to the importance of biodiversity, giving us a unique insight into the proceedings of the conference. Through our team of people attending the conference, we were able to interview those who were participating in the negotiations, such as Robert Muthami, a climate and social justice advocate from Kenya. This gave us a gauge of what the atmosphere was like within the discussion and negotiation rooms. This left us with mixed emotions nearly 4000 miles away in Reading…
“Human actions are the cause of this problem, so human actions must be the solution”. These were the words spoken passionately by UN Secretary-General António Guterres during the World Leaders Summit on the opening day at COP27. Similarly rousing speeches followed from world leaders and delegates who highlighted the challenges their countries are facing due to the climate emergency. The tone was set as one of desperation.
A large focus this year was on loss and damage. Talking to some of the negotiators towards the middle of COP showed us the struggle which was occurring behind the scenes. However, this ended up as one of the more positive outcomes of COP27 as an agreement on the creation of a global “loss and damage” fund. This is a historic milestone, and something that the most vulnerable nations have been seeking for decades. This is great progress. However, it is the beginning of a long process which is going to have to unpick who puts money into the fund and who is eligible to get money out. So, there is progress, but it is predictably slow meaning the hopes of the most vulnerable nations should not be pinned on this shaky agreement.
There have also been some critical backwards steps from Glasgow, with a number of important statements being removed from the final text. Alok Sharma put it clearly in his closing remarks:
‘Emissions peaking before 2025, as the science tells us is necessary.
Not in this text.
Clear follow-through on the phase down of coal.
Not in this text.
A clear commitment to phase out all fossil fuels.
Not in this text.
And the energy text, weakened, in the final minutes.’
This shows a clear and frustrating reduction in ambition that was fought over in the last COP.
Boosting low emission energy was also agreed upon in the final text. Unfortunately, there is some ambiguity around what “low emission energy” refers too. One would hope that this means renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, hydroelectric, tidal or wave power, or even nuclear power. However, it could also mean coal power stations with carbon capture capabilities or gas power. The “dash for gas” is something that should not be encouraged, as it must not be forgotten that gas is still a fossil fuel. Many gas-rich countries, however, sent officials to COP27 hoping to strike lucrative gas deals. Ultimately, this is not a viable solution for these nations and certainly not the right solution for the climate.
The whole event was overshadowed by an issue surrounding the lack of freedom to speak or peacefully protest. People on the ground in Sharm El-Sheikh said that this ominous feeling permeated the event as a whole. News after the arrest of hundreds of peaceful protesters and the misconduct by the Egyptian police showed the extent of the human rights crisis. Protesters will hope for fairer treatment next year, but due to its location are likely to be left disappointed.
COPCAS has allowed us to understand the mechanisms behind the negotiations and has shown how long and hard they are to achieve. However, the lasting feelings of COP27 are mixed. Progress has been made but it is slow and some key victories from previous COPs have been watered down. It feels like this might be the end of the 1.5oC dream. These talks are critical for our future and we should be seeing ambition, and more importantly, action at this time.
SCENARIO DTP and the Walker Academy offered PhD students the opportunity to take part in the annual COP Climate Action Studio (COPCAS) 2021. COPCAS began with workshops on the background of COP, communication and interviewing skills and an understanding of the COP26 themes and the (massive!) schedule. James Fallon and Kerry Smith were ‘on the ground’ in the Blue Zone, Glasgow in week 1 of COP26, followed by Gwyn Matthews and Jo Herschan during week 2. Interviews were arranged between COP26 observers, and COPCAS participants back in Reading who were following COP26 events in small groups through livestream. Students summarised the varied and interesting findings by writing blog posts and engaging with social media.
Motivation, training and week 1
Personally, I wanted to learn more about the COP process and to understand climate policy implementation and action (or lack thereof). I was also interested to learn more about anticipatory action and forecast based financing, which relate to my research. After spending 18 months working remotely in my kitchen, I wanted to meet other students and improve formulating and asking questions! I found the initial training reassuring in many ways, especially finding out that so many people have dedicated themselves to drive change and find solutions. During the first week of COP26 we heard about so many positive efforts to combat the climate crisis from personal actions to community schemes, and even country wide ambitious projects such as reforestation in Costa Rica. A momentum seemed to be building with pledges to stop deforestation and to reduce methane emissions.
