Category: News

Experts warn that urgent action is needed to protect the world’s coral reefs from extinction within three decades.

An international group of environmental scientists has published a series of important recommendations to protect, conserve and study the world’s coral reefs, the “canaries in the coal mine” of climate change.

An international group of environmental scientists has published a series of important recommendations to protect, conserve and study the world’s coral reefs – the “canaries in the coal mine” of climate change.

The Living Oceans Initiative presented its white paper on the future of vulnerable and important habitats at Thursday’s “Our Oceans” conference in Palau.

Drawing on the expertise of universities and wildlife conservation groups from around the world, including the University of Leicester, the group offers six key recommendations aimed at promoting the “sustainability and survival” of coral reefs.

Projections show that coral reef ecosystems around the world–the key to a vast array of marine species and a source of food, livelihood and cultural heritage for half a billion people–could functionally degrade by 2050 if the goals of the Paris Agreement are not met.

Even with drastic reductions in emissions to keep global warming from exceeding pre-industrial levels by 1.5°C, up to 90 percent of the world’s corals could disappear in the next three decades, leaving behind a reef structure that will lose many of its functions. .

Jens Zinke is a professor of paleobiology at the University of Leicester, whose research examines large coral habitats to track environmental and climate changes over the past three centuries to the present. Speaking about the report he co-authored, Professor Zinke said:

“Coral reefs are the ‘canaries in the coal mine’ when it comes to detecting ecosystems under stress from warming oceans due to climate change. Corals can sense when ocean temperatures exceed a dangerous threshold and warn us when we need to take action.

“Our research has shown that coral reefs have been hit hard by ocean warming over the past three to four decades, but in some reef locations the rate of warming is lower or they are benefiting from mitigating circumstances because of local oceanography.

“Some reefs have the ability to resist or recover from heat stress faster than others, and these reefs may serve as refuges for future warming. It’s an important new line of research to find these places and protect them before they disappear.”

In 2018, the Vibrant Oceans group identified 50 reefs that are most likely to withstand and survive climate change. The habitats are mostly in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, with additional reefs in the Caribbean and eastern Africa.

Previously, the 50 reefs were mostly selected in areas that avoided climate change. Now scientists are calling for an expanded reef portfolio to include sustainable and rapidly recovering reefs.

The group’s latest recommendations, presented in a white paper, “Predicting Climate Reserves for the Future of Coral Reefs,” include:

Continuing the “50 Reefs” approach as “climate change mitigation refuges” as a priority for investments in coral reef conservation.
Expansion of the 50 Reefs Climate Conservation portfolio for coral and coral protection.
Increased support for regional 50 Reefs portfolio condition assessments and sustainable finance initiatives to support regional portfolio implementation.
Increased large-scale, data-driven coral reef monitoring efforts to test and develop new climate reserve models and projections.
Using the latest climate coral reef science to guide investments, especially as climate change impacts accelerate and trigger new ecological stresses and responses among reefs.
Using a far-reaching approach to managing 50 reef sites, including linkages to broader seascapes, managing fisheries and water quality, mitigating other stressors (e.g., industrial development) so that effective and equitable management has measurable benefits for coral reefs. and coastal communities.
” Predicting Climate Reserves for the Future of Coral Reefs ” is available in full from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

Funding partners for the initial Vibrant Oceans study are Bloomberg Philanthropies , and partners for ongoing conservation work are Oceans 5, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, and the Tiffany & Co. Foundation.

Conservation partners are WCS, Rare, The Nature Conservancy, Blue Ventures, and the Ecosystem Conservation Partnership Fund.

Glacier melting has slowed in the Arctic

Climatologists have found that Arctic sea ice has shrunk to a mark of 4.81 million square kilometres over the summer of this year. This is significantly less than typical reductions in their size over the past decade.

“The slow melting of the ice is due to the long existence of a low atmospheric pressure zone in the Central Arctic. This has prevented warm air currents from entering the region in June and July. In turn, in August, a high-pressure zone emerged over the European part of the Arctic, causing temperatures in the neighbouring Beaufort Sea to drop two to three degrees below normal,” says Alfred Wegener Institute researcher Monika Ionita-Sztoltz.

