19th Swiss Global Change Day – Meeting Report and Conference Documents
On 19 April 2018, the Swiss global change science community met for the 19th time on the annual Swiss Global Change Day. About 210 participants attended the event and 60 posters were exhibited. Distinguished researchers presented scientific highlights and the program provided enough time for discussions and networking. At the event ProClim also celebrated its 30th Anniversary with the central theme of a growing tree. This theme appeared in a number of ways, such as in form of the birthday cake, seeds as a giveaway or a real apple tree on stage, which was planted by ProClim after the event.
Géraldine Pflieger from the University of Geneva addressed in her talk the development of the climate policy in an international context from the beginning within the framework of the UNFCCC climate convention 1992 and the Paris Agreement 2015. (Talk available on Youtube)
Whereas in the late 1990's, a top down process has been favoured to bring the nations under the umbrella of an international binding climate agreement (e.g. with the Kyoto Protocol 1997) it became clear around 2010 that this process ultimately failed establishing a global climate treaty.
As an alternative solution, voluntary action and the declaration of a climate target (below 2 °C, Paris Agreement 2015) with the obligation for nations to a) report on achievements and b) increasing continuously their emission reduction ambitions has been found the way forward to address the challenging issue of greenhouse gas emission reduction on an international level. The forthcoming years will finally show if the expectations will be met.
Do the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) build synergies or are they competing agendas? Keywan Riahi from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Laxenburg, addressed this question in his talk (Talk available on Youtube). He recognized both, the Paris Agreement as well as the SDGs, as major international agreements, but with different focuses: The Paris Agreement focuses on climate change and has a long-term perspective; the SDGs are much broader with 17 different goals such as gender equality or zero hunger as well as climate action.
The challenge with the two agreements is to minimize trade-offs between climate action and other SDGs. Climate action such as mitigation may reduce the success of the SDGs. One of the examples Riahi used to subject this problem was «SDG 6: clean water and sanitation». Different climate scenarios imply an increase in power plant energy, which in turn means that energy-related thermal water pollution increases. Furthermore, Riahi considered the loss of biodiversity and the risk of hunger as the two highest risks of mitigation impacts (1.5 °C goal) on SDGs. But also, the other way round is possible: A number of SDGs may affect climate policies. Riahi illustrated this with the example of «SDG 1: no poverty» and the question to consider: how much energy does poverty eradication requires?
But Riahi also told encouraging examples of co-benefits, for example between climate action and «SDG 3: good health and well-being». According to the GEA Health Assessment, integrated climate/pollution policies saves 2.6 million more lives each year by 2030 compared with the present air pollution policies to 2030.
The two things Riahi stressed especially during his talk were, on the one hand, that integrated policies are needed including climate action but also the respective other SDG. On the other hand, he highlighted that many SDG trade-offs can be eradicated at low costs.
Stuart Lane from the University of Lausanne talked about the Anthropocene in the sediments of Lake Geneva (Talk available on Youtube). It is possible to see a signature of human-induced climate change in the sediments being deposited. Growing yield is a signal of warming-induced glacier retreat. This signal is observed despite the Swiss Rhône being heavily impacted by human activity that in theory should disconnect sediment flux.
Gisela Böhm from the University of Bergen addressed in her talk the role of emotions in human risk perception and behaviour. Böhm first talked about how science can learn about emotions in risk situations from gambling and how this helps to understand how people react in real world risk situations.
Böhm also told about the impressive case of Phineas Gage, who was unable to experience emotions after an accident in which a large iron rod was driven completely through his head, destroying much of his brain’s frontal lobe. From that moment, Gage was unable to make decisions despite of an intact ability to analyse decision situations. Scientists learned, inter alia, from Gage’s case that emotions are an integral part of all decisions and behaviours. Gisela Böhm showed how a multitude of emotions influences decisions at different points in time and serves different functions. Already the anticipation of consequences and of how we will feel leads to emotions, fear and hope being the most relevant among them. These emotions in turn influence the decision: Concrete emotions reflect specific appraisals of a risk situation and imply specific behavioural tendencies.