Green Zone visit
During the middle weekend of COP26, some of us visited the Green Zone in Glasgow. This was a mini version of the Blue Zone open to the public and offered a wide variety of talks and panel discussions. Stand out moments for me: a photograph of indigenous children wearing bamboo raincoats, measuring the length of Judy Dench’s tree, the emotive youth speakers from Act4Food Act4Change and the climate research documentary Arctic Drift where hundreds of scientists onboard a ship carried out research whilst locked into the polar winter ice-flow.
During COPCAS I wrote blogs about: a Green Zone event from Space4climate, an interview by Kerry Smith with SEAChange (a community-based project in Aberdeenshire aiming to decarbonise old stone buildings) and Sports for climate action. I also carried out an interview arranged by Jo with WWF on a food systems approach to tackling climate change.
Ultimately though, the elephant in the large COP26 Blue Zone room had been there all along…
Interview with Anne Olhoff, Emissions Gap Report (EGR) 2021 Chief scientific editor and Head of Strategy, Climate Planning and Policy, UNEP DTU Partnership.
Time is running out, midway through the second week of COP26, the United Nations Environmental Partnership (UNEP) presented its assessment on the change to global temperature projections based on the updated pledges so far agreed in Glasgow.
Pledges made prior to COP26 via Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) put the world on track to reach a temperature increase of 2.7C by the end of the century. To keep the Paris Agreement of keeping warming below 1.5C this century, global greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 55% in the next eight years. At this point in COP26, updated pledges now account for just an 8% reduction – this is 7 times too small to keep to 1.5C and 4 times too small to keep to 2C. Updated projections based on COP26 so far now estimate a temperature rise of 2.4C by 2100. Net-zero pledges could reduce this by a further 0.5C, however plans are sketchy and not included in NDCs. So far just five of the G20 countries are on a pathway to net-zero.
Anne’s response regarding policy implementation in law:
“Countries pledge targets for example for 2030 under the UN framework for climate change and there’s no international law to enforce them, at least not yet. Some countries have put net-zero policies into law, which has a much bigger impact as the government can be held accountable for the implementation of their pledges.”
Following my own shock at the size of the emissions gap, I asked Anne if she feels there has been any positive changes in recent years:
“I do think we have seen a lot of change, actually…the thing is, things are not moving as fast as they should. We have seen change in terms of the commitment of countries and the policy development and development in new technology needed to achieve the goals, these are all positive developments and here now, changing the whole narrative, just 2 years ago no one would have thought we’d have 70 countries setting net-zero emission targets…we are also seeing greater divergence between countries, between those making the effort to assist the green transition such as the UK, EU and others, and those further behind the curve such as China, Brazil and India. It’s important to help these countries transition very soon, peaking emissions and rapidly declining after that.”
I asked Anne how countries on track can support others:
“A lot of the great things here (at COP) is to strengthen that international collaboration and sharing of experiences, it’s an important function of the COP meeting, but we need to have the political will and leadership in the countries to drive this forward.”
The momentum that was apparent during the first week of COP26 seemed to have stalled with this update. Despite the monumental effort of so many scientists, NGOs, individuals and those seeking solutions from every conceivable angle, the pledges made on fossil fuel reduction are still so far from what is needed. And at the final hour (plus a day), the ambition to ‘phaseout’ burning coal was changed to ‘phasedown’ and the financial contributions from developed nations pledged to cover loss and damage to countries not responsible for, but impacted now by climate change, have not been realised. I think this is the first time I have really felt the true meaning of ‘climate justice’. Perhaps we do need a planet law, as it seems our political leaders, do not have the will.
Overall, the COPCAS experience has been enjoyable, slightly overwhelming and emotional! It has been great to work together and to share the experiences of those in the Blue zone. It was also an amazing learning experience; I think I have barely touched the surface of the entire COP process and I would still like to understand more.
A hackathon, from the words hack (meaning exploratory programming, not the alternate meaning of breaching computer security) and marathon, is usually a sprint-like event where programmers collaborate intensively with the goal of creating functioning software by the end of the event. From 2 to 4 June 2021, more than a hundred early career climate scientists and enthusiasts (mostly PhDs and Postdocs) from UK universities took part in a climate hackathon organised jointly by Universities of Bristol, Exeter and Leeds, and the Met Office. The common goal was to quickly analyse certain aspects of Climate Model Intercomparison Project 6 (CMIP6) data to output cutting-edge research that could be worked into a published material and shown in this year’s COP26.
Before the event, attendees signed up to their preferred project from a choice of ten. Topics ranged from how climate change will affect migration of arctic terns to the effects of geoengineering by stratospheric sulfate injections and more… Senior academics from a range of disciplines and institutions led each project.
How is this virtual hackathon different to a usual hackathon?
