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Sir John Houghton on Climate Change


2015 marks the 25th year of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) reports - all published by Cambridge University Press. 2015 also sees the publication of the 5th edition of Sir John Houghton's market-leading undergraduate textbook Global Warming: The Complete Briefing.

We were delighted that Sir John could join us on 30th June for the opening of the 25 Years of the IPCC reports exhibit in the Press Museum, and to celebrate the long and fruitful relationship between Sir John and Cambridge University Press.

Sir John Houghton is one of the most distinguished climate scientists of his generation and a tenacious campaigner for the recognition of human-induced climate change. He has been a strong advocate for the global research effort into climate change and played a key role in the development of the IPCC - a unique relationship between political policy and scientific rigour, where he led or co-led the Science Working Group of IPCC from 1988 until 2002. As lead editor of first three IPCC reports he brought the first report to the Press in 1990. The Press has now distributed over 160,000 copies of IPCC reports over the last 25 years, with the latest report publishing just a few months ago.

Sir John presented a passionate and insightful lecture on the state of climate change science, its impacts, mitigation, and policy. He spoke about the underlying science and complexities of climate change, observing that unlike when he started his research in the 1960s, there has been a revolution since the 1980s in our ability to understand climate change, through global data from satellites and the ability to develop detailed scientific modelling.

The main impacts of climate change are three-fold: sea level rise, more intense heat waves, and a more intense hydrological cycle, which leads to a greater frequency and intensity of droughts and floods. He about the consequences of climate change: poor nations will be worst affected, leading to many millions of environmental refugees, and the loss of millions of species.

Sir John also spoke about the history of the IPCC which initially comprised of three working groups – Assessment of Science, Assessment of Impacts, and Formulation of Response. The first of these Working Groups engaged many of the world’s best Climate Scientists and meetings were strictly scientific, not political, with no preconceived agenda. He commented on the success of this Working Group and of the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 – which comprised over 25,000 delegates from 172 countries, including 100 heads of states. The Summit led to the setting up of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), and was ratified by all participants (including the US Senate, within a week) – in large part due to the IPCC Reports coming out so quickly.

Sir John believes there is a moral imperative to act. He commented on what we can do to adopt renewable energy technology, and detailed a critical meeting of UNFCCC in Paris in 2015 to agree a 2°c stabilisation target in the rise in global average temperature. He closed by quoting UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the launch of the IPCC Synthesis Report on 2 November 2014.

‘This report gives a major push to success at Paris next year. Without a global agreement, we will not mobilize action to the extent necessary to get the world on to a 2-degree pathway. Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in their message. Leaders must act. Time is not on our side.’

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