Furthermore, Böhm explained that anticipated emotions – such as anticipated regret or guilt – concerning future outcomes seem to be particularly powerful in fostering sustainable behaviour. At the same time, people tend to underestimate how much a future environmental outcome will affect them.
In his talk, Suraje Dessai from the University of Leeds examined the insights from social sciences on the new emerging field of climate services for adaptation. (Talk available on Youtube).
Dessai showed the development process of the need for climate services for adaptation. He pointed out that many societies around the world are not well adapted to climate change and climate variability, particularly in developing countries. Climate sciences and services can help to form long term decisions by providing specific information such as climate scenarios. In climate science, there has been a massive improvement of climate prediction and forecast. Also, there has been an increasing need of using science to inform policy and decision making. This led to the emergence of the concept of climate services. As climate services are still a new field, a universal definition for them does not yet exist, though the role of a «translator of climate knowledge for decision makers» seems to be an important part of the general understanding of climate services.
Dessai also discussed the role of social sciences in climate services. There are two main areas where social science has been applied to climate services: First, understanding the foundation of societal and environmental factors associated with vulnerability and resilience. And second, understanding the applications of climate services, for example how people do use climate information. From a study done in 2012 on climate services, Dessai concluded that the typical climate service is provided by national meteorological service, operates on a national scale and provides seasonal climate information to agricultural decision-makers online. The field of climate services still needs maturing: The definitions of climate services are contested, co-production should be done more strongly, funding streams are uncertain and very little research on evaluating the quality of the products exist. Today the social research on the topic is very heterogeneous and fragmented. Future research directions are: governance, ethics, quality and evaluation of climate services.
Stefan Brönnimann from the University of Bern gave an overview of the knowledge on the current state of climate and climate change in the industrial period (Talk available on Youtube). At the beginning there were a number of questions? Is there room for surprises? How well can we characterize the current climate? How useful are reanalysis data? Brönnimann explained that it is difficult to calculate an absolute global temperature due to different possible treatments of e.g. height or displacements. According results differ by about 0.4 °C. Thus, global temperature is usually calculated from anomalies, which eliminates some of these problems. This is why different anomaly data sets are much closer and differ only by less than 0.1 °C. However, inhomogeneities in data series coming from changes in instrument shelter, measurement procedures, location, etc. have to be corrected in any case. While surface temperature data sets seem quite accurate back to 1860, stratospheric temperature is robust only since about 2007. For precipitation the change patterns seem rather robust while there are larger differences in absolute values.
Reanalysis data sets are widely used – Brönnimann estimated that citations are approaching the number of 50’000. There are a lot of different data sources like surface data, remote sensing (e.g. satellite data), weather balloons that have to be combined in the course of the reanalysis process. The methods seem quite adequate and it is quite astonishing how good for example a temperature reconstruction using pressure data matches the real temperature measurements.
Brönnimann concluded his presentation by pointing out relations between climate measurements and society: a chart of the distribution of measurement locations clearly represent main world trade routes, population density or changes at country’s frontiers. The study of such distributions gives information about why climate is measured and the interest in these measurements.
Authorised presentations of the talks can be downloaded further below.
About 60 posters were presented at the event in the categories Atmosphere/Hydrosphere, Geosphere/Biosphere, Human Dimensions/Sustainability. The best posters in each field were selected by a jury and honoured with a travel award of 1000 CHF each.
The following posters were awarded:
Elisa Lovecchio (ETH Zurich): Filament and eddy contribution to the offshore transport of organic carbon
Sandra Brugger (University of Bern): 5500 years of frozen vegetation and fire dynamics in the Mongolian Altai
Michael Sigl (Paul Scherrer Institute): Death on the Nile – Volcanoes on Trial