Like many other events this year, the hackathon took place virtually, using a combination of video conferencing (Zoom) for seminars and teamwork, and discussion forums (Slack).
Compared to two 24-hour non-climate related hackathons I previously attended, this one was spread out for three days, so I managed not to disrupt my usual sleep schedules! The experience of pair programming with one or two other team members was as easy, since I shared one of my screens on Zoom breakout rooms throughout the event. What I really missed were the free meals, plenty of snacks and drinks usually on offer at normal hackathons to keep me energised while I programmed.
I’ve been to a climate campaign hackathon before, and I did a hackathon style event to end a group project during the computer science part of my undergraduate; we made the boardgame buccaneer in java. But this was set out completely differently. And, it was not as time intensive as those which was nice. I missed not being in a room with those you are on a project with and still missing out on free food – hopefully not for too much longer. But we made use of Zoom and Slack for communication. And Jasmin and the version control that git offers with individuals working on branches and then these were merged at the end of the hackathon.
What did we do?
Project 2: How well do the CMIP6 models represent the tropical rainfall belt over Africa?
Using Gaussian parameters in Nikulin & Hewitson 2019 to describe the intensity, mean meridional position and width of the tropical rainfall belt (TRB), the team I was in investigated three aspects of CMIP6 models for capturing the Africa TRB, namely the model biases, projections and whether there was any useful forecast information in CMIP6 decadal hindcasts. These retrospective forecasts were generated under the Decadal Climate Prediction Project (DCPP), with an aim of investigating the skill of CMIP models in predicting climate variations from a year to a decade ahead. Our larger group of around ten split ourselves amongst these three key aspects. I focused on aspect of CMIP6 decadal hindcasts, where I compared different decadal models at different model lead times with three observation sources.
Project 10: Human heat stress in a warming world
Our team leader Chris had calculated the universal thermal climate index (UTCI) – a heat stress index for a bunch of the CMIP6 climate models. He was looking into bias correction against the ERA5 HEAT reanalysis dataset whilst we split into smaller groups. We looked at a range of different things from how the intensity of heat stress changed to how the UTCI compared to mortality. I ended up coding with one of my (5) PhD supervisors Claudia Di Napoli and we made amongst other things the gif below.
Would we recommend meteorology/climate-related hackathon?
Yes! The three days was a nice break from my own radar research work. The event was nevertheless good training for thinking quickly and creatively to approach research questions other than those in my own PhD project. The experience also sharpened my coding and data exploration skills, while also getting the chance to quickly learn advanced methods for certain software packages (such as xarray and iris). I was amazed at the amount of scientific output achieved in only three short days!
Yes, but also make sure if it’s online you block out the time and dedicate all your focus to the hackathon. Don’t be like me. The hackathon taught me more about python handling of netcdfs, but I am not yet a python plotting convert, there are some things R is just nicer for. And I still love researching heat stress and heatwaves, so that’s good!
We hope that the CMIP hackathon runs again next year to give more people the opportunity to get involved.
Alec Vessey (Final Year PhD Student) – firstname.lastname@example.org Supervisors: Kevin Hodges (UoR), Len Shaffrey (UoR), Jonny Day (ECMWF), John Wardman (AXA XL)
Arctic sea ice extent has reduced dramatically since it was first monitored by satellites in 1979 – at a rate of 60,000 km2 per year (see Figure 1a). This is equivalent to losing an ice sheet the size of London every 10 days. This dramatic reduction in sea ice extent has been caused by global temperatures increasing, which is a result of anthropogenic climate change. The Arctic is the region of Earth that has undergone the greatest warming in recent decades, due to the positive feedback mechanism of Arctic Amplification. Global temperatures are expected to continue to increase into the 21st century, further reducing Arctic sea ice extent.
Consequently, the Arctic Ocean has become increasingly open and navigable for ships (see Figure 1b and 1c). The Arctic Ocean provides shorter distances between ports in Europe and North America to ports in Asia than more traditional routes in the mid-latitudes that include the Suez Canal Route and the routes through the Panama Canal. There are two main shipping routes in the Arctic, the Northern Sea Route (along the coastline of Eurasia) and the Northwest Passage (through the Canadian Archipelago) (see Figure 2). For example, the distance between the Ports of Rotterdam and Tokyo can be reduced by 4,300 nautical-miles if ships travel through the Arctic (total distance: 7,000 nautical-miles) rather than using the mid-latitude route through the Suez Canal (total distance: 11,300 nautical-miles). Travelling through the Arctic could increase profits for shipping companies. Shorter journeys will require less fuel to be spent on between destinations and allow more time for additional shipping contracts to be pursued. It is expected that the number of ships in the Arctic will increase exponentially in the near future, when infrastructure is developed, and sea ice extent reduces further.
