UCT researchers selected for global climate change report

03 August 2020 | Story Carla Bernardo. Read time 6 min.
Dr Christopher Trisos (left) and Prof Harald Winkler (right) are both associates of UCT’s African Climate & Development Initiative. <b>Photos</b> Andrea Koris / Supplied.
Dr Christopher Trisos (left) and Prof Harald Winkler (right) are both associates of UCT’s African Climate & Development Initiative. Photos Andrea Koris / Supplied.

The United Nations’ (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently appointed two researchers from the University of Cape Town (UCT) to join an international team to write and review its Synthesis Report for the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6 SYR).

The IPCC is the UN body that assesses the science related to climate change, and the AR6 SYR is a document that integrates all the IPCC’s reports in the sixth assessment cycle.

Professor Harald Winkler and Dr Christopher Trisos – both associates of the African Climate & Development Initiative (ACDI), with Winkler based in UCT’s Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment – join 30 authors and nine review editors from around the world to form the core writing team (CWT).

 

“We’re facing a climate change emergency. So to me being selected means a lot of responsibility and a lot of work to get it right.”

The appointment of Winkler and Trisos to the CWT is evidence of the calibre of climate change research at UCT. Both researchers said they were looking forward to making this high-level contribution.

“I am excited to be invited to join a small group of scientists on the CWT from among the hundreds of authors who have been involved in the AR6 cycle. Synthesis for me is about looking at the big picture,” said Winkler.

Trisos added: “We’re facing a climate change emergency. So to me being selected means a lot of responsibility and a lot of work to get it right.”

Big picture

Before the CWT is appointed, authors are nominated by their respective governments for one of the IPCC’s Working Groups (WG) or Special Reports. The three IPCC WGs are:

  • WGI, which assesses the physical scientific basis of the climate system and climate change
  • WGII, which assesses the impacts of climate change on humans and ecosystems, the vulnerability of these systems to climate change and options for adapting to it
  • WGIII, which focuses on climate change mitigation, assessing methods for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

The IPCC Bureau, which is a collective of leading experts on climate change, then select the CWT from the authors of each WG and the three Special Reports of the sixth assessment cycle.

The AR6 SYR, which is due in the first half of 2022, will, according to the IPCC website, “provide policymakers with the most up-to-date scientific information relevant to climate change by drawing on information from the reports the IPCC is preparing in the current assessment cycle”. It will also serve as the basis for international negotiations and will be ready in time for the first global stocktake in 2023 of progress made on achieving the Paris Agreement.

The report will be written under the leadership of Hoesung Lee, the chairperson of the IPCC, who, in his welcome letter to the CWT, requested that they “strive to go beyond listing the key findings of the [Special Reports and WG] contributions to AR6, to develop a Synthesis Report document that is a real integration of the AR6 cycle materials”.

Winkler said he found this encouraging as this means that their role as the CWT is “to pull together the key messages on the climate crisis – and how we respond to it in a post-COVID world and all the socio-economic challenges”.

‘Every year counts’

Winkler has been involved in the IPCC as an author for 15 years, having started in 2005 as a lead author on the Fourth Assessment Report with a chapter on mitigation and sustainable development. In AR6 he has been given the title of coordinating lead author and in this role he will bring perspectives from mitigation.

“Coming from South Africa, I also see it as my responsibility to bring in issues of poverty, inequality and sustainable development,” Winkler added.

Trisos has been involved in the IPCC since January 2019. He is part of WGII and a coordinating lead author of the Africa chapter, which focuses on climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability.

 

“I also see it as my responsibility to bring in issues of poverty, inequality and sustainable development.”

Both researchers are looking forward to working alongside the CWT’s diverse group of scientists, to learn the perspectives of the different WGs and to bring crucial information to the attention of powerful decision-makers. But it won’t be an easy task: it will require assessing an enormous volume of literature and herding other academics, all while delivering on the demands of their day jobs.

On his expectations of the AR6 SYR process, Winkler said that he hopes the CWT will look at lessons from the world’s COVID-19 response and use it to help deal with the challenge of climate change. He added that the report must “provide a synthesis of scientific evidence to take stock of how we collectively act on climate, more urgently than ever”.

Trisos echoed Winkler’s sentiments, adding that there is an urgent need to ensure actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change and prioritise social and environmental justice. Equally, there is an urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the need, said Trisos, has never been greater.

“Every year counts!”


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