Joint Research Centre - European Commission

The European Commission's in-house science service
European Commission

Climate change research at JRC


The contribution of the JRC to tackle climate change

The role of the JRC's Institute for Prospective Technological Studies

The role of JRC’s Institute for Environment and Sustainability

The role of JRC’s Institute for Energy

Details on scientific actions in this area

tropical storm

Extreme wheater events are on the rise

The warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global mean sea level.

The Earth's average surface temperature has risen by 0.76°C since 1850. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which represents the most authoritative and up-to-date global scientific consensus on climate change, points to a greater than 90% probability that increases in man-made emissions of greenhouse gases have caused most of the temperature increase seen since the middle of the 20th century.

The IPCC projects that, without further action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the global average surface temperature is likely to rise by a further 1.8-4.0°C this century. Even the lower end of this range would take the temperature increase since pre-industrial times above 2°C, the threshold beyond which irreversible and possibly catastrophic changes become far more likely.

Human activities that contribute to climate change include in particular the burning of fossil fuels, agriculture and land-use changes like deforestation. These cause emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main gas responsible for climate change, as well as of other 'greenhouse' gases (GHG). These gases remain in the atmosphere for many decades and trap heat from the sun in the same way as the glass of a greenhouse. To bring climate change to a halt, global greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced significantly.

The European Union is at the forefront of international efforts to combat climate change and has played a key role in the development of the two major treaties addressing the issue, the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol , agreed in 1997.

The EU is adamant that global warming must be limited to no more than 2°C above the pre-industrial temperature. This will require global emissions to peak within the next 10-15 years and then be cut by at least 50% of 1990 levels by 2050.

Central to this work is the European Climate Change Programme (ECCP), launched in 2000. Under this umbrella, the Commission, Member States and stakeholders have identified a range of cost-effective policies and measures to reduce emissions and reviewed existing measures to see how they could also contribute.

In February 2005 the Commission published the Communication entitled "Winning the Battle Against Climate Change." This outlines key elements for the EU's post-2012 strategy. It highlights the need for broader participation by countries and sectors not already subject to emissions reductions, the development of low-carbon technologies, the continued and expanded use of market mechanisms, and the need to adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change.

Following this, in January 2007 the European Commission set out proposals and options for achieving the temperature limitation objective in its Communication "Limiting Global Climate Change to 2 degrees Celsius: The way ahead for 2020 and beyond".

The latest result of the European Climate Change Programme is the June 2007 Green Paper on adaptation to climate change which has launched a debate on options for EU action on adaptation.

The contribution of the JRC to tackle climate change

The European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) provides scientific support for the development and monitoring of European policies in the area of regional and global climate change in the frame of the Kyoto protocol and beyond. An overview of concrete activities and results obtained during the past two years is given in the publication: “Research at JRC in support of EU Climate Policy making”.

The role of the JRC's Institute for Prospective Technological Studies

The JRC's Institute for Prospective Technological Studies addresses policy challenges that have both a socio-economic and a scientific or technological dimension.

The design of internal climate-protection regulatory measures within the EU requires, on the one hand, support in addressing the potential costs and benefits of particular measures: carbon/energy taxes, emission trading mechanisms, etc. On the other hand, an analysis of the potential conflicts or synergies between these policy instruments

The JRC-IPTS provides the European Commission with projections on carbon emissions and delivers economic analyses on the impact of achieving specific GHG emission reduction targets. JRC-IPTS participates within the EC services at the UN United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The JRC-IPTS contributed to the Communication "Limiting Global Climate Change to 2 degrees Celsius. The way ahead for 2020 and beyond” by providing the complete characterisation of an extrapolated structure of GHG emissions up to the year 2050 at global level for the scenarios presented in the accompanying EC Staff Working paper. The Communication is one of the cornerstones of the European Climate Change Programme because it marks the basic positioning of the EC in the forthcoming UNFCCC negotiation rounds.

Regarding adaptation to climate change, the JRC-IPTS started in 2006 the PESETA project (Projection of Economic impacts of climate change in Sectors of the European Union based on bottom-up Analysis; Its objective is to make a multi-sectoral assessment of the economic impacts of climate change in Europe for the 2011-2040 and 2071-2100 time horizons. PESETA addresses 6 economic sectors and some of its preliminary results have served as input to the Commission's Green Paper on Adaptation to Climate Change.

The role of JRC’s Institute for Environment and Sustainability

In order to address climate change, both mitigation (by reducing greenhouse gas emissions) and adaptation (by reducing exposure and vulnerability to climate change impacts) are needed. In this context the JRC Institute for Environment and Sustainability (IES) explores climate change related questions from a European and global perspective, in support of European Commission services, EU Member States and International Organisations. In the following there are given some examples of this work:

The JRC-IES has developed a methodology to assess global warming induced changes in the hydrological cycle and the consequent socio-economic impacts. The results highlight that the changes in water availability and the occurrence of extreme events across Europe will strongly affect ecosystems and socio-economic sectors such as water management, agriculture, energy production, navigation and tourism.

Regarding bio-fuels, by virtue of the JRC-EUCAR-CONCAWE Well-to-Wheels study, the JRC-IES pays attention to the following issues: availability of biomass from EU and world sources; energy balance; environmental impact, potential in emerging countries and greenhouse gas balance - thus life-cycle analysis methodology is adopted.

global surface ozone map 2030

Effect of allowing climate to change between 2000 and 2030 on surface ozone in the year 2030.© JRC (2007)

The JRC co-authored the implementation plan of the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS), which was approved at COP 10 (Buenos Aires 2004). This plan identifies Essential Climate Variables, which represent high priority geophysical variables that are critical to drive or constrain current and future models of the global climate and the environment.

In the frame of the JRC Africa Observatory for Sustainable Development, our scientists have elaborated capacities for systematically assessing land and vegetation conditions in Africa by measuring several bio-physical parameters. This is based on 20 years of research experience at JRC. The Observatory provides diagnostics and scenarios in the following domains: sustainable management of natural resources, land degradation, deforestation and desertification, crop production and food security, crisis response and humanitarian aid.

The role of JRC’s Institute for Energy

The JRC Institute for Energy has assessed and extrapolated the development of electricity generation technology using fossil fuels (coal and natural gas) with a time frame up to 2030, based on a number of alternative scenarios for the evolution of the world coal and gas prices, the cost of CO2 emission allowances, the penetration of renewable and nuclear power generating technologies, and the technological maturity of carbon capture and storage technologies.

Details on scientific actions in this area:

  • Systematic Observations of Land and Ocean Read more
  • Integrated Climate Policy Assessment: Scenarios and Economic Impacts Read more
  • Greenhouse Gases in Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Uses Read more
  • Integrated Climate Policy Assessment: Emissions and Environmental Impacts Read more
  • Global Air Pollution and Climate Change Read more