However, as human activity in the Arctic increases, the vulnerability of valuable assets and the risk to life due to exposure to hazardous weather conditions also increases. Hazardous weather conditions often occur during the passage of storms. Storms cause high surface wind speeds and high ocean waves. Arctic storms have also been shown to lead to enhanced break up of sea ice, resulting in additional hazards when ice drifts towards shipping lanes. Furthermore, the Arctic environment is extremely cold, with search and rescue and other support infrastructure poorly established. Thus, the Arctic is a very challenging environment for human activity.
Over the last century, the risks of mid-latitude storms and hurricanes have been a focal-point of research in the scientific community, due to their damaging impact in densely populated areas. Population in the Arctic has only just started to increase. It was only in 2008 that sea ice had retreated far enough for both of the Arctic shipping lanes to be open simultaneously (European Space Agency, 2008). Arctic storms are less well understood than these hazards, mainly because they have not been a primary focus of research. Reductions in sea ice extent and increasing human activity mean that it is imperative to further the understanding of Arctic storms.
This is what my PhD project is all about – quantifying the risk of Arctic storms in a changing climate. My project has four main questions, which try to fill the research gaps surrounding Arctic storm risk. These questions include:
What are the present characteristics (frequency, spatial distribution, intensity) of Arctic storms, and, what is the associated uncertainty of this when using different datasets and storm tracking algorithms?
What is the structure and development of Arctic storms, and how does this differ to that of mid-latitude storms?
How might Arctic storms change in a future climate in response to climate change?
Can the risk of Arctic storms impacting shipping activities be quantified by combining storm track data and ship track data?
Results of my first research question are summarised in a recent paper (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00382-020-05142-4 – Vessey et al. 2020). I previously wrote a blog post on the The Social Metworksummarising this paper, which can be found at https://socialmetwork.blog/2020/02/21/arctic-storms-in-multiple-global-reanalysis-datasets/. This showed that there is a seasonality to Arctic storms, with most winter (DJF) Arctic storms occurring in the Greenland, Norwegian and Barents Sea region, whereas, summer (JJA) Arctic storms generally occur over the coastline of Eurasia and the high Arctic Ocean. Despite the dramatic reductions in Arctic sea ice over the past few decades (see Figure 1), there is no trend in Arctic storm frequency. In the paper, the uncertainty in the present climate characteristics of Arctic storms is assessed, by using multiple reanalysis datasets and tracking methods. A reanalysis datasets is our best approximation of past atmospheric conditions, that combines past observations with state-of-the-art Numerical Weather Prediction Models.
The deadline for my PhD project is the 30th of June 2021, so I am currently experiencing the very busy period of writing up my Thesis. Hopefully, there aren’t too many hiccups over the next few months, and perhaps I will be able to write some of my research chapters up as papers.
During the summer of 2003, Europe experienced two heatwaves with, until then, unprecedented temperatures. The 2003 summer temperature record was shattered in 2010 by the Russian heatwave, which broke even Paleo records. The question remained, if climate change influenced these two events. Many contribution studies based on the likelihood of the dynamical situation were published, providing important input to answering this question. However, the position of low and high-pressure systems and other dynamical aspects of climate change are noisy and uncertain. The storyline method attributes the thermodynamic aspects of climate change (e.g. temperature), which are visible in observations and far more certain.
All of us regularly think in terms of what ifand if only. It is the human way of calculating hypothetic results in case we would have made a different choice. This helps us think in future scenarios, trying to figure out what choice will lead to which consequence. It is a tool to reduce risk by finding a future scenario that seems the best or safest outcome. In the storyline method, we use this exact mind-set. What ifthere was no climate change, would this heatwave be the same? What if the world was 2°C warmer, what would this heatwave have looked like then? With the help of an atmospheric model we can calculate what a heatwave would have been like in a world without climate change or increased climate change.
In our study, we have two storylines: 1) the world as we know it that includes a changing climate, which we call the ‘factual’ storyline and 2) a world that could have been without climate change, which we call the ‘counterfactual’ storyline. We simulate the dynamical aspects of the weather extreme exactly the same in both storylines using a spectral nudging technique and compare the differences in temperatures. To put it more precise, the horizontal wind flow is made up out of vorticity (circular movement) and divergence (spreading out or closing in). We nudge (or push) these two variables in the higher atmosphere to, on large scale, be the same in the factual and counterfactual simulations.
