Where next for UK climate policy and research after the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (AR6)?

11 April 2022

Reflections from the organisers of the Climate change: science responses and research needs meeting on the UK implications of the IPCC's Sixth Assessment Report.

With the publication of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report, now is the time to take stock of the evidence and identify the urgent questions and actions for the UK, and researchers, to tackle climate change. 

What is certain from AR6 is that increased greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are already causing climate change that is harming people and nature. The IPCC recognises climate policies are beginning to have an impact, but further rapid reductions in emissions, adaptation to climate risks, and widespread adoption of new technologies and behaviours are needed to reach net-zero emissions and mitigate the worst climate impacts.

It is clear that climate risks will evolve under progressively greater warming, and the extent of these impacts depends on our success in meeting our emissions targets. Research is vital to narrow this uncertainty, for example through improved understanding of water-cycle processes, carbon cycle feedbacks and their compound and cascading risks.
Climate information is needed at a regional level, particularly from researchers in the Global South, to allow action at the scale required for adaptation, and understanding at the scale required to assess ecosystem and human impacts.

It is also important to undertake better monitoring and evaluation of climate change and the policies being adopted. This is vital to understand if they are delivering. Our research must also consider the impact of these policies on other aspects of the environment and on societal justice.

Research and development is urgently needed to improve and apply technologies and practices, in areas such as large-scale energy storage - without which a decarbonised electricity grid is impossible - transport, land use, carbon capture and negative emissions that will allow rapid emissions reductions. The recent Royal Society papers on “Climate Change - Science and Solutions” address the priorities for deployment, development and research. 

There are also urgent lessons for policy making. 

The UK and many other countries have ambitious net-zero targets, these need detailed roadmaps to develop technologies and build capacity globally. They should define the research and innovation challenges which require investment now if they are to deliver at scale. Above all, roadmaps should be evidence-based and give the continuity for long-term research and investment in the face of political shifts and economic shocks.

Finally, policy makers can do more to ensure the climate-friendly choice, is the easiest one for consumers. Across the UK national academies and with our international partners there is a wealth of expertise from economics, behavioural science, and planning on how to help incentivise action that benefits individuals and the planet. 

These challenges are complex, but as the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report, and this meeting, have made clear we have the capability to address them and the time to act is now.

The organising committee:

  • Professor Eric Wolff FRS, University of Cambridge (Conference Chair)
  • Professor Gabi Hegerl FRS, University of Edinburgh
  • Professor Keith Shine FRS, University of Reading
  • Professor Pete Smith FRS, University of Aberdeen

Explore more of the Royal Society's key work on climate change.

Watch Professor Eric Wolff FRS respond to the latest IPCC report