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We should not sugarcoat the reality of climate impacts

We should not sugarcoat the reality of climate impacts

Sir David King addresses the audience at the Net Zero Festival. Photo credit: Anders Lorenzen.

By Anders Lorenzen 

The former Chief Scientist for the UK Government, Sir David King did not hold back the scientific reality of years of climate inaction when he addressed the audience at the Net Zero Festival in London, organised by Business Green, a clean energy publication.

King served under the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown New Labour Government from October 2000 to December 2007.

Despite having turned 84, retirement is not on the agenda for King having set up the scientific group the Climate Repair Centre at the University of Cambridge.

He set the tone with his opening remark “Unfortunately I don’t have good news”.

He set out to outline the global acceleration of extreme weather events driven by continued fossil fuel production.

Sir David King presents a slide illustrating Arctic warming trends and the Jet Stream. Graph credit: Paul Horn.Photo credit: Anders Lorenzen.

What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic 

He is particularly concerned about the changes in the Arctic and explained that the region is warming four times faster than the global average. The warming has even taken many other climate scientists by surprise and no one has predicted such a rapid warming trend, with feedback loops being a key contributing factor, he argued. “The warm air in the Arctic is pushing the cold air in the Arctic down which I believe is one of the causes of the accelerating extreme weather events we are witnessing”, King explained.

The veteran scientist then turned his focus to a specific area in the Arctic; what is happening in Greenland, explaining that the world’s largest island is now losing ice year on year. When it has all melted the global sea levels would have risen by 7.5 metres. 

He turned his attention to one of the scientific uncertainties and one to which there’s a lot of disagreement in scientific circles and underlined that there’s a lot of work being done to prevent this from getting out of hand. “We have to consider that all the methane currently captured in the Arctic permafrost could melt and that would cause temperatures globally to rise by up to 8 degrees C”. 

The ticking bomb of a mass release of methane buried for thousands and thousands of years in the permafrost is almost a storyline of a science fiction movie and while there’s a lot of concern about this in the scientific community, very little official research has been conducted looking at the full scale on this and in return has gotten little attention and coverage.   

These examples are why King wants to go further than just reducing emissions and argued that we would need to remove further emissions at great expense, and ultimately we need to strive to bring carbon concentration in the atmosphere down to 350 PPM, which he considers to be the safe operating level.

Climate Repair focuses on three pillar points: reducing CO2 emissions, removing CO2 from the atmosphere and refreezing damaged parts of the climate system.

To accelerate such initiatives it would need a large capital injection and he urged the business community to see this as a huge investment opportunity.

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