Clear assessments of the risk of climate change can motivate stronger action against it, without needing any change in underlying values or preferences. This demands a different approach to the science – focusing on what is the worst that could happen, instead of what is most likely – as well as the participation of experts from fields beyond science.

Materials I have written or contributed to

Climate Change: A Risk Assessment.

King, D., Schrag, D., Zhou, D., Qi, Y. and Ghosh, A., 2015. Climate change: a risk assessment.

Report of a project involving over 60 experts in 11 countries, proposing an approach to climate change risk assessment that would more clearly communicate the scale of the threat.

Sharpe, S. and Shuckburgh, E., 2023. Take it to the limit. Research Professional News.

Argument for a greater focus on thresholds of non-linear impact in climate change research.

Chatham House, 2021. Climate change risk assessment 2021.

Prototype summary risk assessment for heads of government.

Sharpe, S., 2019. Telling the boiling frog what he needs to know: why climate change risks should be plotted as probability over time. Geoscience Communication, 2(1), 95–100.

Argument for the fundamental change in approach that is needed in climate science, to move from prediction to risk assessment.

Committee on Climate Change and China Expert Panel on Climate Change, 2018. Developing Indicators of Climate Risk.

Proposals for indicators of risk in relation to global emissions, direct impacts, and system risks of climate change, to enabling monitoring of changes in risk assessment over time.

De Meyer, K., Howarth, C., Jackson, A., et al., 2018. Developing better climate mitigation policies: challenging current climate change risk assessment approaches. UCL Policy Commission on Communicating Climate Science Report 2018–01.

Summary of discussions between scientists, research funders and policymakers on changes that are needed in the system of knowledge production and communication, to enable better climate change risk assessment.

Materials I have found helpful

Armstrong McKay, D., et al., 2022. Exceeding 1.5°C global warming could trigger multiple climate tipping points. Science, 377 (6611).

Recent assessment of the risk of crossing tipping points in the climate system.

Lenton, T., 2020. Tipping positive change. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 375(1794), p.20190123.

Overview of the potential for tipping points, and tipping cascades, to contribute to rapid change in the climate, in ecosystems, and in human systems.

Sutton, R., 2019. Climate science needs to take risk assessment much more seriously. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 100(9), 1637–1642.

Perspective of a leading climate scientist on why the field of physical climate science has generally not taken a risk assessment approach so far, and how it needs to change.

These arguments are summarised in a slide presentation here:

Steffen, W., Rockström, J., Richardson, K., et al., 2018. Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(33), 8252–8259.

An unusual attempt by scientists to directly address the question of whether there is a threshold beyond which climate change progresses irreversibly towards a state that threatens the habitability of the planet for humans.

Lowe, J. and Bernie, D., 2018. The impact of Earth system feedbacks on carbon budgets and climate response. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 376(2119), 20170263.

Study that highlights the significance for global temperature rise of feedback effects that are not usually included in climate models.

Scientific Advisory Board of the United Nations Secretary-General, 2016. Assessing the risks of climate change: Policy Brief.

Recommendations on climate change risk assessment from a group of expert advisers to the UN Secretary-General, drawing heavily on the King et al. 2015 report.

Bettis, O., 2014. Risk management and climate change: risk of ruin.

An actuary’s perspective on a risk management approach to climate change.

Femia, F. and Werrell, C. (eds.), 2013. The Arab Spring and climate change. Center for American Progress, The Center for Climate and Security.

Study highlighting the links between climate change, extreme weather events, social disruption, and risks to national and international security.

Hansen, J., 2009. Storms of My Grandchildren. [S.I.]: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

An excellent introduction to climate science, and to the early years of climate change politics in the USA.

Lubchenco, J., 1998. Entering the century of the environment: a new social contract for science. Science, 279(5350), 491–497.

Perspective from a senior scientist on the role of science itself, in particular the tension between curiosity-driven research, and research driven by the needs of society.

Action for change

Global Tipping Points

Initiative involving many scientists and other experts aiming to advance the understanding of tipping points in the Earth system and in socio-economic systems.

World Climate Research Programme Lighthouse Activities

Includes projects to produce climate change risk assessments that are relevant to decision-makers, and to better understand Earth system change.

Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, at University of Cambridge

Research into risks that could lead to human extinction or civilisational collapse, including extreme climate and environmental risks.

Woodwell Climate Research Center

Work on risk includes laying the groundwork for the production of climate change risk assessments for heads of government.

UK-China cooperation on climate change risk assessment

Almost a decade’s worth of inter-disciplinary work to better understand climate change risks and to propose improvements to processes of risk assessment.

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