Humanity is entering a critical phase of history - the climatologist
by Mariana Verbovska
How has climate change affected you personally?
– He first learned about climate change in the late 80's, talking with one of the pioneering experts in this field, Professor Heinlot. He was a member of the German Parliament's Climate Change Commission, which gathered all the existing evidence and theories on risks and possible scenarios, before the establishment of the IPCC. Since then, he has never stopped thinking about the importance of climate change for nature and humanity.
You spent many years in South America. What were they doing there?
– Together with the team, efforts were made to integrate climate change into biodiversity planning. Of course, it was all a bit abstract. However, the scientific literature has developed rapidly and convincingly. In Bolivia, it had the chance to promote one of the first major projects that showed that protecting the forest would help mitigate climate change.
What are you working on now?
– Since returning from South America since 2003, he has begun to intensively explore the need and options for climate change adaptation in the field of nature protection and forest management in Germany. Since 2010, we have developed ecosystem-based risk assessment and strategic planning methodology for projects worldwide. They finally entered an era when it was impossible not to notice that climate change was already happening. It is unfortunate to see how such changes become a reality. For many years, we have been warned that our forest ecosystems could be destroyed or at least radically altered when climate change triggers certain extreme events. And now, in fact, we see rapid reactions in nature that are frankly frightening.
What are the reactions and where specifically?
– Mostly – related to climate change. Particularly in European countries such as Germany or Ukraine: floods and water scarcity, extremely high temperatures, heat waves and droughts, floods, damage to forests by pests, fires, loss of agricultural productivity. All this has an impact on human health and the economy as a whole.
What projects do you implement in Ukraine?
We are currently implementing only one project that supports three biosphere reserves in Ukraine - Roztochya, Shatsky and Desnianskiy. Our goal is to explore ecosystem-based climate change adaptation options.
UNESCO Biosphere Reserves have been created as living laboratories where experts are exploring new avenues for sustainable development. They are often regarded as simply protected areas for biodiversity conservation, but their primary mission is to find environmental solutions to societal problems and to ensure the good life of people who use natural systems without harming them. We strive to help Ukrainian biosphere reserves to offer new solutions and become role models.
The fact is that natural ecosystems can reduce extreme temperatures and buffer abnormal climate fluctuations, regulate water flow and protect people from hazards. We need to understand their potential. Later, to propose activities and projects that would contribute to the stabilization and exploitation of natural resources - to assist nature so that it could help man.
Why choose Ukraine for research?
– Since returning from Bolivia, he has visited Ukraine every year - an important and great country of Europe. I needed to come back from South America to really understand that the center of Europe is located not in Germany or any of our neighboring countries, but in Ukraine.
The diverse socio-economic and (geo) political challenges that Ukraine faces in its quest to find a good place in the European House of Nations push us to step up cooperation.
And last but not least, we are delighted with valuable ecosystems in Ukraine. They need to be protected in order to preserve the functionality and services they provide to people.
In your projects, you analyze the heat maps of the regions. What exactly do these maps mean, how do they collect the data and how to use it?
– Surface temperature maps are created together with experts from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Scientists use big data generated by satellites to measure the reflection of radiation on the Earth's surface and help you understand how much a particular landscape suffers from "fever (fever)" - heated or cooled. The summer daytime temperature difference between forests and farmland or settlements can be several degrees Celsius.
We are interested in, in particular, the surface temperature in the regions of the biosphere reserves we work with. The first results showed how cool forests are and how important they are for maintaining the temperature of the environment.
We also see that some common practices, such as deforestation, contribute to warming and reducing the ability of ecosystems to protect themselves and humans from climate change.
Cards generally help us discuss options for adapting to climate change. We have to question into a particular type of land use that has worked well in the past but may pose risks to the functioning of the ecosystem under global warming.
According to experts, if the global temperature of the Earth rises by more than two degrees, then climate change will become irreversible. How close are they to this limit?
– We are unlikely to have sufficiently understood all the mechanisms contributing to climate change that lead to complex responses in nature. A 2-degree increase in temperature was thought to be a point of no return - a transition to rapid climate change that cannot be stopped for centuries and even millennia.
For people who have been measuring history for decades and centuries, it can really be "irreversible".
Nowadays, many climatologists agree that warming by 2 degrees is too much of a risk compared to pre-industrial times. Therefore, in 2015 in Paris reached a famous climate agreement. In particular, they set a new goal - to focus their efforts on limiting temperature rise to +1.5 ° C from pre-industrial levels, as this will significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.
Unfortunately, so far, humanity has not been able to initiate any major changes that would reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. We now face the probable risk of 1.5 ° C warming in the next few years.
What to expect?
