'Future world' scenarios to paint a clearer climate change picture

An EU-funded project's 'future world' scenarios are informing the development of innovative tools and measures to help vulnerable communities plan for, and adapt to, the effects of global warming - such as increased flooding, wild fires and extreme weather.

Countries
Countries
  Algeria
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Bangladesh
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cambodia
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Cape Verde
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Costa Rica
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czechia
  Denmark
  Ecuador
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Ethiopia
  Faroe Islands
  Finland
  France
  French Polynesia
  Georgia

Countries
Countries
  Algeria
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Bangladesh
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cambodia
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Cape Verde
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Costa Rica
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czechia
  Denmark
  Ecuador
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Ethiopia
  Faroe Islands
  Finland
  France
  French Polynesia
  Georgia


 

Published: 11 December 2017  
Related theme(s) and subtheme(s)
EnvironmentClimate & global change  |  Health & environment
International cooperation
Research policySeventh Framework Programme
Countries involved in the project described in the article
Bangladesh  |  Belgium  |  France  |  Germany  |  Greece  |  India  |  Italy  |  Kenya  |  Netherlands  |  Senegal  |  Sweden  |  United Kingdom
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'Future world' scenarios to paint a clearer climate change picture

Picture of iceberg

© trahko - fotolia.com

Although the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement committed countries to limiting global warming “well below” 2°C, cuts in emissions pledged to date do not go far enough to achieve this goal, according to the EU-funded HELIX project. Even the tiniest deficit can make a big difference, especially to vulnerable populations such as small island states.

HELIX was created to help scientists and policymakers better understand the consequences of temperature rises in various ‘future world’ scenarios, covering different regions and global climate conditions.

The project’s scenarios take the 2°C figure as the baseline temperature rise for examining the impact of global climate change, paying special attention to scenarios for Europe, Africa, and South Asia.

The researchers analysed not only physical consequences like droughts, flood risk and reduced biodiversity, but also how rising temperatures could impact human health and well-being, economies and societal issues such as as migration and security.

“We know climate change poses serious risks,” says project coordinator Richard Betts, a professor at Exeter University in the UK. “While the Paris Agreement shows that most nations are committed to tackling it, there are still many challenges in doing so. As well as finding effective and affordable ways to minimise human impact on climate, the world will also need to adapt to changes that are already locked in. Our findings on flood damage, sea-level rises and their impacts provide a basis for assessing risks we wish to avoid, and adapting to those we cannot avoid.”

HELIX’s scenarios also looked at potential opportunities that climate change could open up for water and food security, which informs policymaking in areas such as international development and long-term infrastructure planning.

“Our research on the range of potential impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity may contribute to policy and long-term planning on conservation as well,” adds Betts.

Earth, wind and fire

A summer of record-breaking storms and damage means better planning is now essential to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, help vulnerable states adapt to new realities, and guide authorities as they prepare for violent weather extremes, from floods and fires to hurricanes.

But this level of planning relies on accurate information and/or the best predictions of what can happen and what is needed to deal with that. While a vast array of projections, scenarios and estimates of future climate change and its impacts already existed, much of it was conflicting, unclear and unhelpful as a basis for decision-making.

Research like HELIX drives forward innovative technologies and actions for adapting to new and future scenarios. Vulnerability can be reduced by building strong, fair and resilient societies, and developing nature-based solutions. Well-designed climate adaptation actions can also have wider benefits for human health, the economy and biodiversity. These sorts of issues were recently explored at ECCA 2017, ‘Our climate-ready future’, an event co-hosted by HELIX together with EU-funded projects RISES-AM and IMPRESSIONS.

Post-Paris action

So, what will a warmer world look like? What impacts can be avoided, and what can we do to adapt to the unavoidable consequences?

A 4°C rise in temperature could mean the flood risk could increase by 500 % in countries representing 70 % of the world’s GDP and population. With a 2°C temperature increase, the affected population and related flood damage could rise by 170 % compared to present levels.

Even under an optimistic scenario of a 1.5°C temperature increase, the flood-affected population could still double, with damage increasing by 12 %.

“Trying to predict the future is always challenging, but with advances in science, and innovative approaches, we are able to look at a range of plausible climate change scenarios consistent with global warming at between 2°C and 4°C, and even up to 6°C,” says Betts.

The HELIX team made this prediction by studying high-resolution climate projections and simulations, along with the frequency and magnitude of river floods and their expected impacts under these future scenarios.

The result is essentially a global assessment of the economic costs and the populations affected by river flooding under different global warming scenarios. This could feed into future debates at the global level on strategies to address climate change, such as the IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, to be released in 2018.

“By communicating our research, we are keen to boost public understanding of science relating to climate change and help decision-makers formulate well-informed climate policy on the pressing issues,” concludes Betts.

Project details

  • Project acronym: HELIX
  • Participants: UK (Coordinator), Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, France, Sweden, Germany, Greece, Kenya, Bangladesh, India, Senegal
  • Project N°: 603864
  • Total costs: € 11 864 255
  • EU contribution: € 8 999 998
  • Duration: November 2013 to October 2017

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