+ Facts and figures

Theme leader
Prof Peter Cox

01392 725220

Total investment

Research income


* Total University investment.

Climate Change and Sustainable Futures

We provide world-class interdisciplinary research to address the challenges of climate change, and to inform possible pathways to a sustainable future through mitigation, adaptation and geoengineering.

Our world-leading climate researchers hosted the Transformational Climate Science conference in May 2014. in partnership with the Met Office and University of Leeds.

Climate change and sustainability are likely to be the most significant environmental phenomena of the 21st century and, working closely with the Met Office, we are positioned at the forefront of climate change research.

We have diverse expertise encompassing:

The climate loop shows the stages in managing climate change.

REF case studies

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the new system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions.

Exeter came 16th in the REF 2014. A number of case studies are submitted on which the University is assessed: below are those we submitted related to the Climate Change and Sustainable Futures theme.

Case studyDescription
Climate research influences policy and debate
Research identifying potential climate tipping points and developing early warning methods for them has changed the framework for climate change discussion. Concepts introduced by Professor Tim Lenton and colleagues have infiltrated into climate change discussions among policy-makers, economists, business leaders, the media, and international social welfare organisations.
Coral reef research leads to new protective legislation
Professor Peter Mumby’s research on the impact of parrotfish grazing on the resilience of coral reefs has had a direct impact on the management of Caribbean reefs and fisheries. The results of his research have influenced conservation policy across the Caribbean and have led to the Governments of Belize and Bonaire enacting legislation to ban fishing of parrotfish.
Endangered sea turtle populations boosted
Research on the status, distribution and ecology of sea turtles has driven national and international conservation policy, engaged millions of people worldwide and raised substantial funding for conservation. Governments including the UK, Cayman Islands, Cyprus and Gabon have used this research in making legislation and multi-million pound management decisions.
Future proofing building design
The Centre for Energy and the Environment has created novel probabilistic weather files for 50 locations across the UK, consisting of hourly weather conditions over a year, which have been used by the construction industry to test resilience of building designs to climate change. They have already had significant economic impact through their use in more than £3billion worth of infrastructure projects.
Improving the Met Office weather and climate prediction model
Research by Professor John Thuburn and his group has made several key contributions to the formulation and development of ENDGame, the new dynamical core of the Met Office weather and climate prediction model. The economic value to the UK of the weather forecasts produced by the Met Office has been estimated to be in excess of £600million a year, while climate change projections inform policy decisions on mitigation and adaptation with huge economic implications.
Informing strategy on moorland restoration
Since 2008, this research has been used to inform Defra policy, in relation to soils, water, and the Defra code of good agricultural practice. Dissemination of effective approaches to land management, most especially through the Catchment Sensitive Farming Initiative has resulted in demonstrable changes in farming practice by landowners in several priority river catchments within the UK.
Stochastic modelling for improving understanding of storm risk
Statistical modelling of storms by Professor David Stephenson and co-workers in Mathematics has improved the understanding and thereby the pricing of insurance risk due to European windstorms and tropical cyclones. Clustering in these catastrophic natural hazards has been quantified using novel process-based statistical models, which have then been implemented by industry to improve insurance pricing, eg, on the integrated financial platform used by Willis actuaries to provide a more reliable view of risk as required by EU solvency II regulation.
Working with Brazilian policy makers to prevent dieback of the Amazon rainforest
Research on the links between the Amazon rainforest and climate change has influenced international climate policy, has directly assisted Brazilian environmental policymakers, and has received international media coverage. The underpinning research spans the vulnerability of the rainforest to human-caused climate change and the mechanisms behind the Amazonian droughts of 2005 and 2010.

Our impact

In the last few years the impact of our research in climate and sustainability has grown significantly.

Amazon rainforest and climate change

Our research on the links between the Amazon rainforest and climate change has:

Climate Tipping Points – impact on climate policy and risk assessment

The framework for climate change discussion has been changed after our research identified potential climate tipping points and developed early warning methods for them.

The work has which analyses of abrupt, high impact, and uncertain probability events, including estimates of their proximity, has:

  • Informed public debate through a dedicated TV series.
  • Influenced policy around the world.
  • Prompted the insurance and reinsurance industry to reconsider their risk portfolios and take into account tipping point events.

Keeping buildings cool

The CCSF PROMETHEUS project used climate change data to predict future weather conditions across the UK and has led to the future-proofing of building design decisions so new buildings will be cooler.

Exciting methods for investigating how sensitive biosystems are to climate change have been developed through

Rainforests - the lungs of the plant

CCSF theme leader Prof Peter Cox's research into carbon dioxide absorption and production in rainforests has led to a new way of finding out how sensitive biological systems are to changes in climate. The study found that variations in how much carbon dioxide rainforests absorb reveals how vulnerable rainforests are to climate change.

Reducing carbon dioxide emissions

Global warming targets will only be met if carbon dioxide emissions begin to fall within the next two decades and eventually decrease to zero. 

Prof Pierre Friedlingstein and his team used mathematical modelling to construct possible future scenarios, based on different assumptions on emissions reduction. They found that zero or negative emissions are compatible with the target if we reduce our global carbon emissions by at least three per cent a year in the next two decades. The study also highlighted how remaining emissions could cause the two-degrees target to be exceeded over the next few hundred years.

Antarctic ice sheets

Whether global warming may cause the giant West Antarctic Ice Sheet to melt and raise sea-levels by several metres is one of the most contested debates in climate science. Our research has shown that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet may be more stable than thought.

Arctic expedition findings

Findings from our Arctic expedition investigate climate change and the effects of carbon dioxide on the Arctic Ocean are being used to educate hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren about marine science.


Our geoengineering research could prevent damaging droughts in sub-Saharan Africa through careful injection of aerosols into the atmosphere. Results suggest that aerosol injection into the northern hemisphere causes significant drought in the Sahel, while injection into the southern hemisphere causes a significant greening.

Our G360 project is also looking at geoengineering.

Severe weather

Methods for coping with severe weather have been identified following public concerns about the governmental response to related problems. Our research showed that concerns about governmental failure to act effectively and fairly in the aftermath of extreme weather events can affect the degree to which residents are willing to protect themselves.

Cultural life

The cultural impacts of climate change are underestimated, misunderstood and overlooked. Our research has shown cultural experiences such as enjoying beaches, winter sports, visiting natural spaces and even using traditional methods of agriculture and construction, are key to making climate change real to people and motivating their responses.

Coral growth

Our research has shown that coral growth rates can be reduced by lower water temperatures, caused by fine particles released in the air from burning coal and volcanic eruptions.