Due to global warming, the size of the Arctic ice cap has been gradually shrinking over the past two or three decades. With a combination of certain weather and climatic factors, these processes are accelerating, resulting in new winter and summer records for ice area reduction.

Especially often in the last 10-15 years, such events have been recorded by NASA satellites and other leading space agencies of the world. For example, the area of Arctic glaciation sharply decreased in the summers of 2007, 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2017. On the other hand, these warming episodes are often accompanied by colder seasons, with the result that average Arctic sea ice extent sometimes increases rather than decreases.

Something similar, as Scholz and her colleagues point out, occurred this year as a result of a dramatic slowdown in ice melt during the Arctic summer, which was particularly characteristic of the polar ice cap around the coasts of Russia’s Taimyr, Novaya Zemlya, the Novosibirsk Islands, Greenland, and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

In many of these regions, summer started unexpectedly late and lasted 20-30 days less than usual due to a change in the pattern of movement of Arctic air masses in June-August this year. As a result, the area of ice in September this year shrank to 4.81 million square kilometres, a third more than in 2012, when the ice cap shrank to its minimum size.

That increase, researchers say, does not mean the Arctic ice cap has begun to recover. Its current extent is about half that of typical values for 1980 and 1990, with the increase in size falling within the typical fluctuations in summer ice cap extent typical of the past 40 years.

In addition, scientists have recorded significant reductions in the thickness and extent of multiyear sea ice, which is less vulnerable to the effects of high summer temperatures than its annual counterparts. Climatologists suggest that the unique features of this past Arctic summer will not be repeated during the next season, causing the area of the northern ice cap to continue to shrink rapidly.

Killer Heat: Global Warming Victims Count in the Tens of Thousands

Hundreds of people killed by Canada’s record-breaking heat wave have added to the list of victims of global warming, which claims tens and, by some estimates, hundreds of thousands of lives every year. The heat kills even more people indirectly: drought in poor agrarian countries prevents a good harvest, leading to food shortages, rising prices and generally intensifying the struggle for resources, which often turns into armed confrontation. Scientists warn that extreme weather events caused by climate change could turn much of the land into scorched desert or even make the planet uninhabitable in decades to come.

The heat, the heat.

The first summer month of 2021 set new temperature records, not only in heat-weary Canada, but also in Northern and Eastern Europe (including central Russia), as well as in northeastern Siberia and some Asian countries.

June was the hottest June on record in North America, according to Copernicus, a European program that tracks long-term climate change. In Europe, it ranked “honorably” second.

In Canada alone, extreme weather has caused at least several hundred deaths. More accurately, the number of victims can only be calculated retrospectively, since many heat-related deaths add to the sad statistics belatedly, when the total excess mortality is calculated.

For example, the fact that about 70,000 people in Europe died from the extreme heat in the summer of 2003 became known only five years later. The initial estimates were much more modest: about 30 thousand deaths.

One of the main reasons of unprecedented hot summer of 2021, according to unanimous opinion of experts, was a global warming, i.e. heating of atmosphere as a result of greenhouse effect.

“There is absolutely no doubt that climate change played a key role here,” Frederike Otto, a professor at Oxford University’s Institute of Environmental Change, said at a press conference.

Heat doesn’t kill as visibly as other natural disasters – like hurricanes or tsunamis – but is often just as effective, she said.

“People rarely drop dead in the middle of the street,” she notes. – They die quietly in their homes, from poor insulation and lack of air conditioning.

Tens of thousands of victims

There are a number of studies that directly link heat-related deaths to climate change and estimate the magnitude of the catastrophe. According to recent estimates, had it not been for global warming, there would have been more than half as many victims of extreme heat.

At the end of May, the journal Nature published an article devoted to the influence of high temperatures on the death rate from any causes in different regions of the world. The authors of the large-scale study – 70 climatologists and epidemiologists from 43 countries – concluded that human-caused global warming was responsible for 37 percent of all heat-related deaths. And in some countries, like Colombia and Ecuador, the proportion exceeds three-quarters.