Figure 1. What if we had another world where climate change did not happen? Would the heatwave have been different? Thinking in counterfactual worlds where we made (or will make) different decisions is a common way of thinking to estimate risk. Now we apply this idea in atmospheric modelling.
European 2003 and Russian 2010 heatwaves
Both the European heatwave in 2003 and the Russian heatwave in 2010 were extremes with unprecedented high temperatures for long periods of time. Besides, there had been little rain already from spring in either case, which reduced the cooling effect from moisty soil to nearly nothing. In our analysis we averaged the near surface temperatures in both storylines and compared their output to each other as well as the local climatology. Figure 2 shows the results of that averaging for the European heatwave in panel a and the Russian heatwave in panel b. We focus on the orange boxes, where the blue lines (factual storyline) and the red lines (counterfactual storyline) exceed the 5th-95th percentile climatology (green band). This means that during those days the atmosphere near the surface was uncommonly hot (thus a heatwave). The most important result in this graph is that the blue and red lines are separate from each other in the orange boxes. This means that the average temperature of the world with climate change (blue, factual) is higher than in the world without climate change (red, counterfactual).
“Even though there would have been a heatwave with or without climate change, climate change has made the heat more extreme”
Figure 2. Daily mean temperature at 2 meters height for (a) European summer 2003 and (b) Russian summer 2010. The orange boxes are the heatwaves, where the temperatures of the factual (blue) and counterfactual (red) are above the green band of 5th – 95th percentile climatology temperatures.
The difference between these temperatures are not the same everywhere, it strongly depends on where you are in Europe or Russia. Let me explain what I mean with the help of Figure 3 with the difference between factual and counterfactual temperatures (right panels) on a map. In both Europe and Russia, we see that there are local regions with temperature differences of almost 0°C, and we see regions where the differences are almost 2.5°C (for Europe) or even 4°C (for Russia). A person living south from Moscow would therefore not have experienced 33°C but 29°C in a world without climate change. It is easy to imagine that such a temperature difference changes the impacts a heatwave has on e.g. public health and agriculture.
Figure 3. Upper left: Average Temperature at 2 meter height and Geopotential height over Europe at z500 for 1-15thof August 2003, Lower left: Same as upper left but for 1-15th of Russia August 2010. Upper right: Factual minus Counterfactual average temperature at 2 meter height over Europe for 1-15th ofAugust 2003, Lower right: same as lower left but for 1-15th of Russia August 2010. Stippling indicates robust results (all factuals are >0.1°C warmer than all counterfactuals)
“The 2003 European and 2010 Russian heatwaves could locally have been 2.5°C – 4°C cooler in a world without climate change”
We can conclude therefore, that with the help of our nudged storyline method, we can study the climate signal in extreme events with larger certainty.
If you are interested in the elaborate explanation of the method and analysis of the two case studies, please take a look at our paper:
van Garderen, L., Feser, F., and Shepherd, T. G.: A methodology for attributing the role of climate change in extreme events: a global spectrally nudged storyline, Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 21, 171–186, https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-21-171-2021 , 2021.
For my PhD, I research heatwaves and heat stress, with a focus on the African continent. Here I show what the main challenges are for communicating heatwave impacts inspired by a presentation given by Roop Singh of the Red Cross Climate Center at Understanding Risk Forum 2020.
There is no universal definition of heatwaves
Having no agreed definition of a heatwave (also known as extreme heat events) is a huge challenge in communicating risk. However, there is a guideline definition by the World Meteorological Organisation and for the UK an agreed definition as of 2019. In simple terms a heatwave is:
“A period of above average temperatures of 3 or more days in a region’s warm season (i.e. all year in the tropics and in the summer season elsewhere)”
We then have heat stress which is an impact of heatwaves, and is the killer aspect of heat. Heat stress is:
“Build-up of body heat as a result of exertion or external environment”(McGregor, 2018)
Heatwaves receive low attention in comparison to other natural hazards I.e., Flooding, one of the easiest ways to appreciate this attention deficit is through Google search trends. If we compare ‘heat wave’ to ‘flood’ both designated as disaster search types, you can see that a larger proportion of searches over time are for ‘flood’ in comparison to ‘heat wave’.
On average flood has 28% search interest which is over 10 times the amount of interest for heat wave. And this is despite Heatwaves being named the deadliest hydro-meteorological hazard from 2015-2019 by the World Meteorological Organization. Attention is important if someone can remember an event and its impacts easily, they can associate this with the likelihood of it happening. This is known as the availability bias and plays a key role in risk perception.
Lack of Research and Funding
One impact of the attention deficit on extreme heat risk, is there is not ample research and funding on the topic – it’s very patchy. Let’s consider a keyword search of academic papers for ‘heatwave*’ and ‘flood*’ from Scopus an academic database.
Research on floods is over 100 times bigger in quantity than heatwaves. This is like what we find for google searches and the attention deficit, and reveals a research bias amongst these hydro-meteorological hazards. And is mirrored by what my research finds for the UK, much more research on floods in comparison to heatwaves (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2020.10.021). Our paper is the first for the UK to assess the barriers, causes and solutions for providing adequate research and policy for heatwaves. The motivation behind the paper came from an assignment I did during my masters focusing on UK heatwave policy, where I began to realise how little we in the UK are prepared for these events, which links up nicely with my PhD. For more information you can see my article and press release on the same topic.
Heat is an invisible risk
Heatwaves are not something we can touch and like Climate Change, they are not ‘lickable’ or visible. This makes it incredibly difficult for us to perceive them as a risk. And this is compounded by the attention deficit; in the UK most people see heatwaves as a ‘BBQ summer’ or an opportunity to go wild swimming or go to the beach.
And that’s really nice, but someone’s granny could be experiencing hospitalising heat stress in a top floor flat as a result of overheating that could result in their death. Or for example signal failures on your railway line as a result of heat could prevent you from getting into work, meaning you lose out on pay. I even know someone who got air lifted from the Lake District in their youth as a result of heat stress.
A quote from a BBC one program on wild weather in 2020 sums up overheating in homes nicely:
“It is illegal to leave your dog in a car to overheat in these temperatures in the UK, why is it legal for people to overheat in homes at these temperatures“
For Africa the perception amongst many is ‘Africa is hot’ so heatwaves are not a risk, because they are ‘used to exposure’ to high temperatures. First, not all of Africa is always hot, that is in the same realm of thinking as the lyrics of the 1984 Band Aid Single. Second, there is not a lot of evidence, with many global papers missing out Africa due to a lack of data. But, there is research on heatwaves and we have evidence they do raise death rates in Africa (research mostly for the West Sahel, for example Burkina Faso) amongst other impacts including decreased crop yields.
What’s the solution?
Talk about heatwaves and their impacts. This sounds really simple, but I’ve noticed a tendency of a proportion of climate scientists to talk about record breaking temperatures and never mention land heatwaves (For example the Royal Institute Christmas Lectures 2020). Some even make a wild leap from temperature straight to flooding, which is just painful for me as a heatwave researcher.
So let’s start by talking about heatwaves, heat stress and their impacts.
This year’s Conference of the Parties (COP) should have taken place earlier in November, hosted by the UK in Glasgow and in partnership with Italy. Despite many global events successfully moving online this year, from film festivals to large conferences such as the EGU general assembly, the international climate talks were postponed until November 2021.
Unimpressed by the delay of important climate talks and negotiations, students and youth activists from FFF and a multitude of groups and movements have initiated the MOCK COP26, a 2-week online global conference on climate change that mirrors the real COP.
“My country, the Philippines, is struggling. We don’t want more floods that rise up to 15 feet, winds that peel off roofs in seconds, the rain that drowns our pets and livestock, and storm surges that ravage coastal communities. We don’t want more people to die. We’re still a developing country that contributes so little to global carbon emissions yet we face the worst of its consequences. This is absurd!
Over a dozen academic support videos break down complicated topics such as “The Kyoto Protocol”, “Agriculture and Agribusiness”, and the “History of Climate Negotiation”. These videos are helping youth delegates and all participants to understand what happens at a COP summit.
Panel sessions have featured United Nations Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake, 9 year old Climate & Environmental Activist Licypriya Kangujam, and (actual) COP26 president Alok Sharma.
High Level Country Statements
A unique aspect of MOCK COP that I have been excitedly anticipating is the high level country statements; each a 3 minute speech given by youth climate activists representing their nation.
Mock COP26 is not dominated by big polluters as COP26 is. We believe that we need to amplify the people on the frontlines of climate change, which is why we will be aiming to, throughout Mock COP, uplift the voices of those from MAPA (Most Affected People and Areas) countries above those from the Global North. This is why Mock COP26 is special.
