NERC science to play a key role in Paris climate change conference

30 November 2015

NERC's world-leading climate science research is set to play a pivotal role in helping negotiators thrash out an international climate change agreement during the upcoming UN climate change conference in Paris (COP21).

Sunflowers and power station

Well over 100 NERC-funded scientists, based at the UK's top universities and our six research centres, will make a major contribution to the conference through an influential report, called the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), as well as through side events and presentations. The report, by the UN's climate panel, details the physical evidence behind climate change, and will help policymakers pave the way for a global, legally binding treaty on reducing carbon emissions.

Commentators see the conference as crucial, as the world needs an international agreement to have a chance of keeping global warming below 2°C.

The global climate is changing far more quickly than at any other time in recent history, and is already causing serious problems for the UK. The Stern Review estimates that, without action, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year, now and forever.

An analysis shows that nearly two-thirds of the UK authors of AR5 are NERC-funded. NERC scientists have also made an impressive contribution to one of the three working groups that make up AR5, Working Group 1: of the UK authors of WG1, titled The Physical Science Basis, two-thirds are NERC-funded.

NERC's chief executive, Professor Duncan Wingham, said:

COP21 is a significant world event. Agreements need to be made to ensure we aim to keep global warming below 2°C. I am proud of the world-leading contribution NERC research and scientists will make to these talks. We are demonstrating our position as a world-class provider of climate change research.

NERC is the UK's largest funder of world-leading weather and climate research, investing £58 million a year. Our research has long been crucial in uncovering the effects of climate change on the planet.

In 1985, NERC scientists discovered the hole in the ozone layer, laying the foundations for the Montreal Protocol, one of the most successful international environmental agreements ever. This year, an independent analysis revealed that thanks to the early implementation of the Montreal Protocol, NERC's ozone research has spared thousands of lives and led to lower food prices, leading to savings of £1·3 billion every year for the UK.

Since 2009, together with the Department for Energy & Climate Change (DECC) and Defra, NERC has co-funded two climate change research programmes under the Living With Environmental Change (LWEC) partnership, called AVOID and AVOID 2, which involve a multi-disciplinary consortium of UK research organisations, led by the UK's Met Office.

The AVOID 2 programme, which runs from 2014 until 2016, develops and communicates objective scientific and economic research and analysis to both inform and support UK policy in ongoing international climate negotiations, leading up to COP 21 in Paris. AVOID 2 provides government analysts and climate negotiating teams in both the UK and internationally with the scientifically robust and policy-relevant science needed to inform their decisions. Professor Nigel Arnell of Reading University will speak about the AVOID project at a side event in Paris from 8-9 December.

Research from the first AVOID programme, which ran from 2009 to 2013, supported the UK's international engagement and informed its position at international climate change negotiations, including contributing to the UN's Environment Programme with credible, targeted and timely research, and supporting the setting of the UK's carbon budgets. Ed Davey, then secretary of state for energy & climate change, recognised this in a speech at the final AVOID symposium where he said it was "an impressive demonstration of successful collaboration between academia and government... [delivering] concrete outcomes."

NERC has a long history of providing evidence for COP: NERC-supported crop simulation computer models of mitigated and unmitigated climate change were tabled to delegates at COP16 in Cancun, Mexico in 2010.

NERC also helps business and society adapt to climate change through its role as secretariat host and member of LWEC - a network of 20 public-sector organisations, including the UK's seven research councils, that fund, carry out and use environmental change research. The members work together to provide decision-makers in policy, business and wider society with knowledge and resources to help them make informed responses to environmental change. These resources include a series of climate change impact report cards - authoritative and accessible sources of information on the observed and projected effects of climate change on different sectors.

Further information

Tamera Jones
NERC media office
01793 411561
07917 557215

Karen Christian
NERC media office
01793 411568


1. NERC is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. Our work covers the full range of atmospheric, Earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic science, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere and from the poles to the equator. We coordinate some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on Earth, and much more. NERC is a non-departmental public body. We receive around £330 million of annual funding from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS). This year marks NERC's 50th anniversary.

2. NERC's research centres - the British Antarctic Survey, the British Geological Survey, the National Oceanography Centre, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, the National Centre for Earth Observation.

3. UK scientists made up 12% of all AR5 authors. Of those UK scientists, 58% are NERC-funded. AR5 is made up of three working group reports. The first, WG1 'The Physical Science Basis', which is the most closely in NERC's area, had 15% UK authors, of which 64% are NERC-funded. The Working Group 2 report, 'Impacts, Adaptation & Vulnerability', had 11% UK authors, of which 53% are NERC-funded. Working Group 3, 'Mitigation of Climate Change', had 9% UK authors, of which 46% are NERC-funded.