When we consider that more than 160,000 people died from heat waves between 1998 and 2017, according to the WHO, we are talking about tens of thousands of people who could have survived if not for the increasing climate change.

Other studies cite even more impressive figures. For example, the Lancet report states that during roughly the same period of time, extreme heat took about 300,000 lives only in the older age group (over 65). If all temperature cataclysms caused by climate change are taken into account, then, according to some estimates, over 5 million people become their victims every year.

The map drawn up by scientists clearly shows that regions closer to the equator, such as Thailand, Brazil, or Peru, are particularly hard hit by the unbearable heat.

According to Tip Palmer, professor of atmospheric physics at Oxford University, this is not surprising at all. The dreaded June heat wave in Canada and eastern Europe pales in comparison to the hellish heat waves that are increasingly common as summer temperatures rise in tropical and subtropical countries.

“Not only the heat, but also the humidity reaches such levels that the human body is simply not able to sustain life under such conditions,” he warns. – We have to admit that in the developing world the hot periods will not even compare to what we have seen in Canada. Extreme weather will manifest itself there much more intensely and will claim many more lives.”

Research done at Oxford University, Professor Palmer continues, clearly demonstrates that in high atmospheric pressure conditions, even a relatively small natural increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere can lead to a temperature increase of several degrees in just a couple of weeks. And in extremely hot weather, this could well prove critical.

Tired of the Sun

Heat not only kills directly, but also indirectly – and much more effectively, since humans are actively helping it to do so.

In poor agrarian countries, the slow but steady rise in average temperatures increasingly leads to drought, drought to crop failure, and crop failure to famine. Under such conditions, the struggle for resources intensifies, which sooner or later inevitably leads to conflicts.

Research conducted in 2018 provides compelling evidence of a causal link between climate change and the rise of conflicts, as well as mass migration from regions affected by natural disasters caused by rising temperatures. In particular, drought was at least one of the main causes of the Arab Spring, the mass protests that took place in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and other countries in 2010-2012. In many of these countries, popular uprisings resulted in the overthrow of the incumbent authorities.

In particular, the study looks in detail at the situation in Syria, where a prolonged drought and shortage of fresh water led to several consecutive years of very poor harvests in the country. The rural population, impoverished as a result, began to leave in increasing numbers to work in the cities, which were not prepared for such a massive influx of migrants.

Soon unemployment and housing shortages rose as expected. Against the backdrop of continuing inflation (largely caused by the drought and food shortages), dissatisfaction with the policies of the authorities, who were unable to resolve the crisis, began to grow in the country. As a result, mass demonstrations turned into a revolution, which, in turn, escalated into a full-scale civil war that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

According to the latest data (as of December 2020), in less than 10 years of fighting in Syria, almost half a million people have died (almost a third of them civilians), more than 200,000 more are missing.

According to the same study, the mass exodus of refugees from conflict-torn countries in Africa and the Middle East is also at least partly due to long-term climate change.

Planet Sahara

Yet current models of climate change for the coming decades make bleak predictions.

According to one such study, if now the average annual temperature that most people of the world are accustomed to varies from 11 to 15° Celsius, in 50 years almost a third of the world’s population will live in regions where this figure will exceed 29° Celsius.

Today, less than 1% of the land is under such climatic conditions – mostly the hottest spots of the Sahara Desert. However, if scientists’ forecasts are correct, by 2070 this temperature regime will prevail in almost a fifth of the land.

Whether humanity will be able to survive in such conditions in principle is a big question, say the authors of the article “The Future of the human climate niche” – an international team of researchers working in Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, USA, China, Japan and Uruguay.

The fact is that our ancestors for thousands of years lived in a relatively narrow “temperature niche” where the average annual temperature does not exceed 15 degrees, the authors explain. Under such climatic conditions, the physiology of modern man has formed at least the last 6000 thousand years, and it is to them that our bodies are best adapted.

