Climate change also means meteorological changes, which impact not only our environment, but also our health, activities and economy and can also increases inequalities among the world population. What will the future of weather be like, and what can we do about it?
Today on down to Earth, an exclusivity: the weather forecast for September, 2085. And we are not going to write it using a crystal ball or divination classes, but with Drias, a very serious tool that has been developed by Météo France, the French weather forecast company. On its dedicated website, Drias features maps that show the probable evolution of the weather (temperatures, precipitation, etc.) over the coming decades, with 1970 as the reference year. If you are an experienced meteorologist, you can even adjust a wide range of variables yourselves – we still have some work to do in that field!
In 73 years from now, it will be between 3 and 3.5 degrees hotter in Paris than in 1970, and it will rain slightly less.
These tendencies are applicable to the rest of France: everywhere, temperatures will rise and pluviometry will decrease. Global warming, droughts and ice floe melts are often evoked when talking about the environmental crisis that we now face. But how exactly are weather and climate change related? What is the effect of the latter on the former? What will our summers and winters feel like 70 years from now? How will it impact our activities, and agriculture in particular? These are some of the questions that Drias’ simulation tool raises, and which we intend to address.
Climate change and weather anomalies
First of all, a quick reminder on definitions. Weather is what we observe. Climate is an average of the weather over 30 years. And climate change is the evolution of climate over several dozens or hundreds of years. Each of these notions therefore has a different time scale: days, months and years for weather, around 30 years for climate and centuries for climate change. Another useful definition for understanding the subject is “weather anomaly”: the difference between what we observe (weather) and what was expected (climate). This anomaly represents a risk because it is, by essence, unpredictable. It is well known that climate change has become synonymous with global warming: the air temperature is 0.75 C° hotter than at the start of the 20th century;
during the period 1994-2004, nine out of the ten years were among the hottest years that our planet experienced in 145 years of temperature recordings.
A good sign of the effects of global warming on the weather we observe every day. And this is exactly whereweather anomalies come into the picture: what exactly is the effect of climate change on our weather, and to what extent does it provoke anomalies?
According to a 2005 report on the future of climate in France commissioned by Greenpeace and produced by the company Climpact, it is very likely that summer heat waves will get longer, more intense and more frequent, with more droughts too, and that pluviometry will intensify in the wintertime. Based on a scenario by the GIEC, the report even considers that by the end of the century, every other summer could be at least as hot as the summer of 2003. The World Meteorological Organization, a UN organism, actually asserts that climate change increases the number, intensity and duration of weather anomalies on a global scale. Extreme values get more and more frequent: recent years have seen some of the coldest and hottest summers in a while, and the same applies to the three other seasons too. And, while the frequency of storms in the North Atlantic remains within the range of natural variability, an increased intensity of hurricanes and typhoons has been observed.
The climate of tomorrow
So, in the future, this is what our world is likely to be like, according to experts’ previsions, including those of Climpact. In 2050, despite demand for water having remained stable, a deficit of 2 billion m3 is reached, causing conflicts, degrading water quality and perturbing the ecosystems that are dependent on water resources. Not to mention a deep transformation of biodiversity, with the extinction of many species and the appearance of new ones: in the Great North for instance, ice melt has allowed grizzly bears and polar bears to meet and thus create a new breed more rapidly than ever before in the history of evolution.
By 2100, the pattern of energy consumption has profoundly changed: demand drops in the winter time, but dramatically rises in the summer time, with air conditioning needs piling up.
Meanwhile, because of water scarcity, hydroelectric plants see their productivity drop by 15%. Agriculture in the North experiences positive effects thanks to more warmth and sun exposure, but the South suffers from numerous droughts, often experiences hydric stress and is even forced to abandon some types of cultures. This situation places a great toll on labelled regional and local products that are not allowed to be produced anywhere other than their land of origin. The same phenomenon is observed for forests, which lose some of their productivity in unequal proportions in the North and in the South – with a worrying impact on carbon sequestration in regions where forests scale back. Aging populations are more vulnerable during the warmer summers, while southern regions see their attractiveness as tourist destinations drop in favour of northern destinations. In the wintertime, ski resorts suffer from a lack of snow which also impairs their attractiveness and economic health. On a larger, economic scale, businesses have now all integrated climate-related risks and the way to handle them in their governance, but still struggle to adapt efficiently enough. The uncertainty of weather anomalies conflicts with the inertia of economic infrastructures which cannot be rapidly transformed without inducing important economic and social costs. This difficulty is in fact applicable to all the sectors mentioned previously: on top of “mere” climate change, the eventuality of extreme natural events must also be taken into account, even if they are close to impossible to predict.
What to do?
The predictions promise us darker times, where inequalities between the North and the South will continue to worsen, where water will be an even more crucial issue than it is today, and where the economic well-being of the populations will be constantly challenged by unpredictable events. What can we do about it? First of all, of course, increase our efforts to curb the impact of our activities on the environment, through monitoring our water consumption, limiting our greenhouse gases emissions and, as a whole, integrating the environmental dimension in everything that we do. But experts do warn that the measures that we are already taking in that direction will only kick in fifty years from now. They will reduce the amplitude and rhythm of future climate change, but they will most likely not be able to stop it. As the story of mankind has always shown, we will thus have to stop conforming the world to our needs, and instead try to adapt to the conditions we have created for ourselves. This means better knowledge of climatic phenomena and their evolution, and implementation of techniques and policies to live with them as well as we possibly can – in agriculture in particular. This means political will to support scientific research and private initiatives, this means liberating creativity to come up with new solutions, and this means always keeping in mind why we ought to do it. As Kevin E. Trenberth (USA National Center for Atmospheric Research) writes in the Climpact report,
the choice of actions that ought to be taken no longer relies on science but on our value system. It is about equity between the generations, balance between developed and developing countries, sustainable development, confidence in technology’s ability to adapt itself, and impacts on the economy and the industry.
The challenge for the future of climate thus has various ramifications, that all come down to one idea: act on climate change rather than accepting its effects, which will be beneficial for some, but devastating for many, and for the future of our environment. This challenge also calls for international cooperation, to ensure that the most vulnerable are not, once again, the main victims of change.
(Photo from http://forum.hardware.fr)