From climate science to climate solutions

UK climate science underpins international climate negotiations and drives the UK’s journey to net zero emissions.

Decades of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) research, innovation and training has advanced climate science and helped us to reduce the effects of climate change.

In 2019 the UK became the first major economy to legally commit to ending its contribution to climate change by 2050, by offsetting or capturing emitted greenhouse gases.

The net zero target was based on advice from the UK’s independent Climate Change Committee, which drew on the latest climate science and understanding of greenhouse gas mitigation options, and advice from experts including NERC-funded scientists.

In this impact story, you can find out about three international agreements and organisations that are shaping understanding and action on our climate, all informed by NERC-funded science.

About the project

NERC scientists analysed atmospheric data collected over 30 years and discovered a hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica.

Stratospheric ozone is measured at the British Antarctic Survey’s Halley and Rothera research stations. Daily ozone measurements are taken as part of long-term monitoring. At Halley, measurements are taken seven times a day in the summer season, when the sun is high enough to do so.

Video credit: NERC
On-screen captions and an autogenerated transcript are available on YouTube.

Impacts of the project

The Montreal Protocol was prompted by the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer. It has since made a major contribution to mitigating climate change. Recent research, co-funded by NERC, estimated that the removal of ozone-depleting substances as a result of the treaty will have averted 2.5ºC of climate warming by 2100.

NERC-funded research also played a leading role in the success of the Montreal Protocol. This was achieved by identifying how the ozone was being depleted and the consequences for human health, while contributing to the regular scientific updates for the protocol, including identifying new ozone-depleting substances.

The treaty led to rapid worldwide reductions in the production of ozone-depleting substances. If current recovery continues, the ozone layer will be fully restored by 2075.

This recovery will have prevented at least two million cases of skin cancer by 2030 and has delivered significant savings by averting damage to crops and buildings.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

The IPCC provides leaders and policymakers with regular assessments on the current state of knowledge on climate change. Reports are developed through a comprehensive and inclusive process, and the summaries are agreed by all of the 195 countries involved.

About the project

NERC’s long-term support for earth observation data, research, innovation and training has delivered world-leading scientific advances in climate science that have been central to every IPCC report to date.

NERC researchers also take a lead role in writing the reports. For example, 87% of the UK-based authors of the physical science section of the latest, sixth assessment report, are NERC-funded.

By establishing an international consensus based on the latest science, the IPCC’s reports have been the cornerstone for international climate change negotiations, and action by businesses and governments around the world.

Impacts of the project: international action

They underpin, for example, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change which has been signed by 198 countries and is the parent treaty for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The convention aims to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system, and provides mechanisms for acting on, reporting on and funding climate change action.

The first IPCC assessment report played a decisive role in the creation of the convention in 1990. More recently the fifth assessment report provided the foundation for the Paris Agreement.

In total, 195 countries have signed the agreement, which committed to limiting global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels and set in motion the movement towards net zero emissions.

Through the funding mechanisms, developed countries have pledged billions of dollars to support developing countries in tackling climate change.

Impacts of the project: UK action

The IPCC reports were also behind the 2008 UK Climate Change Act, the world’s first long-term legally binding framework for tackling climate change. NERC-funded scientists and climate modelling expertise also play a key role in implementing the requirements of the act, including setting carbon budgets, climate change risk assessments and the National Adaptation Programme.

In 2019 the UK became the first major economy to legally commit to ending its contribution to climate change (net zero) by 2050 by offsetting or capturing greenhouse gases emitted.

The net zero target was based on advice from the UK’s independent Climate Change Committee, which drew on the latest climate science including IPCC reports and advice from experts including NERC-funded scientists.

Impact of the project: business action

The IPCC reports are also driving ambitious climate action in the private sector including the Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTI), launched in 2015. The initiative enables businesses to set science-based emissions reduction targets aligned with Paris Agreement goals and provides independent assessment and validation of targets.

Over 1,000 companies, representing 34% of global market capitalisation, are working with SBTI to reduce their emissions at the pace and scale necessary to prevent the worst effects of climate change. A 2022 analysis found that companies had collectively reduced their annual emissions by 25% since 2015.

Looking forward: Building a greener future

Building a green future is now one of UK Research and Innovation’s five strategic themes. Working with others, we aim to accelerate the green economy by supporting research and innovation that delivers on national priorities and unlocks solutions essential to achieving net zero in the UK by 2050.

The Building a green future strategic theme allows us to target national priorities, accelerate the green economy and target research and innovation in technologies which are not yet ready, but we will need to achieve reduced emissions beyond 2030.

In 2023, for example, we funded the £12 million Greenhouse Gas Emissions Measurement and Modelling Advancement programme, led by the National Physical Laboratory. The UK research consortium will create a single integrated network to monitor all sources and sinks of greenhouse gases in the UK.

The detailed measurements of actual emissions and their sources will bolster efforts to improve national greenhouse gas data, which provide powerful and timely insight into the UK’s net zero transition.

Find out more

Learn more about the benefits of NERC’s involvement with climate science from the 1930s to the present, including offshore wind, the Thames Barrier and UK climate projections.

Top image:  The earth seen from space. Credit: studio023, iStock via Getty Images

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