The steady rise in temperature threatens to destroy this temperature niche. And this, according to scientists, will inevitably lead to disaster.

“Global warming will have a significant impact on entire ecosystems,” the paper’s authors warn, “and will also seriously affect human health, life support systems, food security, water supplies, and economic growth in general.

Simply put, in such a climate mankind will not be able to feed itself and provide sufficient water. To say nothing of the fact that heat contributes to the widespread spread of infections, which will become much more difficult to treat.

In general, scientists summarize, if the planet continues to heat up at the same rate as now, in a few decades we risk finding ourselves in conditions that are simply uninhabitable.

“If We’re Lucky.”

Sir Brian Hoskins, professor at University College London and founder of the Institute of Climate Change and the Environment, is seriously concerned that in some regions reality may be far worse than any forecast.

“Climate models describe the future we will find ourselves in if we are lucky. And the estimates they make may be too conservative,” he warns.

Adopted five years ago, the Paris climate agreement tries to keep the increase in average annual global temperatures within 1.5-2° compared to the pre-industrial period. However, experts say that these figures should be interpreted very carefully.

The fact is that the aforementioned 1.5-2° is, as they say, the average hospital temperature. In reality, however, the heating of the planet is extremely uneven, and the land areas heat up much faster than the surface of the ocean.

In England, for example, the average temperature of the calendar summer (from June to August) for the last 100 years has already increased by 2-3°. And several cities in Canada and the northwestern United States recorded temperatures in June that exceeded last years’ records by 5° at once.

If the calculations of British scientists are correct and by 2070 the planet will warm up by “only” 3° on average, then on land our usual average annual temperatures will increase by about 7.5°.

For today a lot of lives are saved by air conditioners, providing inhabitants of hot countries with life-giving coolness. But in the long term we should not hope for this option.

Firstly, air conditioners rather strongly pollute the atmosphere – the same carbon dioxide, the greenhouse effect of which warms up the planet even more. And secondly, their work requires a lot of electricity, and in hot weather, power grids often fail and burn down – and as average temperatures rise, this will happen more and more often.

Meanwhile, the planet is getting hotter and hotter. According to recent studies, the snow and ice cover of the Earth is reduced by almost 90 thousand square kilometers annually, which is twice the area of the whole of Estonia and comparable to the territory of Azerbaijan.

Where the water is still frozen in winter, this is happening every year later – and the ice is melting earlier in the spring. Because of this, from 1979 to 2016, the world has already lost an average of about ten days of “winter:

Not surprisingly, one of the authors of the Climate Change Act 2008 in Britain, Baroness Worthington, does not rule out that the point of no return is about to be passed and it will not be possible to find a way out of the current climate crisis.

“If we used to say that scientists were worried about the situation, they’re not anymore,” she says. – Now they’re scared as hell in earnest.”

MHI Explores Zero Carbon Marine Fuel Conversion

A project led by the McKinney Möller Marine Center for Carbon-Free Transportation

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) has launched a project to assess the viability of converting existing vessels to be carbon-free.

The technical, financial and environmental assessments will be carried out mainly by the two companies of the Group – Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Co. and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Marine Machinery & Equipment Co., Ltd. – as part of a project led by the Mrsk Mc-Kinney Møller for Zero Carbon Shipping Center. , a research institute established to promote the decarbonization of the maritime industry, in which MHI is a founding partner.

The MHI Group, as part of its energy transition growth strategy, is partnering with other strategic partners at the center to create a global zero-carbon vehicle fleet. The company said that by refining a roadmap for converting existing fossil-fueled ships to zero-carbon ships and identifying emerging issues, the project aims to reduce investment risks associated with ships.

The project will conduct technical safety assessments for future solutions, including retrofitting existing container ships, tankers and other existing vessels to ships fueled by ammonia, methanol and other decarbonated fuels. In addition, a financial assessment will be made of fuel conversion costs, technology investments, fuel costs and associated shipping costs, etc .; and the environmental assessment will be based on the estimated cost-effectiveness of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the life of the vessel.

