Sign up for NPL updates
Sign up for NPL updates

Receive regular emails from NPL to get a glimpse of our activities and see how our experts are informing and influencing scientific debate

  • Home
  • News
  • NPL responds to IPCC climate report

Ensuring confidence in global climate decision making

A response to the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report on Climate Change - Chief Scientist, JT Janssen

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) on Monday (8 August 2021) outlining, through the use of physical science, the unequivocal impact of human activity on the Earth’s climate. The report represents an important landmark on the path to COP26 and beyond, and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) supports the ambitions of the IPCC in providing increasingly accurate climate data, to raise ambitions and better inform the global climate action decision-making that is urgently required.

Addressing climate change is possibly the biggest challenge that humanity has collectively faced. At no other point in our history has there been sufficient knowledge and understanding to recognise that such a challenge exists. Global action is the only way we can avert a climate disaster, and thanks to modern communications, it is the first time in our history that we have the opportunity for the whole of humanity to share in this understanding, through the IPCC’s reports, and act as one in coming up with solutions that work on a global scale.

The findings of the IPCC’s report are based upon the latest advances in climate science, which have provided an up-to-date understanding of how the climate system is changing and strengthened our understanding of irreversible climate risks and outcomes. The improved models and analyses for observing and monitoring climate change utilised by the IPCC’s expert authors revealed that human activity has caused unprecedented rates of warming in the atmosphere, ocean and on land. The report states that ‘strong, rapid and sustained reductions’ in greenhouse gas emissions will be crucial to limiting the plethora of rapid and widespread impacts caused by human-induced climate and environmental change. As highlighted in the recent Times article by Sir Patrick Vallance and Stephen Belcher (10 August 2021), a key tool to measure progress on the path to net zero emissions is a live emissions dashboard designed to ‘directly measure greenhouse gas concentrations and use modelling to infer emissions in near real time’. NPL are involved in the planned development of such a system.

Contradictions exist between achieving the goal of tackling climate change and the existing trajectories of modern societies, born and driven from fossil fuel energy. There are also uncertainties in the scale, timeline and geographical nature of impacts on society and hence in the relative value of mitigation strategies. These tensions and uncertainties mean that the consequences for society, in both action and inaction, are dramatic and far-reaching. Scientific knowledge and evidence such as that provided by the IPCC is important to navigate this and to find solutions that can align countries around the world.

NPL is the UK’s National Metrology Institute and our role as experts in metrology – the science of measurement – is to ensure that decision-makers who rely on data derived through measurement and observation can trust the provenance of that data and have confidence in the information it provides, thus enabling difficult decisions to be made.

NPL already enables SI traceable measurements and the development of standards that facilitate international comparison of climate data. We see a huge opportunity to further embed measurement science into this arena to ensure the basic physical measurements underpinning observations of climate (both in-situ and from space), and responses to climate change, are traceable to absolute standards through the SI system. This is vital to ensure that we are not introducing systematic biases in the entire field, and that the measurements are internationally coherent and can be trusted on the necessary multi-decadal timescales needed to detect climate trends. NPL aim to collaborate with the climate science and measurement community in the run up to COP26 to further investigate this need; to be involved in the discussion, do get in touch with our COP26 team.

To coincide with the UK hosting of COP26 this year, NPL has also launched the Measurement for our planet programme, which will showcase NPL’s energy and environment-related research and associated capabilities whilst highlighting the important role of metrology in supporting climate change mitigation, adaptation and decision making.

Measurement for our planet will provide further details on NPL’s expertise in providing confidence in the data that underpins science-led solutions for improvements to climate science, greenhouse gas emissions measurement and in supporting the innovation that will enable a transition to a decarbonised economy. To find out more, visit our website here.


12 Aug 2021