Speech by Director of Centre for Climate Research Singapore (CCRS) Dr Chris Gordon at the launch of CCRS
Our Guest-Of-Honour, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources,
HE Antony Phillipson, British High Commissioner,
Chairman of our International Scientific Advisory Panel for CCRS, Prof Lim Hock,
Good morning. It is a pleasure to be here today and to talk to you as the first Director of the Centre for Climate Research Singapore (CCRS).
1. Dir/CCRS’ Background
I have held a number of research senior management positions in the UK and from 2006 until January 2012, I was Head of the Met Office Hadley Centre, the UK’s main government climate research institution. This role involved both the direction of a large climate science programme and extensive interaction with the government agencies responsible for the formation of both mitigation and adaptation policy.
Over a number of years I have also been instrumental in establishing a wide range of national and international strategic partnerships. Of particular relevance to my new role here in Singapore are the collaborations in SE Asia, Australia, South Korea and China. It was in this Head of Science Partnerships role that I first developed a relationship with the Met Service here in Singapore.
2. Evidence Based Policy
It is crucial that adaptation and mitigation policies that are formulated to address the consequences of climate change are underpinned by the latest and most trustworthy science. Of course the science is not perfect because our understanding, and our ability to predict future possible climate scenarios, is undergoing continuous development. To inform policy there has to be a two stage process, in which the best current scientific information that is available today is used to inform current policies whilst, at the same time, research is undertaken to better understand, and to reduce where possible, the uncertainties that inevitably exist is predicting the future.
Of course the observations of our climate must be the foundation on which our understanding of climate change is built. My experience in recent years is that the message regarding observed climate changes in extreme events needs to be conveyed quite carefully. There are many examples where it is reported that climate change is accelerating or, in another instance, that it has gone away. In virtually all of these cases it is the interaction of natural climate variability and man-made climate change, that either temporarily enhances local climate changes or effectively cancels them out. It does make communication of a consistent message to the public difficult because they often hear conflicting reports. It’s important that CCRS develops the in-house expertise so that accurate interpretations can be given in this region of the world.
3. The Challenges
The Centre for Climate Research Singapore will play a leading role nationally and regionally in providing the most up-to-date scenarios of future climate change. It is a high priority to produce scenarios that are authoritative and can be used with confidence by the widest range of stakeholders. It is equally important to understand the limitations of the science that underpins the current generation of climate model predictions.
Communicating uncertainty is not always easy. A few years ago I was speaking to a group of end users and stakeholders at an international meeting. In the early days of climate change it was common for national climate scenarios to be based on only one set of model projections. No scientist would ever claim that these results were anything more than an indication of what might happen – certainly not a statement of what will happen. My talk was around the time when the 4th assessment report of the IPCC was being prepared and it was recognised that to include multiple models, and estimate uncertainty, was important. At the end of my talk, a number of the end-users present were quite agitated. They told me: “a few years ago you scientists told us what would happen because of climate change and now you’re telling us that you don’t know”. This, and many similar experiences, brought home to me how important it is to clearly communicate what the current state-of-the-art science can and most importantly cannot provide.
The scientific understanding of the physical processes governing tropical climate and weather systems will naturally be the primary focus of CCRS. There is a broad acceptance in the scientific community that improving our understanding, and our ability to model these tropical processes, is one of the key challenges that climate science needs to address. Over time, CCRS will become a centre of world excellence with a focus on weather and climate issues that are of primary importance to Singapore and to South East Asia. Climate change is a global issue and requires global and collaborative solutions. The same is also true for the research that needs to be undertaken to better predict future climate changes. A strong feature of CCRS will be research partnerships at the national, regional and wider international level.
Of course it is through day-to-day weather that we experience climate change. Improvements are also required to short range weather forecasts. In common with other countries in the region, the better forecasting of the heavy thunderstorm events that can lead to flash flooding is a high priority. Indeed, this is one of the most challenging issues in weather forecasting anywhere in the world. The spatial scale of thunderstorms is small compared to the resolution employed in most weather forecasting models, and the dynamics of the storms means that local data, particularly from weather radars, must be assimilated into the forecasts in real time within an operational system. Projects are already underway within CCRS to address these issues. Once again collaboration is a key component, and working in close partnership with some of the world’s leading prediction centres is central to this programme of weather forecasting development. There is an added benefit to this research, because the modelling systems developed for the improvement of today’s short term weather forecasting will also be used at a later stage to improve future climate predictions over Singapore.
4. Final Remarks
On a personal note, I am very pleased to be moving here to Singapore with my wife and to lead the development of CCRS. In terms of my own vision, I will work to establish a centre of recognised scientific expertise in niche areas that are of importance to Singapore and the wider region. At the same time, I will ensure that the science that we do will meet the requirements of our national stakeholders and that we work to communicate the implications of the science to our policy colleagues and to the public.
As people are our most important resource, I am committed to building a strong team of local and international experts at CCRS and to inspire more young people in Singapore to join the centre.
Finally, I would like to give credit to the weather and climate research that has already been undertaken within the Met Service Singapore and which provides the foundation on which this new climate centre will be built.
Source: National Environment Agency