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14 October 2013

Mistra-SWECIA’s Programme Director and IPCC writer: ‘Milder winters and warmer summers ahead’

Sea levels are rising and Arctic ice thawing, both faster than according to previous forecasts. But emission reductions decided on to date can slow down further climate change. On 27 September the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presented the first part of its latest report, the fifth in the series.

Mistra-SWECIA’s Programme Director Markku Rummukainen, a co-author of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) on climate change, followed the work of summarising the findings during the week-long conference. IPCC’s conclusions are, moreover, important for Mistra-SWECIA’s analyses of what society needs to do to adapt to climate change.

What are the key conclusions from the IPCC conference?
‘The main ones are that we’ve had three facts confirmed further: the climate is changing, it’s mainly down to humans and action can slow it down. This is now clarified by additional data.

What new findings have emerged?
‘The overall conclusions now confirmed were already known and aren’t new as such. But there’s more information about marine acidification and the fact that the Arctic Sea ice is thawing faster than we previously thought. The quantity of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere compatible with the temperature rise remaining below 2° has also been calculated. Unfortunately, we’ve already used up most of that allowance.’

What are the chances of our meeting the 2° target?
‘Global emissions need to start declining in the next few years. To date, more than half the “allowed” quantity has been used up, and since emissions are still continuing to increase and can’t be stopped quickly, the situation is beginning to get urgent.’

What was the mood of the panel?
‘The research team has been working on the full report for three years. What we had to do now was to transfer the key conclusions from a couple of thousand pages into a document of 30-odd pages. This meant discussions, of course. Some people, for example, wanted to include even more information about the Arctic while others wanted more about the tropics.’

Are there any examples of results going in different directions?
‘Where that happens, it’s reported. The long report contains results obtained by two different methods of making scenarios for rising sea levels, and they provide fairly divergent results. The summary reports data from one method: the one that, it was agreed, was more soundly based.’

What reactions are you hoping for from political circles?
‘Decision-makers will read and analyse what we’ve arrived at, and the report is bound to be used in the various political efforts to do with the climate.’

How will a person born today find the world in 70 years’ time?
‘Here in Sweden, we’ll have milder winters with more precipitation and less snow, earlier springs and warmer summers. Some changes will come successively, others more rapidly. The sector where action is most urgently required is community and spatial planning, which is likely to have to take climate change into account. The sea level will rise, and this is evident mainly in the south of Sweden. In the northern parts of this country the land is still rising, and this is offsetting the rise in water level. Flood risks are changing along watercourses as well.

Are you yourself an optimist or a pessimist when it comes to our global ability to reduce carbon dioxide emissions?
‘I don’t think about it in those terms. We have a climate issue. There are measures that can be taken. A lot remains to be done.’

How can you use this in your work on Mistra-SWECIA?
 ‘What this first part of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report does is to provide a climate scenario framework. As an initial step, Mistra-SWECIA has just issued a popular-scientific article in Swedish showing how forestry, farming and other sectors are affected. In March and April next year, parts two and three of the IPCC report will be issued. These will be about the impact of climate change and adaptation measures, and about alternative action to reduce emissions. The Mistra-SWECIA article, entitled FNs vetenskapliga klimatpanel bekräftar klimatförändringar (‘Climate Change Confirmed by IPCC’), explains how forestry can both benefit from a longer growing season and suffer from storm damage and higher temperatures, for example, and how adaptation measures can eliminate the risks.

Text: Thomas Heldmark, Vetenskapsjournalisterna

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