Youth delegates have been encouraged to give speeches in whichever language they are most comfortable talking. At the time of writing, subtitles don’t appear to be fully functioning. However a large number of talks are given in English, and transcripts of all talks have been made available here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1wnQUMt-rcD9XoKtg8YPWba_LZSf16qTD
I highly recommend setting some time aside to give these speeches a listen. Although the total number might put you off, it is very easy to jump in and out of talks. You can find videos embedded below, or on the official youtube channel.
Pick: Two youth delegates represent Morocco. Whilst Morocco has been ranked a role model for climate action, the reality of the country’s future is alarming. Globally the most affected are the least protected. It’s time for world leaders to protect everyone.
Pick: The delegate for Suriname explains risks faced as a Small Island Developing State (SIDS) with infrastructure near the coast. Suriname must implement climate adaptation whilst enhancing its legislation in forestry, mining, and agriculture.
Pick: Indonesia’s delegate opens with the stark warning that the country will lose 1500 of its islands due to rising sea levels by 2050. The high level statement includes calls to incorporate climate education into the national curriculum, and find ways to protect natural habitat. Indonesia has the 2nd biggest rainforest in the world, but currently has no agreed emissions reductions pathway.
Pick: Ireland’s youth delegates present a necessarily progressive 5 year plan to stick to the EU target of reducing emissions by at least 65% by 2030. The need for much stronger climate education, and providing access to affordable and sustainable energy, are among many other commitments.
Pick: The year started with forest fires devastating large swathes of Australia’s natural habitats. Youth delegates want their nation to lead the world as a renewable energy exporter, and an overhaul of media rules to foster new diverse media outlets and prevent monopolies that currently stall climate action.
But youth messages can be heard loud and clear at MOCK COP 26, reflecting the 5 themes of the conference.
We demand concrete action, not mere promises. It’s time for our leaders to wake up, prioritize the realization of the Green Deal, and cut carbon emissions.
We won’t have more time to alter the effects of the climate crisis if we let this opportunity pass. The clock is ticking. The time for action is NOW.
In the wake of covid-19 induced economic shocks, policy makers must ensure genuine green recovery that engages with ideas of global climate justice.
Youth delegate panels will continue over the weekend, working towards the creation of a final statement outlining their demands for world leaders. This will be presented to High Level Climate Action Champion for COP26 Nigel Topping, at the closing ceremony (12:00 GMT Tuesday 1st December)
The phrase “British summer” tends to evoke images of disorganised family barbecues being interrupted by heavy rain, or the covers coming on at Wimbledon, or the saying “three fine days and a thunderstorm”. Yet in recent years, hot weather has become an increasingly regular occurrence. Let me take you on a brief tour of notably hot summers in the UK. I’ll largely draw on the Met Office HadUK-Grid dataset, shown in Figure 1.
HadUK-Grid begins in 1884, but thanks to the Central England Temperature dataset (which extends back to 1659), we do have records of earlier heatwaves. These include the hot summer of 1666, which set the scene for the Great Fire of London in September. The summers of 1781, 1826 and 1868 were also particularly hot. The first hot summer in the HadUK-Grid series is 1899, which was the warmest summer by average maxima in that series until 1976!
But our journey properly begins in 1911, when the temperature reached 36.7°C on August 9th. At the time, this was the highest reliably recorded temperature measured in the UK. It is hard to imagine how this summer must have felt at the time – not least in the cooler average climate, but also with the less developed infrastructure and clothing customs of the time. As with any heatwave, its impacts were large with increased death, drought, and agricultural impacts. The summer of 1911 was followed by the summer of 1912, which was the 2nd wettest on record for the UK. Such a turnaround must have been equally hard to believe and does highlight that extreme swings in the British weather are not, in themselves, new. In a series from 1884, the summer of 1911 is the 8th warmest in terms of the UK average maximum temperature (at the time, it would have been 2nd, with only 1899 warmer).
Stopping briefly in 1933 (which eclipsed 1911, but pales in comparison with the dustbowl conditions being experienced in the US at the time) and then again in August 1947 (which remains 2nd warmest for UK average maxima and the nation’s driest, and was in huge contrast to the tremendously snowy and cold February), our next destination is 1975.
1975 currently ranks as the 11th warmest for UK average maxima but is also the 19th driest. This, when combined with the dry winter that followed, set the scene for the infamous summer of 1976. Both these summers followed a spell of very cool summers, with no particularly remarkable summers in the 1960s, while the UK did not see a temperature above 28°C in 1974 (almost unthinkable nowadays). I won’t go into huge detail about the 1976 summer, but it is engrained in the minds of a generation thanks not only to its remarkable June heatwave (which has never been matched) but also the cool climate in which it occurred. It ranks as the 2nd driest summer for the UK and remains the warmest on record in terms of average maxima – though no individual month holds the number 1 spot.
