Asher Minns’ blog forays into the unthinkable with climate research beyond 2oC

An enduring memory of mine from the wreck that was the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009 is the image of a sobbing climate campaigner being consoled by her friends at the train station. Was her grief also in part because she could not anticipate what the world would look like without a strong climate agreement?
Scientists have only just started looking at this unthinkable future in the past few years. The consequence of going beyond the political target of 2oC – called high-end climate change research – is an emerging field. A conference in Oxford called ‘Beyond 4 degrees’ convened by the Tyndall Centre, the UK Met Office and Oxford was the first attempt at a systematic overview in 2008.
What can we learn about this field at the Our Common Future under Climate Change, coming just 6 months before COP21 in Paris? EU-funded high-end climate research consortiums HELIX , led by Richard Betts, Exeter, and IMPRESSIONS, led by Paula Harrison, Oxford, are co-convening a parallel session: A world above 2 degrees C global warming: understanding risks and developing transformative solutions, in partnership with Johan Rockstrom, Stockholm, and Brian O’Neill, Boulder, Colorado.
First, where are our emissions taking our climate? Pierre Friedlingstein, Exeter, is a member of the international team that each year releases the annual emissions report called the Global Carbon Budget. For 2014 they calculated that 1/3 of the carbon quota is left for staying below 2 degrees C by 2050. This year’s progress on the Global Carbon Budget will be released ahead of the Paris Summit.
The title of this above 2 degrees C session includes the adjective transformative, an en-vogue word, even used by the US President in the title of his 2012 book Obama’s America: A transformative vision…). Joan David Tabara, Barcelona, is exploring what the term transformation might mean for climate adaptation and mitigation strategies.
My own read through of the IPCC Working Group 2 report shows that adaptation research to date has traditionally studied slow and incremental changes, which might even be maladaption to high-end extremes. On a related transformative topic in a different session, Tim Lenton, Exeter, is speaking on early warnings of climate tipping points.
HELIX researchers are elsewhere at the conference.  Ioannis Tsanis, Crete, has a poster on first results for Europe. With Lorenzo Alfieri, he reveals that the likelihood of 100 year floods doubles by 2050 at the current trajectory of emissions. Or put another way, the Central European floods of 2013 could become twice as likely, meaning that similar damages might double.
HELIX-related topics also span migration as adaptation (Blocher, Liege) communication of these unwelcome high-end climate messages (Rayner, Norwich), and data for Senegalese farmers (Ndiaye, Dakar).  If you are also focusing on understanding and responding to high-end climate at Our Common Future, then please get in touch with me.
In 2015 we are not very much closer to the deal that the distraught climate change campaigner expected in 2009 and emissions have risen every year since. I do hope though that what might bring her some solace is the new knowledge being gained through my colleagues’ researching of our common future under climate change.
On the other hand, there is massive deployment of renewable energy and policies are in progress in countries across the world. If high-end research becomes a scientific blue-sky curiosity instead of a necessity, then everyone will be happy.
This article was written for the Our Common Future ClimateParis2015 Conference website. You can view the original article here.