Austrian Assessment Report

The next formal assessment of Austrias climate conditions and mitigation/adaptation strategy is scheduled for release in 2024: https://aar24.ccca.ac.at/. It is a review and assessment of published works relating to climate, climate vulnerability and solutions specific to Austria. Its a super open process, with the structure and focus of the report under discussion now. As stated on the website: The question is what questions need to be answered. I’m very encouraged by the focus on the specifics of how to decarbonize Austrian society and economy.

The last Austrian Assessment Report was released in 2014 and some of the key findings as presented in the Summary Report are:

The measurements:

  • In Austria, temperature rose by nearly 2 °C in the period since 1880, compared with a global increase of 0.85 °C. Note that the stronger temperature rise in Austria is partly due to the negative anomaly during 1870-1900 and the strong postive anomaly during the last three decades that together lead to a stronger temperature increase for Austria than on the global scale, as described on the ZAMG HISTALP website.
  • Since 1980, global temperatures rose approximately 0.5 °C, compared approximately 1 °C in Austria.
  • Over the last 150 years precipitation in the west (southeast) of Austria increased (decreased) by 10-15%.
  • In the last 130 years sunshine duration at all Alpine stations increased by about 20%.
  • The glacier area of 144.2 km² in 1969 decreased to 126.6 km² in 1997 and to 116.1 km² in 2006

The future:

  • In 21st century wetter winters and drier summers are expected, with no trend in annual precipitation.
  • In mountainous regions, significant increases in landslides, mudflows, rock falls and other gravitational mass movements are expected.
  • It was noted that winter tourism would come under increasing pressure, although that seems perhaps slightly at odds to the projected increases in winter precipitation.

The actions:

  • It was pointed out that Austrian strategies at that point were inadequate to meet the commitments for a global 2°C warming limit.
  • The economically available potential of renewable resources within Austria is quantified at approximately 600 PJ. As a comparison, the current final energy consumption is 1 100 PJ per year.
  • The achievement of the 2050 targets only appears likely with a paradigm shift in the prevailing consumption and behavior patterns and in the traditional short-term oriented policies and decision-making processes.

In 2012 Austria adopted a national adaptation strategy to cope with climate change. The 2010 Energy Strategy proposed that final energy consumption in 2020 should not exceed that of 2005 (which was the highest point of Austrian greenhouse gas emissions according to World Bank data I saw online). Austria’s 2011 Green Electricity Act stipulates that renewable sources should have generated an additional 10.5 TWh (37.8 PJ) per year up to 2020, but the strategy document here seems to indicate that this was not met, but I find the document quite hard to navigate.

The European Environment Agency data explorer seems to show that:

  • 33% of Austrias gross final energy consumption is from renewable sources.
  • Since 2003 landuse switched from being a strong to a minor sink of carbon.
  • Transport and industry show currently increasing GHG emissions
  • We emit 9.22 Tonnes of CO2 equivalent per capita, which is a bit more than the EU average (which is strongly skewed by high GHG emissions per capita of Luxembourg, Iceland and Estonia).
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Austrian Academy of Sciences Joint Academy Day 2021

Austrian Academy of Sciences Joint Academy Day 2021 is on Thursday 13th March, and I’ll be part of a panel discussion led by John Smol, on Arctic and Alpine Environmental Change. The scope of the panel is described in this summery statement:

Both Arctic and alpine ecosystems have been referred to as the “miners’ canaries of the planet”, meaning that, due to a variety of positive feedback mechanisms, they are often the first to respond to climatic and other environmental changes, and to the greatest degree. Importantly, changes in polar regions affect ecosystems world-wide (e.g. ocean levels). Moreover, melting alpine glaciers result in striking economic, social, and environmental issues, as alpine regions act as “water towers”, supplying downstream populations with water for agriculture, industry, and drinking purposes. However, once the glaciers melt, the water tap is shut. Multiple anthropogenic stressors are rapidly changing these ecosystems, often outpacing our ability to collect data on baseline conditions. Despite the importance of these ecosystems, little long-term monitoring data are available.

In this session, we will explore the following broad questions:

  • How have these sentinel ecosystems been affected by human-induced climatic and environmental changes?
  • Are these changes reversible?
  • What does the future hold?
  • What are the ecological and social repercussions of these changes?

Here is a picture of the inimitable Professor John England when I was exploring whalebones on the raised shorelines of Prince Patrick Island with him and Dr Roy Coulthard in summer 2008. This was a fascinating trip, as Prince Patrick Island is the home to caribou, musk ox and foxes, as well as many birds and other smaller creates and the fragile land remains criss-crossed with tire tracks from oil exploration of the 1970s (we added some of our own unfortunately), and the former air base of Mold Bay stands abandoned in the landscape. So a curious combination of remote wilderness, and still the interactions and traces of human activities are unavoidable.

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Denial of anthropogenic climate change

The evidence for the human impact on Earths climate is abundant and incontrovertible, based on our understanding of underlying concepts of the physics of our Earth system and on abundant direct and indirect observations (though its true that the details can get pretty complicated).

Here is an interactive history of climate science, but in its simplest form:

  1. it has been known since the late 19th century that certain ‘greenhouse’ gases would warm climate, and burning fossil fuels emits these gases
  2. since late 1960s concern about this caused fossil fuel companies, governments and academics to study the problem more intensely
  3. recognition of the scale of the problem and that it doesn’t care about international borders led to the formation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to collect and present the information
  4. in 2021, even the World Economic Forum put climate change and environmental degradation at the top of its global risks

Despite this, “ever since scientists first began to explain the evidence that our climate was warming – and that humans activities were probably to blame – people have been questioning the data, doubting the evidence, and attacking the scientists who collect and explain it.“

Why is that so? Why is it so hard to convince people of something thats as certain as our knowledge that smoking cigarettes can damage your lungs and potentially cause cancers? Here are some of my thoughts on this point:

Mark Maslin puts forward five corrupt pillars of climate change denial in an article covering: scientific, economic, humanitarian, political and crisis denial.

John Cook laid out the broad sweep of tactics used to deny climate science:

So, I reckon we need to make a movement – and a suggestion of how:

Find your inspirational lone nut and follow them to turn the tide on climate inaction …

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Attribution of climate change

The ‘fingerprint’ of human action on climate can be found from a number of features of global change that point towards our actions driving the changes:

But another way we can determine the cause of a change is by a so-called attribution study. For this we need:

  1. observations (e.g. temperature, precipitation, sea level)
  2. history of the potential system forcings (e.g. greenhouse gases, solar activity, volcanism)
  3. a model connecting 1 and 2 (can be simple or a complex numerical representation of real world physics)
  4. estimate of magnitude of internal variability of the system (the “noise”)

By running the model with the different possible forcing factors as inputs, and then comparing the model output to the observations we can see to which forcing we can most reasonably attribute the observations. This is nicely illustrated in this figure from the IPCC Special Report on Ocean and Cryopshere in a Changing Climate

You can explore a very nice animation of attribution of recent global temperature evolution here: https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2015-whats-warming-the-world/

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Difference between 1.5° and 2.0°C warming

This infographic is from the WWF, and I’m just going to leave it here:

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