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Energy, the Environment and
Sustainable Development

Global change, climate and biodiversity



An Illustrative project

Monitoring and understanding the mechanisms that destroy the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere has been the objective of four vast measurement exercises that the EU has carried out since 1991. In the middle of the Arctic winter, hundreds of scientists have been busy collecting and analysing chemical measurements taken with thousands of sensor balloons. Measurements have also been undertaken in situ, more than 20000 metres above the mountains of Scandinavia and the North Pole, using the laboratory aircraft, Geophysika. These European measuring campaigns have confirmed the extent of the recurrent thinning of the ozone layer. They have also provided a new understanding of the complex mechanisms of stratospheric chemistry - a science that is vital if we are to remedy this global change that poses a threat to the entire biosphere.


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Implications for society

Soil fertility has fallen in 110 countries. Global warming due to the effect of greenhouse gases could well raise sea levels by between 15 and 95 centimetres between now and 2100. Between 1980 and 1990, 150 million hectares of forest disappeared from the earth's surface. Every day of the year, 25000 human beings die from water-borne diseases. Contamination from pollution has reached the glaciers, and the hole in the ozone layer reappears every spring above the two poles. Anthropogenic global changes make it essential for us to alter our production methods, and patterns of consumption. Science and technology have an essential role to play in this process.

Implications for the economy

The new constraints needed in order to protect the global environment are a key factor in the development of the global economy. The conferences at Kyoto and Buenos Aires, aimed at ending global warming, could profoundly impact energy and transport policy over the coming decades.

Implications for Europe

In the face of global change, environmental policy is being increasingly determined and coordinated at a European level. This is clearly demonstrated by the EU's determination to place strict limits on the emission of greenhouse gases in industrialised countries.

In order to implement this policy, the EU is supporting numerous multidisciplinary projects involving the main centres of European environmental research, including some of the top specialists in the world. In this integrated approach, scientists, political decision-makers, industrialists and citizens - all of whom share a common responsibility for the survival of the planet - work together, and the interactions between global change and its socio-economic causes and effects are systematically taken into account.

Targeted fields of research
  • Evaluating and understanding processes of global change - Climate change, soil impoverishment, disruptions in ocean flow, atmospheric modification, reduction of biodiversity, etc.
  • Improving knowledge of ecosystems - Interactions between terrestrial surfaces, water systems, the atmosphere, the sea, etc.
  • Scenarios and strategies - Formulation and evaluation of options, how to disassociate economic growth and environmental deterioration, etc.
  • European contribution to the development of world observation systems - Measurement and processing of data on global change, etc.

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