The UN climate panel has concluded that human activities are the main cause of global warming.
‘Still, nothing is happening politically at the international level. That’s problematic – we don’t have much time,’ says Professor Deliang Chen.
His desk is covered with papers and letters that need to be answered. This autumn has been hectic for Chen. He has been a member of the UN climate panel, IPCC, since 2003 and is one of two Swedish lead authors of the climate report that was presented in Stockholm in September.
In contrast to previous reports, this time the research results were generally met with acceptance.
‘Considering that the climate issue has been discussed for so many years, I think it is fantastic that there is still so much engagement,’ says Chen, professor of physical meteorology at the University of Gothenburg.
He attributes the persistently strong interest in the climate issue to the inability at the international level to find a solution.
The report concludes that the global warming is caused by humans. But what happens next?
‘It’s a global issue, but there is no global government that can make binding decisions. There is the UN of course, but for decisions to be made there, everybody must share the same view and reach a consensus. Progress may be achieved at other levels, though – I’m thinking nationally, regionally and individually.’
Chen sees a large potential at the individual level.
‘I do enjoy driving, absolutely,’ he says, laughing. ‘But after ten years in IPCC, I hardly drive at all anymore. Instead I walk and bike a lot. So, I have managed to change my lifestyle.’
Economists believe that people’s behaviour can only be changed via taxes, such as congestion charges for cars. Chen hopes that this is not true but suspects that the economists may be right.
‘But there are things that we as individuals should remember. Take for example transportation of goods. In Sweden, we buy many things from China and India. They’re cheap, but the shipping requires a lot of energy and the emissions from the production affect the global climate. And maybe we can limit vacation air travel to twice a year.’
Sometimes more progress is made at the regional level than nationally. California and some regions in China are more active than the respective national governments.
‘Sweden is a democracy, so we should be able to use our ability to influence the elected politicians. Maybe we could also work more actively to change the public opinion,’ says Chen.
He emphasises that climate research remains uncertain about many things. There is a wide range of possible future scenarios. The predictions range from a temperature increase of 2°C up to 4.5°C by the end of this century if the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are raised to twice the preindustrial levels.
‘We need to better understand how climate change affects society and our environment and what we should do to reduce, prevent and prepare for the consequences.’
So, the extent of the predicted temperature increase remains unclear. The predictions range from 1°C to a total of 8°C over time. Oceans and seas are another source of uncertainty.
‘Absorption of carbon dioxide leads to acidification of oceans and seas. Scientists need to study this relationship in order to make better predictions,’ says Chen.
The IPCC report
The fifth large report from the UN climate panel is being published in three parts 2013-2014. Over 800 scientists and experts from different countries have contributed to the report, and the lead authors include nine Swedes, of whom three are from the University of Gothenburg: Chen and Professors Ulf Molau and Thomas Sterner. Biologist and environment researcher Ulf Molau is a lead author of the report set to be presented in Japan in March next year and that concerns the effects of climate change on society. Economist Thomas Sterner is a lead author of the report that will be presented in Benin in April and that deals with control measures to prevent negative climate effects.