Besides MHI, other strategic partners of the project include: AP Møller – Mærsk A / S, one of the leading international shipping companies in the world; American Bureau of Shipping (ABS); MAN Energy Solutions, a longtime manufacturer of large diesel engines; Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK Line); Seaspan Corp., the world’s leading independent owner and operator of container ships; and Total SA, a group of oil, gas and other energy companies.

The new project, which follows an earlier project to develop guidelines for the safe use of ammonia as a marine fuel, will pave different paths towards decarbonising the maritime shipping industry, the company said.

Shipping currently accounts for about 3% of the world’s carbon emissions, and as other industries take steps to decarbonize, this percentage is likely to increase over the next few decades. Going forward, the MHI Group will apply the accumulated technology and expertise in the field of ships and marine engines and, working with its project partners to address the identified problems, will focus on achieving decarbonization of maritime logistics to help reduce environmental impact on a global scale.

Flatulence in cows has a detrimental effect on climate change

Flatulence in cows has a detrimental effect on climate change

Livestock produces significant greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for up to 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Due to the respiration of animals, carbon dioxide is produced, and the intense flatulence accompanying digestion leads to a significant release of methane, which is much more dangerous than CO2. Methane emissions can vary depending on the breed of the cow and environmental conditions. On average, one cow produces 250 to 500 liters of methane daily.

It was suggested to solve the problem of climate change by combating flatulence in cows. Mootral, from Switzerland and the UK, offered their solution to the problem of climate change. The startup has developed a special food for cows with garlic and citrus fruits, which is designed to fight flatulence. As a consequence, this will lead to a decrease in emissions of methane, which is harmful to the atmosphere.
Mootral hopes this will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent. The company has launched a compensation program: a certified farmer using feed can sell greenhouse gas quotas to customers who want to offset their emissions.

The program was named CowCredits, and so far only 300 have been sold. The buyers were mainly American manufacturers of food additives and coffee shop chains. Mootral is currently testing its products on farms in the US and Europe and wants to create organic beef.

Climate Change and Shipping

While frequent debates occur over the causes of climate change, the reality of a changing climate over the past 50-70 years cannot be disputed. Across the globe, data shows increasing average temperatures. Average global surface temperature has increased 1.14 degrees Celsius since the late 19th century, with increased frequency of extreme temperatures.

From a meteorological and oceanographic perspective, there have been other “signs” of changing weather patterns and warming oceans: 

1) Increasing frequency of “bomb cyclones” across many parts of the world, including off the U.S. East Coast (image at top) and across the Aleutians and Gulf of Alaska. A recent storm off the Aleutians in late December set a record low pressure for this region, with a minimum pressure equivalent to a Category 4 Hurricane.

2) Record-breaking Atlantic Hurricane season in 2020, with 30 named systems setting a new seasonal record, and with multiple hurricanes impacting the U.S. Gulf Coast. Ocean Heat Content continues to rise comparing overall average from the past 50 years.

3) A Mediterranean “tropical cyclone” impacted the Ionian Sea and Greece in September 2020, reaching minimal hurricane strength and causing widespread damage.

4) Sea levels are rising across the globe due to melting of glaciers and ice sheets. Global sea level has risen about 20 cm (8 inches) in the last century. The rate of increase has “doubled” in the last two decades.

5) Sea ice is decreasing in most parts of world in view of warming global temperatures.  Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets have decreased in mass consistently since 1993.

6) Warming oceans are impacting marine wildlife including coral reefs. Ocean acidification (acidity in the surface ocean waters) continues to increase with harmful effects to the marine wildlife.   

Impact on shipping 

While the above issues are certainly of interest (and concern) for most people, they have a particular impact on the shipping industry. 

Stronger and more frequent storms (both tropical and winter-time) are resulting in significant impacts to typical maritime trade routes. Vessels are often required to adjust planned routes to minimize or avoid heavy weather impacts, potentially resulting in delays and additional bunker consumption. Vessels which are not using a weather routing company may experience significant delays, or in worst-case scenarios, loss of cargo or damage to the vessel. Added delays or potential for “damage” equals added cost to the maritime sector.

