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Professor Richard Betts

Professor Richard Betts

Chair in Climate Impacts


 Laver Building 8th Floor


Laver Building, University of Exeter, North Park Road, Exeter, EX4 4QE, UK


Richard is Chair in Climate Impacts at the University of Exeter and Head of Climate Impacts in the Met Office Hadley Centre. His undergraduate studies were in Physics at the University of Bristol, followed by an MSc in Meteorology and Climatology at the University of Birmingham. For his PhD, he used climate models to assess the role of the world’s ecosystems in global climate and climate change. He has worked in climate modelling since 1992, with a particular interest in the impacts of climate change on ecosystems and the interactions with other impacts of climate change such as on water resources. He is also interested in the wide-ranging effects of land use and land cover change on climate. He has pioneered a number of key developments in the extension of climate models to include biological processes.

Richard is project director for the writing of the technical chapters of the Evidence Report for the UK's 3rd national Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA3). He led the EU Framework 7 Project HELIX (High-End cLimate Impacts and eXtremes), which assessed the impacts of climate change at 1.5, 2, 4°C global warming above pre-industrial state.

Richard was a lead author on the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Working Group 1 (The Physical Science Basis), leading the assessment of the influences of land cover change on climate and contributing to the assessment of climate change impacts on fresh water. He played a similar role in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. He was a lead author on the IPCC 5th Assessment Report in Working Group 2 (Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability), responsible for assessing the impacts of climate change on terrestrial ecosystems, and in the IPCC 6th Assessment he is a lead author on the Working Group 2 chapter on Water.

Broad research specialisms:

  • Large-scale modelling of ecosystem-hydrology-climate interactions
  • Land use change and deforestation
  • Integrated impacts modelling


BSc (Physics), University of Bristol, 1991.
MSc (Meteorology and Applied Climatology), University of Birmingham, 1992.
PhD (Meteorology), University of Reading, 1998.

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Research interests

  • Climate change impacts on water resources and the role of vegetation in modifying this impact.
  • Climate change impacts on large-scale ecosystems and interactions with deforestation (with a particular interest in Amazonia).
  • Effects of land use/land cover change on climate.

Research projects

HELIX (High-End cLimate Impacts and eXtremes)

Richard led the HELIX project, which is an international collaboration consisting of 16 partners. HELIX was an EU FP7 project running for 4 years from the 1st November 2013 to 31st October 2017.

With the target of limiting global warming to 2ºC increasingly difficult to achieve, policymakers, businesses and other decision-makers need to plan to adapt to changes in climate under higher levels of global warming. This requires coherent information on the future climate conditions, and the consequences of different adaptation actions.

International negotiations on limiting global warming also require clear information on the consequences of different levels of climate change. While a vast array of projections, scenarios and estimates of future climate change and its impacts already exists, much is conflicting, unclear, of unknown levels of certainty and difficult to use to inform decisions.

HELIX addressed this by providing a clear, coherent, internally-consistent view of a manageable number of “future worlds” under higher levels of global warming reached under a range of circumstances, supported by advice on which aspects are more certain and which less certain. This was delivered through ground breaking scientific research across a range of physical, natural and social science disciplines, in close engagement with experienced users of climate change information in order to ensure appropriate focus, clarity and utility.
Since international climate policy often frames climate change in terms of levels of global warming relative to pre-industrial state, our research focussed on addressing the questions:

  • “What does a 4ºC world look like compared to 2ºC?”
  • “What are the consequences of different adaptation choices?”
  • Following the Paris Agreement in 2015, the scope of HELIX was extended to include investigation of impacts at 1.5ºC

The core set of products were global scenarios of the natural and human world at these levels of warming achieved at different rates and with different pathways of adaptation by society.

A second set of products provided more detailed information in three focus regions; Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa in the Northern Hemisphere and the South Asia. This was all supported by a comprehensive analysis of confidence and uncertainty.

The work of HELIX was extensively cited in the IPCC's Special Report on Global Warming at 1.5ºC

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External Engagement and Impact

Committee/panel activities

Lead Author, IPCC 5th Assessment Report (Working Group 2).

Lead Author, IPCC 4th Assessment Report (Working Group 1).

Lead Author, Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

Scientific Advisory Committee Member, European Research Course on Atmospheres.

Editorial responsibilities

Reviewer, Stern Review on Economics of Climate Change.

Editor, International Journal of Global Warming.

Editor, Journal of Environmental Investing.

Editor, Earth System Dynamics.

Editor, Global Environmental Change

Guest Editor, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

Member of Editorial Advisory Board, WIRES Climate Change

Media Coverage

Frequently interviewed by the media on climate change.

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Supervision / Group

Postgraduate researchers

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