Climate change risks estimated higher today than 20 years ago

Climate change risks estimated higher today than 20 years ago

VUB and UCLouvain participated in study published in Nature Reviews Earth and Environment

The risks of climate change are generally considered by the UN climate panel to be higher today than the estimates of 20 years ago. This is stated in a publication in Nature Reviews: Earth and Environment. Scientists from VUB and UCLouvain contributed to the study. The study highlights the urgent need to act and the benefits of continuing to invest in science.

The international study examined, among other things, the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published since 2001. These reports assess the risks of climate change to human and natural systems and present the main results using a colour scale that shows the increase in risks from white to red and purple, known as “burning embers” diagrams.

This is the first time that the levels of risk at given temperatures have been compared in a standardised manner. Researchers from VUB and UCLouvain, among others, show that the risks for a certain level of warming have generally increased with each new assessment, through the inclusion of new and more complete scientific information.

The publication also covers the methodological improvements introduced for the preparation of the recent IPCC reports. Following the example of other disciplines, such as medicine, they now include assessments based on structured, standardised methods to obtain expert assessments. The purpose of this procedure is to reduce potential biases and improve the reproducibility of the estimated levels of risk. “This study highlights not only the urgent need to act, but also the benefits of continued investment in scientific research in order to inform policy in the most correct way possible,” explains the main author of the study, Zinta Zommers, of the UN Agency for Disaster Relief.

The burning embers diagrams in the IPCC reports are crucial in raising awareness among policymakers and the general public about the risks of climate change,” said Professor Wim Thiery, climate scientist at VUB and co-author of the study. “They clearly show that the sooner we stop global warming, the less harmful the consequences will be.

The input of new knowledge generally leads to higher risks. However, it was already clear in 2001 and even more so in 2009 that certain effects are already being felt and become more serious and/or more widespread as the level of global warming increases,” says Philippe Marbaix, researcher at UCLouvain and co-author of the study.


Wim Thiery, climate scientist at VUB - 0485 70 80 18 -

Philippe Marbaix, climate scientist at UCLouvain - 010 47 32 99 -


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