– If we do not manage to turn the wheel in the next few years, we will face serious problems. Some regions are at particular risk. The Northern Hemisphere heats up faster, the polar and boreal (ecosystems typical of the subarctic (in the Northern Hemisphere) and sub-Antarctic (red hemisphere) - ed.) Ecosystems seem very vulnerable, and even in our temperate regions, changes can become too rapid.
Climate change exacerbates the phenomena caused by overuse of nature, pollution and all other ecosystem problems created by humans.
If humanity completely stops carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, can we save the planet from further rapid warming? The oceans, in fact, are giant heaters that have accumulated a great deal of heat.
– According to the best climate scientists, we should have a chance - if we finally heed the warnings.
A few weeks ago, the International Scientific Journal IPCC published "World Scientists' Warnings on Climate Emergency." Thousands of scholars have supported this appeal. They unanimously state that the climate crisis is "more serious than expected and is threatening the natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity."
What else is there to say?
When young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg says, "I want you to panic," it doesn't seem inappropriate.
In addition to the intense summer heat, we also notice other signs of climate change - hurricanes, floods, atypical vegetation, forest and peat fires. Which of these lists is in Germany?
– Nowadays we are especially concerned with the rapid destruction of the forest. At least 300,000 hectares have been affected by drought and heat this year. Coniferous plantations are being destroyed. Forests are at a loss. The Minister of Agriculture even organized a national forest summit, and our national parliament held hearings on the state of the forest.
Last year, dry summers caused almost no water on the rivers, ship traffic was interrupted, and power plants had to reduce production because the river water was too warm to cool. The losses of agriculture were large. In the last two years, some communities have even banned irrigation.
We are really suffering from increasing forest fires, especially in pine plantations. Floods and severe storms have also occurred in recent years.
Studies show that the likelihood of such extreme heat waves has increased significantly due to climate change, respectively - such anomalies may very soon become "new norms".
What measures are being taken at national and regional levels to adapt to climate change?
– We have a national adaptation strategy. Ecosystem solutions include reducing drainage, giving more space to rivers, wetting wetlands, reducing sealing of urban surfaces, and building green roofs.
The hot summer has made it clear to decision makers at the state level that adaptation to climate change is a matter of quality of life, health and safety.
There are many reservoirs in Ukraine. The most dangerous for us are floods. Transcarpathia almost "floats" every year.
What can we use from the German adaptation experience?
– In Ukraine, untouched river ecosystems remain, as well as virgin forests in the mountains - Germany can only dream of these functional ecosystems. In addition, based on German experience, one cannot destroy the natural potential, but on the contrary, one must work hard to maintain ecosystem-based adaptation mechanisms.
This year's winter for Ukrainians began with extremely warm figures. For many, this is not so bad. Do you have to worry?
– I would not recommend in dreaming that life will become easier with heat and more extreme weather. The consequences for agriculture and forests can be dire. In the Carpathians, for example, Christmas tree wilting can be very linked to climate change. Water scarcity may also be critical in some regions. The lack of snow in winter will affect mountain ecosystems and local economies that depend on winter tourism.
In your opinion, are Ukrainians environmentally responsible, or vice versa, indifferent to climate change?
– Like everywhere else on the planet, there are people in Ukraine who have a good understanding of the problem. But I also see that many others are covered by short-term needs and challenges that prevent them from recognizing the risks.
I have known Ukraine for over ten years. It has been witnessed that many ecosystems here are deteriorating over time. Nevertheless, the potential still exists. However, decision-makers in Germany, France, Ukraine, and anywhere in the world are focusing on the old solutions to the problem, seeking economic growth and not responding to the warnings of scientists. Humanity is entering a very critical phase of history.
Are climate processes capable of causing migration, social or even political disasters?
– I'm afraid it is possible. Water conflicts and territories of transboundary rivers are already known. Suppose that in some parts of the globe where many people live, agriculture will become difficult or impossible. This can lead to political instability and a wave of emigration. There is a lot of research on this. A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has also shown that it can be too hot for people in many places. There are risks of huge health problems.
Is there any benefit to climate change for humanity?
– Modern civilizations have emerged in the last 10,000 years with fairly stable climatic conditions. However, even small climatic fluctuations in the past have caused famines and geopolitical turmoil. For example, during the climatic pessimism of the early Middle Ages (the general cooling of the climate in Europe several centuries after the Roman climate optimum. The culmination of the climatic pessimism was the cooling of 535-536 years - ed), the peoples of Eurasia migrated and invaded other territories.
The point is not to have any more comfortable conditions. It's not like turning on the heater and not need sweaters in the living room. In the face of dangerous climate change, there is a risk that humanity will fall into terra incognita, an unknown land without adequate equipment and sufficient food.
Of course, I like growing grapes in northern Germany right now. Also, as the weather gets warmer and drier, some regions, such as the German Baltic coast, benefit from stormy tourism. But the price for these small and short-term benefits, which will have to be paid in the medium term, is too high.
January 21, 2020 for the DAY newspaper