Let us next whizz off to July 1983, which at the time had the warmest nationally averaged maxima for the month (it now ranks 3rd). Oddly enough, while the UK baked in heat, the temperature at Vostok, Antarctica dropped to -89.2°C on the 21st – the lowest surface-based temperature ever recorded. I am keeping the topic of this blog to hot summers, but I want to give 1985 a special mention – the most recent summer when the UK-average maxima were less than 17°C, a formerly frequent occurrence.
As we hot-foot it toward the end of the 20th century (pun intended), we arrive at 1990. Liverpool had just won the First Division (sound familiar?) and on August 3rd the temperature at Cheltenham, Gloucestershire reached 37.1°C – beating the record set in 1911 after 79 years. That night, the temperature fell to only 23.9°C in Brighton – the warmest night on record. However, the heatwave was rather brief but intense (3 consecutive days exceeded 35°C, the only other occurrences were in 1976). For a prolonged heatwave, we jump to August 1995. With a UK average maximum of 22.8°C, it remains the UK’s warmest August by that metric, and the 2nd driest. The summer ranks 2nd warmest by maxima. Soon after, the August of 1997 (4th warmest) added to growing evidence of a change to the British climate.
But it was in the August of 2003 when things really kicked off. In the earliest heatwave I remember, the temperature hit 38.5°C on the 10th at Faversham, Kent (satellite image in Figure 2) – the first time the UK had surpassed 37.8°C (100°F) and breaking the record from 1990 after only 23 years. 30°C was exceeded somewhere for 10 consecutive days. The summer of 2003 ranks nowadays as 6th warmest by average maxima; across Europe conditions were more extreme with a huge estimated death toll.
Only 3 years later, July 2006 set the record for the hottest month for the UK-average maxima (23.3°C), and set – at the time – a record for the highest-recorded July temperature (36.5°C at Wisley on the 19th). Ranking 4th warmest by average maxima, the summer was even more extreme across mainland Europe.
What followed from 2007 through 2012 was a spell of wet summers, but we shrug off all that Glastonbury mud to arrive at July 2013, which currently ranks as 4th warmest by average maxima and saw the longest spell of >28°C weather since 1997.
Skipping through in increasingly short steps, we arrive for a brief blast on July 1st, 2015 – when the July record from 2006 fell, with 36.7°C at Heathrow in an otherwise cool month. We hop over now to 2018…
The summer of 2018, memorable for England’s performance in the World Cup, saw very warm temperatures in June and July. By nationally averaged maxima, June 2018 ranks 2nd behind 1940, and July sits 2nd behind 2006. The summer ranks 3rd, but by mean temperature is the warmest. Though not reaching the dizzying highs of 2003 (“only” 35.3°C was reached on July 26th), the prolonged dry conditions which began in May across England led to parched grasses (Figure 3), wildfires, and low river levels. I may have also had a viral tweet.
With the present day in sight, our journey is not yet over. Stepping into 2019, an otherwise unremarkable summer was characterised with huge bursts of heat – setting records across Europe – which on July 25th saw the temperature reach 38.7°C at Cambridge Botanic Gardens. This eclipsed the 2003 record and became only the 2nd day – at the time – when 100°F or more had been reached in the UK.
But that is still not the end of the story! After a record-setting sunny spring followed by a mixed first half of summer, on July 31st 2020 the temperature at Heathrow hit 37.8°C – becoming the UK’s third warmest day on record and the third time 100°F had been recorded. The following Friday, 36.4°C was reached at Heathrow and Kew – the UK’s 9th warmest day on record, and highest temperature in August since 2003. Figure 4 shows the view at the University atmospheric observatory shortly after 34.8°C was reached, Reading’s 4th highest in August since records began in 1908.
Forecasts suggest a continuation of hot weather through the next week or so, with many records up for grabs. However, we should be mindful that heatwaves cause suffering and excess deaths, too. And, with the evidently increasing frequency with which these hot extremes are occurring (note how so many of the stops on my tour were clustered in the last 30 years), they are not good news, but another sign that our climate is changing.
Now that we have blasted through the 100°F barrier, our attention turns to 40°C. Research suggests this is already becoming much more likely thanks to climate change and will continue to do so. Reaching such extremes in the UK requires a unique combination of factors – but when these do come together, expect yet more records to fall.