Ports are also impacted by the increasing frequency of storms, with potential for damage to infrastructure in the strongest storms. At a minimum, these systems will more frequently disrupt loading/discharging operations, resulting in delays for owners, charterers, and customers. In the longer-term, ports will also be impacted by rising sea levels that may eventually require significant infrastructure changes at these ports, with potentially devastating effects for the coastal communities.

More frequent “flood” tides will have a significant impact to loading/discharging cargo due to flooding and higher tide levels. In some cases, port Infrastructure will need to be modified for higher water levels.

On the other hand, decreasing sea ice is opening up opportunities for trade routes in certain regions and at certain times of year that were impossible a few decades ago. The “Northern Sea Route” is becoming a more frequent possibility, significantly shortening the time and bunkers required to transit from the Canadian Maritimes and/or northern Europe to the Far East. In January, two icebreaking LNG carriers met in the East Siberian Sea without the assistance of an icebreaking escort!

As weather patterns change, temperatures rise, and ice melts, this also will have an impact on ocean currents. Most surface ocean currents are driven by the local winds. With stronger and more frequent storms, this will result in stronger but potentially more variable surface ocean currents. Other deep-water currents are driven by density differences. As more ice melts, more fresh water is deposited into the ocean, resulting in density changes that will impact the global current patterns. These ocean current changes can in turn lead to further changes in weather patterns.

While not usually a foremost thought for mariners, climate-driven changes to marine life may eventually impact routing options, as some areas may be “off limits” as local authorities attempt to maintain a fragile ecosystem.

Meteorological guidance

Another aspect to consider is the reliability of computer programs to accurately predict conditions during these changing times. The various models and programs were developed based on climatological “normals”. Most onboard vessel routing programs only use one computer weather model, and it is known that each model has “biases” in certain parts of the world. 

As weather patterns change significantly, it is expected that these biases in models will become more pronounced, and it is still unknown how well they will accurately handle rapidly changing conditions. An experienced meteorologist will become even more necessary to interpret the various models, and to provide real-time insights that models cannot provide.

With the expectation of increasing meteorological and oceanographic phenomena impacting the shipping industry, it is more important than ever to have a weather routing company with experienced marine meteorologists monitoring your fleet. Weather Routing Inc. (WRI) has been assisting our clients for 60 years to achieve safe and cost-effective transits. Our optimum routing services ensure that your vessels are on the safest and most efficient transit possible, while port forecasts keep you advised of upcoming conditions at any port location around the world.

Daily tropical summaries are provided to keep you informed of any tropical activity that may impact your operations. Finally, our Dolphin Website and Dolphin OnBoard system allow you to view the latest weather information and forecasts for your transits.

Climate change is driving climate change

Global warming is homemade. For sustainable development, people must reduce their emissions of climate-damaging gases by three quarters by 2050. If that doesn’t work, climate change could accelerate dramatically.

Consequences of the industrial revolution

For many million years, the Earth’s climate has been linked to a fairly well-regulated carbon budget. As if God’s Minister of the Environment had invested his carbon dioxide budget over time, sometimes in a solid, sometimes in a gaseous state, and moved it from the biosphere to the atmosphere and back again.

The industrial revolution, which was only possible through the mass combustion of oil, coal and gas, has interfered in this distribution and billions of tons of carbon, which until then had been stored as coal, oil and gas underground and in the oceans, were in gaseous form CO2 is transformed and blown into the atmosphere. But while the Lord’s Minister took millions of years to complete his transactions, the industrial revolutionaries only needed a few decades to shift the weights.

Natural carbon landfills

Forces in the global carbon cycle counteract this shift and capture some of the carbon dioxide released by humans: the biosphere and the oceans absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and store it again in the soil or convert it into solid compounds and deposit it the seabed. These carbon reservoirs have already absorbed half of the carbon dioxide released by humans. The soil and the oceans are therefore called natural carbon landfills.

