Climate change is here and now, and we urgently need to develop pathways that can adapt to the worst impacts and protect vulnerable groups, while also cutting emissions. In this blog, Diogo de Gusmão-Sørensen invites you to ECCA session 8.1 which will present the latest research on high-end climate change and how to deal with it.

Photo: glacier melting; Pixaby.

Dangerous climate change and the perils of procrastination

Blog by Diogo de Gusmão-Sørensen, Head of Climate Services, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, European Commission

We have for too long made use of a discourse that refers to climate change as a future threat. Look at the Arctic (arguably today’s most important canary in the climate mine): our planet’s climate has already changed, and will continue to do so, at least for the foreseeable future – and at an alarming rate.

In November 2016 we saw the Paris Agreement formally entering into force. We in Europe can be proud of having played a significant role in the creation of an ambitious agreement that sets out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C. Before and during the Paris conference, countries submitted comprehensive national climate action plans. These are not yet enough to keep global warming below 2°C, but the agreement traces the way to achieving this target – and this in itself is a step in the right direction.

I still remember the day in Copenhagen when this somewhat arbitrary choice of 2°C was made at COP15, later formalised in the Copenhagen Accord. For some reason, there and then, it was decided that this was an acceptable target. We have since injected some enthusiasm and aspiration into the Paris Agreement by accepting to aim for 1.5°C – I look around the world today, and reality strikes: aspirational indeed.

It is now imperative that we fully understand what each and every path that may lead us to achieving these ambitious targets means in terms of impacts and vulnerabilities – and this is exactly where our session will be of significance.

Simona Pedde (Wageningen University) will set the tone by giving us an understanding of how these pathways translate into four extreme socio-economic scenarios for Europe, and how these can help us provide a context for the development of robust European adaptation and mitigation strategies. Robert Dunford (University of Oxford) will then show us how integrated assessment models can help to quantify impacts from 1.5°C to >6°C, with the aim of showing the full extent of climate change vulnerability. Understanding socio-economic pathways and the full range of vulnerabilities under different scenarios entails having to deal with a number of risks, surprises, threshold effects, and potential fast and radical effects. This is where Katharina Hölscher (Drift) will come and talk to us about using a transdisciplinary process methodology that supports decision-making processes.

From a European perspective, it is fair to say that the larger part of our policy efforts have been on pushing for an aggressive mitigation agenda. As we in the European Union start the process of reviewing our Adaptation Strategy, we are increasingly aware of the significant challenges ahead. Alison Smith (University of Oxford) will review synergies and trade-offs between adaptation and mitigation, with a view to identifying ways in which trade-offs and barriers can be reduced or eliminated. Our session will end with Richard Taylor (Stockholm Environment Institute) giving us some much needed foresight into how climate-related events outside Europe impact on Europe.

I am excited about our session. I think it is incredibly relevant in today’s world, bringing together scientists, decision and policymakers to address some of the most pertinent adaptation questions of our time.

I started this blog entry by highlighting an expired mentality that refers to climate change as a future threat. Already, today, with every breath we take, we inhale 50% more carbon dioxide than our parents and grandparents did when they were our age. And, we are only now starting to look at what this and other changes mean in terms of impacts on our health and that of animals and plants around the world.

ECCA 2017 will cast a strong light on what >1.5°C means for different parts of Europe, indeed the world, in terms of impacts and vulnerabilities. By agreeing that climate change is here and now, we need to equally recognise that some of these changes are already high-end to some of our vulnerable populations, and that some of these impacts are already dangerous to many communities around the world.

Let us not again fall into the trap of thinking that high-end and dangerous climate change is a future threat. Understanding which of the high-end changes lead to dangerous impacts is a matter of priority. ECCA 2017 will go some way towards helping us better understand present and future challenges.

Not knowing is simply not acceptable.


Session 8.1 Adaptation, Mitigation and Transformation: The high-end context, synergies and trade-offs. Chair: Diogo de Gusmao-Soerensen, European Commission, DG RTD

Wednesday 7th June, 11.00am -12.45pm.

  1. Scenario-guided pathways: Using the SSPs to contextualise adaptation strategies in Europe (Simona Pedde, Wageningen UR)
  2. Cross-sectoral climate change impacts and vulnerability: Assessment of low (1.5 degree) vs high-end RCP x SSP scenarios for Europe (Robert Dunford, University of Oxford/ Centre for Ecology & Hydrology)
  3. Co-creating adaptation, mitigation and transformation pathways: a transition management application to extreme climate change scenarios (Katharina Hölscher, Drift)
  4. Synergies and trade-offs between climate change adaptation and mitigation: a review (Alison Smith, ECI, University of Oxford)
  5. Borderless climate risks: Implications for the European Union (Richard Taylor, Stockholm Environment Institute)