Climate Change, Science

Climate Change Corner: UEA’s climate research unit turns 50!  

UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences founded the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) in 1972. It marked a milestone in the development of climatology and put UEA on the map as a renowned climate research centre. Fifty years later, it is celebrating continuing success in groundbreaking climate research.  

A garden party was hosted on 28 June to mark the anniversary of the first research centre in the UK created specifically to examine the changing global climate and its impact on humanity. Several key influential figures attended, including Professor Fiona Lettice, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, and Sir Norman Lamb, a former MP for North Norfolk, and son of Professor Hubert Lamb, the CRU’s founder.  

Earlier in the academic year, students may have watched The Trick – a BBC thriller based on former CRU director Phil Jones’ encounter with cyber-terrorism and his battle to prove the legitimacy of climate research. His legacy is still present in the CRU’s maintenance of groundbreaking “pure and applied” research, blended with the “educational role” it plays at the University. 

The CRU “is regarded as an authoritative source of information on both the science and policy aspects of climate change by the media and maintains a high public profile.” Fifty years from its founding, the staff are celebrating “an enviable publication record” whilst the CRU “undertakes collaborative research with institutes throughout the world on a diverse range of topics.”  

Professor Tim Osborn, the current Research Director of the CRU, described his anticipation for the celebration: “In 2022 we celebrate UEA’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) turning 50! I am looking forward to a diverse range of exciting celebratory events to mark this important year for CRU, which is widely recognised as one of the world’s leading institutions concerned with the study of climate change.”  

2018 saw the hottest summer on record for the UK, according to the Met Office, but what else is in store for us if we fail to act? Vital institutions such as the CRU do not intend to allow us to find out the hard way, but rather to open the doorway between science and politics to enact real change and enable us to reach our climate targets and commitments (such as the government’s aim to capture and store over 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by 2030).  

After half a century, it is natural to look to the future of the CRU and of wider climate research endeavours. The CRU’s aims are to improve the scientific understanding of why the climate changes, and how, as well as the implications of this, in addition to how they can “quantify, reduce and communicate the uncertainty in the climate information that is developed for society”. Time is running out and it will take a mammoth group effort to tangibly impact the public’s perception and experience of climate change, but the CRU hope to use their expertise and experience to achieve these aims.  

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Libby Hargreaves

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August 2022
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