Scientists are more certain than ever that humans are the cause of global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in its most authoritative report to date, drawing on millions of scientific observations - many of which were gathered by scientists in Europe.
The data used to compile the report includes that gathered by the EU-funded airship PEGASOS, which has been measuring the air quality over Europe to link air pollution to climate change, and RECONCILE, which helped find the first ever observed hole in the ozone layer in the Arctic region.
In its fifth assessment report, released on 27 September, the IPCC concluded that there is an at least 95 % likelihood that humans are the dominant cause of global warming. That makes them the surest they have ever been that humans are causing climate change.
Scientists are able to be so categorical because of the number of research papers that have been taken into account in producing the report. It cites over 9 200 scientific publications, more than three quarters of which have been published since the previous assessment in 2007, and bases its conclusions on millions of observations.
‘Up to now it is the only endeavour of this kind of science in the world,’ said Dr Anastasios Kentarchos, the deputy head of the Climate Change and Natural Hazards Unit at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, who was present during the discussions in Stockholm running up to the publication of the report. ‘This is a huge pool of scientists that on a voluntary basis are giving their brains and their minds for five years to do this work,’ he added referring to the IPCC report.
Unprecedented in 800 000 years
Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800 000 years, the report said.
‘Up to now it is the only endeavour of this kind of science in the world.’
Dr Anastasios Kentarchos, the deputy head of the Climate Change and Natural Hazards Unit at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation
The EU’s in-house science service, the Joint Research Centre, has provided critical data on worldwide emissions through its EDGAR database, which models emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants.
The rise in greenhouse gases is likely to mean that global temperatures will increase by over 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century, when compared to the 1850 to 1900 period, according to all but the lowest scenario considered by the report.
‘Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system,’ said Thomas Stocker, the co-chairman of the IPCC group that assesses the physical science basis for climate change.
Complex computer models, such as those developed by the EU-funded ENSEMBLES project, are required to allow the panel to make such forecasts. The project has modelled the simultaneous activity of the oceans, land and the atmosphere to show that the world will experience further measurable climate change.
The European airship PEGASOS. © PEGASOS
Other research groups concentrated on specific aspects, like Ice2Sea, which forecasts that by 2100 storm surges along Europe’s coastline could be up to 1 metre higher than they are today, presenting challenges to flood defences and natural habitats.
However, more data is needed to improve the accuracy of the models, for example by understanding the role of the permafrost, the permanently frozen layer of soil, in the Arctic regions on greenhouse gas levels. That's now being done by the EU-funded PAGE21 project, which brings together permafrost researchers from Europe, Canada, Russia, the US, and Japan.
‘The more observations you build, the better you understand the drivers of climate change and you can validate more accurately the next generation of climate models,’ said Dr Kentarchos.
Future research should concentrate on improving the capacity of climate models to make forecasts on a regional scale, providing data that is useful for farmers as they plan how best to use their land, or governments as they decide where to invest money to protect their citizens from climate change.
‘The models are useful to stakeholders when they give you trustworthy information at the right regional or sub-regional scale,’ said Dr Kentarchos.
Forests have a special magic for many of us. Steeped in folklore and fantasy, they are places for enchantments, mythical creatures and outlaws. But if they are to survive into the future, they may also need a helping hand from science.
Nature provides people with everything from food and water to timber, textiles, medicinal resources and pollination of crops. Now, a new approach aims to measure exactly what a specific ecosystem supplies in order to incentivise decision-makers and businesses to help combat biodiversity loss.
Nearly 100 years ago scientists developed a vaccine for tuberculosis (TB). Today, there are 10 million new cases worldwide and 1.6 million deaths from the disease every year. Increasingly, these cases are becoming difficult to treat as the bug that causes the disease can be resistant to antibiotics. However, several new TB vaccines are under development and there is growing optimism that a new vaccine will emerge, says Helen McShane, professor of vaccinology at Oxford University, UK. This could save millions of lives, she said, but more work is needed to reassure the general public that vaccines are safe and effective.
Europe’s position on privacy, regulation and competition could be a key way to attract entrepreneurs who share those values but there is still some work to do in encouraging ambition, according to Nicklas Bergman, a Swedish entrepreneur and technology investor. Over the past two years, he and other entrepreneurs have advised the European Commission on the design of the European Innovation Council (EIC), an initiative to support companies, researchers and entrepreneurs hoping to start their own business or scale up their projects internationally. The second phase of the pilot was launched on 18 March 2019.
Tuberculosis is the most common cause of death from an infectious disease.
Computer modelling will also help optimise management techniques.
Entrepreneur Nicklas Bergman on the European Innovation Council.