Rising water temperatures

But the landfills are getting full, especially the seas. The pH value of the oceans has already dropped by 0.1 point due to the carbon dioxide absorbed since 1750 – the oceans have become more acidic. At the same time, the absorption capacity of the sea decreases with rising water temperatures – as forecast in the course of the greenhouse effect. The higher the global average temperature rises, the less carbon dioxide the oceans absorb; the faster the temperature rises. A vicious circle.

The balancing effect of the biosphere is also reduced by deforestation of the tropical forests and the use of the soil for agriculture and settlements. The spread of deserts, which is accelerating with global warming, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, is exacerbating the problem.

It is estimated that the biosphere can now absorb between three and four billion tons of carbon dioxide annually. This is also the upper limit of what people can still emit if they want to maintain today’s global climate. However, this amount will decrease if the temperature rise disrupts the carbon cycle and environmental degradation further reduces the biosphere’s ability to absorb CO2.

Solution: drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions
The natural carbon landfills will not remove the climate problem. Humans must reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the source. And in order not to overload the biosphere’s capacity, greenhouse gas emissions will have to be cut by three quarters worldwide within the next fifty years.

How is this task distributed? Does every country have to reduce its emissions to a quarter? Should we set a maximum amount of CO2 per capita and year – for example to 0.5 tons of carbon or 1.8 tons of carbon dioxide? These questions must be answered in the negotiations for a new climate agreement.

Climate contribution of the countries

Even if the people in the industrialized countries meet their target, the emerging countries of Asia and South America will also have to make their climate contribution. In the Kyoto process, they have not imposed any obligations for the period up to 2012. The value of the commitments made at the Bali climate conference in December 2007 will be shown in the negotiations on the follow-up Kyoto agreement. The fact that the governments in Indonesia could not agree on fixed guidelines shows that people are not yet aware of their responsibilities.

Phenology and climate change

The role of phenology in climate research
Global warming has been discussed for decades. It is now undisputed that it exists, also because it can be backed up with phenological data.

“The earth is getting greener,” read the headline of a 2001 NASA study. From space it is clearly visible that plant growth above the 40th northern latitude – the line between Madrid and Beijing – has increased significantly since 1981. Although the forests have been damaged by acid rain and other human interference, there are more plants today than in previous decades.

The explanation: Due to global warming, the vegetation period has become longer. Spring comes earlier, winter comes later. So plants have more time to reproduce and spread before hibernation begins. Because the temperature curve has such a strong influence on the development of plants, changes in plant growth are important indicators of climate change.

Plants and climate change

Phenological studies have found that the growth phase of plants in Europe has increased by more than ten days since the 1960s. In Germany, the so-called vegetation period is now around two weeks longer.

The heyday of many plants has shifted significantly in recent decades. In many places, the hazel blossom begins up to four weeks earlier. Alder trees, ash trees and elms also bloom earlier than in earlier times and many deciduous trees keep their green leaves until November.

These changes also have an impact on people. Farmers have to adjust their sowing and harvesting times to the changed conditions and allergy sufferers have to prepare themselves: an extension of the vegetation phase by earlier flowering also means an extension of the pollen count.

In addition, completely new species are attracted to our warmer climate. The ragweed, also called ambrosia, has migrated to Europe from the USA in recent years and has also settled in Germany in isolated cases. If the immigrant continues to spread, its late flowering in August would further prolong the suffering of the hypersensitive: Ambrosia is considered to be extremely allergenic.

Animals and climate change

When the plants move around, the animals also follow: some species of amphibians, for example the tree frog, spawn earlier than in previous decades.

However, the changes in the life of animals are particularly evident in the birds. Because the climate is becoming friendlier and the plants no longer rest, it is no longer worth the long journey south for some migratory birds that have left Europe in winter.

Migratory birds are now returning from their wintering areas much earlier than a few years ago. Some bird species stay here completely.

Starlings move south less and less – they hibernate with us. This gives them advantages over migratory birds in the spring, as those who stayed at home can secure the best breeding sites at an early stage. The number of breeding pairs of smaller migratory birds such as garden redstart, black swallow and wryneck has therefore dropped sharply.

