Professor Peter Cox has presented his climate change research in Copenhagen.

Exeter academic addresses top climate researchers in Copenhagen

The University of Exeter’s Met Office Chair in Climate System Dynamics, Professor Peter Cox, has addressed the world’s leading climate researchers in Copenhagen.

He gave a keynote speech at the climate change congress entitled Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges and Decisions.

Professor Cox, who is in the University’s School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics, spoke on Tipping Points in Terrestrial Ecosystems, which included recent findings on the possibility of abrupt changes in tropical forests and peatlands. This keynote presentation was followed by talks on specific tipping points, including two papers from collaborators from the Met Office-Hadley Centre suggesting an even more immediate risk of Amazon forest dieback under global warming.

Professor Cox described the potential loss of the rainforest as “a catastrophe” and warned: “The tropics are drivers of the Earth’s atmospheric circulation and killing the Amazon is likely to impact weather patterns across the globe. The remaining intact Amazon forest is a hotspot of biodiversity, and is also currently acting as a very significant sink for human CO2 emissions. Loss of the forest would turn this carbon sink into a strong source, with the potential to add about 10 years of current CO2 emissions to the atmosphere”.

The congress is one of the world’s largest ever conferences on climate change, with more than 2,000 participants from 80 countries. The conference focuses on the latest knowledge on climate across a broad range of research, including natural sciences, economics and health. The conference outcomes will be submitted to political negotiators in advance of the COP15 in Copenhagen in December, where a new global climate agreement is to be negotiated.

Professor Cox also commented on the relevance of the latest findings for the forthcoming negotiations: “The latest research on climate change strengthens still further the case for immediate action to limit the extent of future climate change. However we must be careful to avoid these findings been misinterpreted. In the case of the Amazon rainforest, the risk of climate-driven dieback could be misused to argue against including avoided deforestation in the follow-on to the Kyoto Protocol, but this would be a massive mistake. Deforestation contributes up to a fifth of global CO2 emissions, and also makes the rainforest more vulnerable to climate change. So avoiding deforestation would increase the resilience of the forest to climate change, and also contribute to slowing the increase of global CO2 emissions – it’s a win-win”.

Professor Cox is one of three Met Office Chairs, working on climate change science at the University of Exeter, and leads the University’s Climate Change and Sustainable Futures theme. The three Chairs are focused on improving climate prediction and weather forecasting, using advanced mathematics to refine model equations and to make better use of observational data.

Date: 12 March 2009

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