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UN climate change report ‘crucial for the future of the planet’

A leading climate scientist at the University of St Andrews has described a major UN climate change report published today (Monday 9 August 2021) as crucial for the future of the planet.

Over the last two weeks 195 governments have debated and ratified the sixth Assessment Report (AR6) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a key milestone in the run up to the crucial COP26 climate change talks in Glasgow in November.

Dr Michael Byrne, lecturer in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of St Andrews, is a contributing author to three chapters of the report covering topics including temperature and humidity changes over land, the water cycle and tropical rainfall. In recent years Dr Byrne’s research group has overhauled traditional understanding of how land regions respond to climate change, and this new understanding forms a key pillar of the upcoming report.

Dr Byrne said: “It is impossible to overstate the importance of this report. It presents the latest physical understanding of the climate system and climate change, combining evidence from past climates, instrumental observations, process understanding and computer simulations. It shows how and why climate has changed, and the improved understanding of human influence on a wide range of climate phenomena, including extreme weather events.

“This new report presents yet more irrefutable evidence that human activities – primarily CO2 emissions – are changing the climate in unprecedented and dangerous ways.

“The report’s findings on the links between global warming and extreme weather events are keenly anticipated following numerous record-breaking heatwaves and flooding events around the world in recent years.”

Other St Andrews scientists, including Professor Rob Wilson and Dr James Rae, also of the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, have contributed research to the report, investigating changes in temperature and CO2 in Earth’s history that provide context to current and future climate change.

“CO2 hasn’t been this high since three million years ago, a time with almost no ice on Greenland and West Antarctica, and sea level around 20 metres higher than today,” Dr Rae said. “It takes time for global warming to catch up with CO2 levels, but the geological record shows us where we’re headed unless we act fast.”

Professor Wilson said: “This report and related COP meeting are coming at a crucial time when we really are starting to see the impacts of global warming everywhere. The ‘odd’ weather we are seeing – heatwaves, extreme storms etc – were predicted back in the 1970s but, of course, politicians appear to be only able to act when predictions become a reality. We are now in that reality!

“Time is really running out before we head into an uncertain future where all of us will be impacted at some point.”

Dr Byrne said the IPCC report is an urgent ‘call to action’ for governments, institutions and individuals around the world to tackle their emissions of greenhouse gases. It is hoped that the report spurs governments into urgent action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in order to slow global warming before it becomes catastrophic.

The University of St Andrews has committed to a target of carbon net zero by 2035, demonstrating ambition and leadership when it comes to tacking the defining issue of this generation.


Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.

Sustainability & climate change

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