Sir John Houghton

Sir John Houghton

Sir John Houghton

14 July 2006

Sir John Houghton is recognised throughout the world for his fundamental contribution to the scientific study of global climate change and for his very considerable work in bringing the issue to the attention of policy-makers and the public.

Sir John was born in Dyserth in North Wales and educated at Rhyl Grammar School. He graduated in Physics from Jesus College Oxford, and proceeded to complete his doctorate there.  He soon returned to Oxford as a lecturer, became a Reader and then a Professor. He established an international reputation in the study of Atmospheric Physics, becoming the Deputy Director of the Rutherford Appleton laboratory before being appointed in 1983 as Director General of the Meteorological Office, and later its Chief Executive.  In 1990 he established the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research.

He now lives in Aberdyfi, and we are very pleased to welcome Lady Sheila to the ceremony today.

The motivation of Sir John's scientific work was to observe global atmospheric changes and to develop an understanding of the mechanisms underlying them.  His theoretical work on atmospheric radiation led eventually to the prospect of deducing the distribution of temperature, pressure and chemical composition within the atmosphere from satellite observations of radiation.  With colleagues, Sir John developed remote sensing radiometers which, on a series of Nimbus satellites in the 1970s, enabled three dimensional global maps to be obtained of temperature, pressure and, eventually, the densities of ozone, Carbon Dioxide and water vapour.

The data collected served as the basis of an understanding of the dynamics and chemistry of the atmosphere taken as a whole.  It was this global perspective that was such an important development.   As a result of this pioneering work, ozone depletion and increases in Carbon Dioxide became manifest and it was possible to assess the consequences.  Global climate change became a scientific discipline and Sir John was at the forefront of establishing international networks for the observation of earth from space and the promotion of climate research. 

At the same time it was essential to bring these issues to the attention of politicians and to engage in the development of policy.  As a result of these efforts the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC) was set up in 1988 and Sir John was invited to chair one of the three working groups, that on Scientific Assessment.  He continued in this role until 2002 and during that time successfully argued that scientists have a responsibility in regard to environmental issues, to analyse them rigorously and to present their conclusions in public for a and, critically, to policy makers.  The IPCC produced a sequence of influential assessment reports.

Sir John has contributed to public policy in many other ways: he chaired the Earth Observation Advisory Committee of the European Space Agency and the Joint Scientific Committee of the World Climate Research Programme; he was a member of the UK Government Panel on Sustainable Development and chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution; he has been Vice President of the World Meteorological Organisation and President of the Royal Meteorological Society.  These are just some of his roles, and they show clearly the high regard in which he is held and the very considerable demands on his time.

In recognition of his achievements Sir John was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1972, honoured with a CBE in 1983 and knighted in 1991. 

He has received a glittering array of honours, receiving honorary degrees from many universities and being invited to give a number of prestigious lectures, including the Bakerian lecture at the Royal Society and the Templeton lecture at Oxford.  He has written a number of books and articles which bring the realities and consequences of climate change to public attention.

This year he was awarded the Japan Prize: this is a particular achievement and illustrates Sir John's international reputation. He received the award from the Emperor and Empress during a very interesting week long celebration in Tokyo in April.

This summary is a remarkable indication of the esteem in which Sir John is held.  But, more importantly, he is a man of humanity and profound commitment.  Climate change – brought on by man – has the most serious long term consequences; it is, or should be, one of the major concerns of our time. Sir John combines his scientific understanding with an enduring Christian faith and a firm belief that it is our responsibility while on earth to exercise responsible stewardship for the creation and to adjust our activities appropriately.  He is determined to make a difference – and despite exasperation at times, he continues to seek to influence politicians to respond rationally to the facts. 

Sir John is ever willing to give of his time.  We value his connection with the university - he already has a connection with the Institute of Mathematical and Physical Sciences - and we look forward to a closer relationship in future.

Barchus Lywydd, pleaser a braint arbennig yw cyflwyno Syr John Houghton yn gymrawd o Brifysgol Cymru Aberystwyth.