Consequences of climate change

Climate change affects all regions of the world. The ice of the polar ice caps is melting and the sea level is rising. Extreme weather events and increasing rainfall are more common in some regions, while extreme heat waves and droughts are increasing in other regions.

These effects are expected to worsen in the coming decades.

Melting ice and rising sea levels

Water expands when heated. At the same time, the polar ice caps and glaciers are melting as a result of global warming.

These changes lead to an increase in sea level, which leads to flooding and erosion in coastal and lowland regions.

Extreme weather events, shift in precipitation patterns

Heavy rains and other extreme weather events are becoming more common. This can lead to flooding and deterioration of water quality, but can also affect the availability of water resources in some regions.

Consequences for Europe

  • In southern and central Europe, heat waves, forest fires and droughts are more common.
  • Drought is spreading in the Mediterranean, making the region even more vulnerable to droughts and forest fires.
  • In Northern Europe, on the other hand, the climate is significantly wetter and winter floods could become the norm.
  • The urban areas, where four out of five Europeans now live, suffer from heat waves, floods or an increase in sea level, but are often unable to adapt to climate change.

Climate change: Global warming poses local health risks

Hay fever in the Advent season, significant increase in TBE cases: The mild temperatures leave their mark. Even the spread of tropical diseases is feared.

The message is clear. In its world climate report, the United Nations Climate Council (UN) warned more clearly than ever before of the consequences of the greenhouse effect. By 2100, according to the most likely scenario today, the global average temperature will rise by 1.8 to four degrees – but only if the carbon dioxide emissions do not rise further than expected. Otherwise the thermometer could show an average of six degrees more. In a few decades, the Arctic Ocean is expected to be ice-free in summer. Droughts and hurricanes and a dramatic rise in sea level – the UN forecasts correspond to a horror scenario. While the “anthropogenic greenhouse effect” was assessed much more cautiously in the first climate report in 1990, the experts now have no doubt: it is man who is to blame for climate change.

Global warming has several consequences for Germany. Summers become drier, winters milder and more rainy. Rising sea levels can pose a threat to islands and coastal cities. An increase in storms and floods is also forecast. “However, this is still partly the subject of research,” says Dr. Annette Kirk from the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg.

Extreme weather situations are linked to health risks. High temperatures, for example, put a strain on the cardiovascular system and, not least, can be dangerous for older people and children if they do not drink enough fluids. In the “hot summer” of 2003, several thousand people fell victim to the high temperatures, especially in southern Europe. An increase in such hot periods is also expected for Germany as part of global warming. “If preparation is poor, it can become a risk,” says Dr. rer. nat. Klaus Bucher, medical meteorologist at the German Weather Service (DWD). Therefore, the DWD has launched a “heat warning service”. Comparable to storm warnings, reports on radio and television should be made public. The warnings are not only aimed at the public, but also at the responsible institutions in the federal states. Hospitals and nursing homes in particular should take measures in good time in the future.

Higher temperatures are not life-threatening for allergy sufferers, but can become a nuisance. Last year the mild autumn weather messed up the flora. Already in mid-December, the DWD warned of hazel and alder pollen in its pollen forecast. It is therefore quite conceivable that the suffering of allergy sufferers will be extended to a year if mild winters become the norm. In addition, Bucher predicts, neophytes, plants that have recently settled in Germany, must be expected to spread further. He thinks primarily of the ragweed plant. The mugwort leaved ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) originally comes from North America and has now spread massively in many European countries, including Switzerland, Italy, France and Hungary. It is also on the rise in Germany. Ambrosia pollen and skin contact with the plant can trigger violent allergies. A Swiss brochure states: “Only tear out flowering ambrosia with a fine dust mask and gloves.”

Mild temperatures not only have an impact on plants, but also on the animal world. The increase in disease carriers is relevant for health care. These include ticks. You have clearly benefited from the mild winters of recent years. As a result, the frequency of early summer meningo-encephalitis (TBE) increased significantly. According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the number of TBE cases reported in Germany rose to 541 last year (2004: 274). The RKI also shows an upward trend in Lyme disease.