The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the 'Climate Change 2013: the Physical Science Basis – Summary for Policymakers' at a press conference in Stockholm on 27 September 2013. This is a 20-page summary of an over 2,000-page document prepared by the Working Group I (WGI) of the IPCC, which describes the latest knowledge about the state and causes of global climate change, based on physical science evidence. WGI is made up of 258 experts from around the world, including IES scientist Frank Dentener. The full text of the report will be published online in January 2013. It confirms that climate change is a reality and that the planet has been warming increasingly rapidly since the mid-20th century, and finds that it is “extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century”.
The findings of the report
The report makes for sobering reading. It concludes that the evidence for global warming is “unequivocal”, with each of the past three decades being successively warmer than any preceding decade since preindustrial times. The atmosphere and oceans have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) have increased to levels unprecedented on Earth in 800,000 years.
The report predicts that further global warming will occur if GHGs emissions continue. It also predicts that the global water cycle will change, wet and dry regions and seasons will become more extreme, oceans will keep getting warmer, and their circulation will be affected, Arctic sea ice and global glaciers are very likely to further decrease, the rate of the rise in sea level will accelerate, and natural carbon dioxide (CO2) production will increase under the new climate system, exacerbating the increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Further uptake of carbon by the ocean will increase ocean acidification.
The report states that “substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions” will be needed to limit climate change. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the primary GHG emitted through human activities, and persists in the atmosphere for many millennia. While most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped, the future of the planet depends on their immediate and drastic reduction.
Addressing the IPCC on the release of the Summary, UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon stated that “the heat is on. We must act.”
How EU policy helps tackle the drivers and impacts of climate change
EU initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions include a range of programmes and directives such as the National emission ceilings directive, the European Climate Change Programme, the EU Emissions Trading System, the National Emission Ceiling Directive, the “Clean Air For Europe” Directive, Thematic Strategy of Air Pollution, etc. The EU was also instrumental in the development of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol, which aims to reduce global GHGs. As the world's leading donor of development aid, the EU also provides substantial funding to help developing countries tackle climate change.
The IES engagement
The IES supports such policies by assessing trends in air pollution and GHG emissions, and by assessing the impact of reduction measures on climate, health and ecosystems. It monitors air quality and GHG fluxes and maintains the Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR), a global dataset of past and present GHG emissions and air pollutants. EDGAR was used to support model analyses of past and future climate change drivers in the preparation of the IPCC WG1 report, and provides reference data for the forthcoming WG3 report on mitigation. The IES also contributes to the harmonisation of methodologies for quantifying land-use change and afforestation.
The impacts of climate change can be seen in weather extremes around the world, such as heat waves, droughts and floods, affecting food security and habitats.
The IES helps simulate and predict the consequences of changes in the climate system across borders to help policymakers develop mitigation and adaptation strategies to prepare for likely long-term climate change impacts. It provides information to support policies on the management of weather- and climate-driven hazard risks under current and future climate conditions for different physical and socio-economic conditions and climates, e.g. in support of the assessment and management of flood and drought risks, the establishment and management of the European Union Solidarity Fund, and the allocation of foreign aid.
The IES developed the European Flood Awareness System (EFAS), which provides flood alerts with a lead time of up to 10 days. Through its European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS), the IES monitors forest fires and issues fire danger forecasts in Europe. The IES also uses satellite data to monitor changes in land and sea patterns due to and impacting climate change, including deforestation, drought, pollution and land use, which can help inform policy makers about ongoing changes in the climate system, and how best to direct their efforts.
- Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – press conference
- JRC support to new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report
- Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR)
- European Flood Awareness System (EFAS)
- European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS)