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A New Climate

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Vladimir Djurdjevic
Professor at the Institute for Meteorology at Belgrade University's Faculty of Physics.

The first ideas of possible anthropogenic (human caused) impacts on climate through greenhouse gas emissions, above all carbon dioxide resulting from the burning of fossil fuels, were introduced at the end of the 19th century. During the 1960s, for the first time, climate models provided us with better insight into what future climate would be like if emissions remain at the same level as then. What has long been an idea, and fifty years ago a first precise quantification of the future climate, has become a reality nowadays. We bear witness to climate change caused by anthropogenic activities on the planet. We are both witnesses and participants in the global experiment of getting the climate system off the energy balance at an accelerated pace, whilst the resulting changes in the various elements of this system can be measured today. The increasing global mean temperature, the melting of the ice sheet, the increasing ocean acidification and the continuous sea level rise are just some of the specifically observed changes within the system.

The carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere has increased by more than 40% since the end of the 19th century, and from the beginning of 2015, the values measured at the Mauna Loa observatory were predominantly above 400 ppm. On a global scale, the warmest year since organized instrumental temperature measurements began was 2014, while 2015 began with a new record. The first quarter of this year was the warmest first quarter in the last 136 years. In Serbia, the mean annual temperature trend was measured at 0,3 °C per decade in the period after 1960, and is higher than the global average. However, in addition to changes in the long-term mean values, climate changes also bring about changes in the intensity and frequency of extreme weather and climate events. Recent studies have shown that more than a half of the high temperatures extremes and almost one-fifth of extremes with intense rainfall can be attributed to climate change, and that they are an indirect result of the increase in global mean temperature by 0, 85°C compared to the values from the pre-industrial period. In recent years, the high vulnerability of Serbia to extreme weather events has become quite evident. Losses and damage caused by flooding in 2014 and drought in 2012 can be measured by a percentage of the gross domestic product.

If this trend of greenhouse gas emissions continues, a trend that has for decades been on the path of very pessimistic scenarios, the climate system will suffer even more dramatic changes, potential losses will become significantly higher and the society will be forced to transform in order to adapt, at least in parts where such is possible. According to climate change scenarios, which suppose a further increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases by the end of this century, the mean annual temperature in Serbia could increase by up to 4°C compared to the value from the mid-twentieth century, while this anomaly could be even higher for individual seasons. In the second half of this century, the climate in Serbia could become considerably more arid with deficits in precipitation during the summer months even up to 50%. The results of climate models indicate that we can expect a further escalation of extreme events. Such drastic climate change would have an extremely negative impact on the eco-systems and the majority of the socio-economic sectors of our society. Many impact studies regarding the effects of possible future climate change on the various sectors clearly point to numerous potential problems in the operation of those sectors in the same capacity as until now.

The only solution for drastic reduction in the potential risk is to discard the scenario in which the exploitation of fossil fuels is the primary source of energy. A new global agreement that would initiate the discarding of this scenario is due to be adopted in December this year, at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris. Preparations for this meeting are already well underway, and the Parties will present the intended nationally determined contributions to the reduction of global emissions by autumn of 2015. The primary objective of the future agreement is to limit future emissions to a level that will ensure that a further rise in global mean temperature over the next few decades is at a maximum of 2°C. Resolute and rapid implementation of this agreement will be the next key step because the agreement itself is not a solution, something that is unfortunately a lesson learned considering some previously failed plans and international agreements. If an agreement is reached, the question will remain as to why it took decades to reach it and whether it was really necessary for climate change to become so obvious in order to start a wide mobilization of the society to address this problem.

There is no doubt that the issue of climate change in Serbia needs to be highly positioned on the social agenda. The region to which Serbia belongs was in many studies rated as one of the most vulnerable. In the coming years we must be willing to set clear objectives regarding both national plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and plans to adapt to future changes. Accession to the European Union, which is often cited as one of the national priorities, implicitly presumes that, at some point, we shall also adopt the very high standards in terms of emission reductions. On the other hand, most of the adaptation measures, such as the development of irrigation systems in agriculture, efficient and rational use of water resources and the improved protection of natural resources, will contribute to the promotion of many sectors, even if we put aside the future climate change.

The global community of today must be resolved to preserve the climate of the planet we live on as our resource and not as a limitation for the future development of society.

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