‘Climate change is already here, we have no choice but to adapt.’

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Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Kießling. (Bild: FAU/David Hartfiel)

On the occasion of the publication of the World Climate Report, FAU researcher Wolfgang Kießling stresses the importance of sustainable developments

We are already feeling the impact of climate change across the globe. But what specific consequences can we actually expect? Where are we particularly vulnerable and what are our options for creating a sustainable future? This is the focus of the report published by Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), also known as the World Climate Report. One of the authors is from Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU): Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Kießling is the Chair of Palaeoenvironmental Research at Geozentrum Nordbayern. His contribution to the World Climate Report was predominantly based on palaeoenvironmental aspects of climate change and the impact of climate change on oceans.

Foresight rather than hindsight

‘In my opinion, one of the most important messages of the report, that is approximately 3600 pages in length, is the fact that we still fail to act in time and end up having to react at short notice instead of anticipating extreme events and planning accordingly. We focus too much on restricting emissions and not enough on adapting to climate change, although it is already making its impact felt. The result is an adaptation gap,’ says Kießling. He emphasises the significance of nature-based solutions. If we start to use them now, they will bear fruit in the long term, claims Kießling. In the case of oceans and threats to the coast caused by rising sea levels, for example, we should step up our efforts to protect coral reefs and wetlands along the coastline, as the protection they offer is considerably more sustainable and effective than that provided by concrete walls.

Equally important: Adaptation and reduced emissions

The FAU researcher clarifies that his earlier comments are not meant to play down the importance of reducing greenhouse gases. Instead, both aspects are two sides of the same coin: adapting to climate change must go hand in hand with reducing emissions. This approach, also known as climate resilient development, is ‘key to a good future’ according to Kießling. Specifically, this means that all decisions, whether social, political or economical, must be taken with climate change in mind. Sustainability, justice, equality and conservation of biodiversity must become our major concerns.

An irreversible impact on biodiversity

According to the report drafted by the 270 authors, climate change will have a negative effect on biodiversity, irrespective of any measures that are planned or have already been taken. In the medium and long term, there will be a major loss of species in the tropics and at the North and South Pole, where the impact of climate change can be felt most acutely. For Costa Rica’s golden toad or the Australian Bramble Cay mosaic-tailed rat it is already too late. They are believed to have become extinct as a result of climate change.

As it now appears that the global mean temperature will exceed the 1.5 degree threshold before the year 2040, approximately 60 years earlier than originally hoped, Kießling and his IPCC colleagues expect there to be irreversible damage. Whether a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions helps temperatures fall or not. As well as temperature change, the shift of habitats of various species of plants and animals towards the Poles will lead to a loss of ecosystems in the Tropics and increased competition between species in higher latitudes.

Allow migration – for our own protection

The threat to biodiversity on land and in the sea has a massive impact on people’s lives, stresses Kießling and his co-authors from around the globe. Humans depend on and benefit from a perfectly balanced cycle, that in turn depends on high levels of biodiversity. According to Working Group II, approximately 3.3 billion people are particularly vulnerable as a result of climate change. This is particularly true for those who live near the coast and are directly affected by rising sea levels or depend on fishing.

New habitats are essential if we are to maintain the biodiversity of animals and plants. One way we can help is to create larger nature reserves and increase their resilience to climate change by offering options for adaptation, such as corridors for climate-induced migration. At the current time, however, there are still too many obstacles in the way: Species living in forests are increasingly finding their habitats being replaced by wide stretches of agricultural land or cities, whilst ocean-dwelling species are suffering from over-fishing or sewage from highly populated coastal regions.

About the IPCC and its reports

The IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, was established in 1988 and is the United Nations body for assessing climate change and the threats it poses for people, society, ecosystems and biodiversity.

The international researchers commissioned by the IPCC regularly publish reports assessing current scientific findings on climate change, its impact and possibilities for adaptation in order to provide a sound basis for political decisions. They base their reports on all literature published since the previous report. Scientists in Working Group II analysed approximately 34,000 sources for this year’s report.

The IPCC publishes an assessment report roughly every seven years. It usually consists of three volumes, based on the findings of each of the three working groups. Working Group I focuses on the physical science basis for climate change, Working Group II on the vulnerability of socioeconomic and natural systems to climate change and its consequences as well as options for adaptation, and Working Group III explores political and technological measures for mitigating climate change.

Earth in distress

(Image: David Hartfiel)

In this interview, Professor Wolfgang Kießling tells us about his voluntary work for the World Climate Report and how the Earth, especially our oceans, is doing.

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Further information


Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Kießling
Tel: +49 9131 85-26959