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Sustainability Science

Southampton scientists contribute to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report

Published: 7 April 2014

University of Southampton researchers have had a high-profile role in creating the world’s most comprehensive report on climate change.

The 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report on Climate Impacts and Adaptation of the 5th Assessment, which reported on the scale of impacts, adaptations and vulnerabilities to climate change, was launched at a meeting in Yokohama, Japan last week.

Two researchers from the University of Southampton - Professor Robert Nicholls , Professor of Coastal Engineering, and Dr Emma Tompkins , Reader in Geography & Environment - were among the world-leading researchers in their fields who contributed to the report.

Professor Nicholls, Review Editor on Chapter 5: ‘Coastal Zones and Low-Lying Areas', said: "This report confirms the high risks that coastal zones face under climate change and sea-level rise. It also provides new evidence of the effects of ocean acidification which is a by-product of global warming and a major additional threat that is only now becoming understood. The report also emphasises the importance of adaptation in coastal zones and highlights recent innovations such as the Thames Estuary 2100 Project and the Dutch Delta Plan which both consider how to respond to climate change over the coming century. The challenge is how to develop appropriate adaptation responses that can be applied more widely for the world's coasts."

Dr Emma Tompkins, Lead Author of Chapter 29: ‘Small islands', said: "This report is important because new evidence shows that previous assumptions are correct, enabling us to now assign very high confidence to several findings. For example, we are now very confident that coastal systems and low-lying areas will increasingly experience submergence, coastal flooding and erosion. While small islands and low lying coastal areas are not homogenous, all are subject to multiple stressors, both climate and non-climate, they are all also at risk from climate-related processes originating well beyond their borders."

In terms of how to manage the impacts of climate change, Dr Tompkins added: "if we are thinking about what people can do to adapt to climate impacts we have some confidence that actions taken to adapt to climate change have larger benefits when they are undertaken in conjunction with other actions, such as disaster risk reduction."

Dr Sally Brown , Research Fellow in Engineering and the Environment, was not involved in the IPCC writing process, but did review some chapters when open to all scientists. Dr Brown said: "With rising temperatures and other climatic and non-climatic threats there is an additional environmental risk, such that extreme event today may happen more frequently. This will be most felt in those ecosystems or regions which are already very vulnerable to change, such as coral reefs or small islands: The adverse impacts of climate change will not be evenly spread and will often exacerbate existing issues. This report iterates what we have learnt since AR4, that unless we act, adverse impacts will still occur. Where we can adapt to climate change and sea-level rise, we can increase resilience and reduce risk. The challenge is the effectively manage this process, taking account the multiple causes environmental change."

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