GENEVA (dpa) – What is the first thing that comes to mind for most people in this country when it comes to climate change? Climate-damaging emissions are likely to be reduced, such as phasing out coal, electric cars and the like.
Behind this lies above all the desire and will to be able to continue living with such changes as before. But reducing emissions of climate-damaging greenhouse gases is never enough. Adaptation measures are needed and people have to say goodbye to lifestyle habits.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will present a new report on February 28. It deals with the consequences of climate change on nature and humans and the modifications necessary to maintain the balance of life on this planet in one form or another.
Urgent modifications required
Of course, greenhouse gases must be reduced, science confirms. “But it cannot just be that everyone will drive electric cars in the future and continue to live as before,” Tapia Lesnar, co-head of the Climate Analytics Team in Potsdam, tells dpa. “If we rely only on mitigating the drivers of climate change, through measures that require vast tracts of land, we have problems with nature conservation,” says Almut Arneth, a climate researcher at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT).
So there is no way to get around the modifications. In Germany, floods in the Ahr and Erft region in July 2021 made climate change a reality. More than 180 people died there after torrential rains, which according to studies would not have happened so severely without man-made climate change. If more climate protection is not pursued, Lesnar says, annual damage from floods in rivers in Germany would increase by 72 percent according to the model’s calculations if policy remained the same.
Adaptation means: it is not enough to have small protective walls in particularly exposed places. “You have to look at the entire water system and the interaction of all the factors,” Lesnar says. In general, depending on the area and location, it may be necessary to remove straightening and restore original riverbeds, to open soil enclosed by roads or buildings and to create areas where floodwaters can seep. Some areas can no longer be used in the future as before.
Island countries focal point
Lesnar says the island nations are in a special dilemma. Due to frequent storms, huts and houses were repeatedly destroyed. Countries will have few resources to build better homes to break out of this vicious cycle. “Climate financing is an important component of adaptation,” she says. Rich countries have built their fortunes on climate-damaging emissions and are historically responsible for most climate change. In 2009, they promised to save $100 billion for this each year by 2020 at the latest, but they haven’t delivered on that promise.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also wants to make clearer than before how closely climate protection and nature conservation are closely related. “Climate protection measures can be detrimental to species protection, but species protection does not actually harm the climate,” Arneth says. Take biofuels as an example: if fuels made from plant raw materials are used instead of emission-intensive gasoline, and huge rapeseed fields or palm oil plantations are planted, biodiversity will diminish. The uptake of climate-damaging carbon dioxide could even be reduced if tropical rainforests were cleared for plantations – as in Indonesia.
More and more species are dying
According to a report by the United Nations, the average biodiversity in rural habitats has declined by at least 20 percent, most of it over the past 120 years. There are a million species threatened with extinction, more than at any time in human history. Protecting species also means preserving landscapes that mitigate the drivers of climate change.
Forest example: Restoring forests close to nature is a climate change adaptation measure with many positive effects. “They absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, create a habitat for species, regulate rainwater runoff, and provide a wonderful ecosystem for animals and humans, and thus also a place to relax,” says Arneth. The obstacle is the competition between forest areas for the space needed to produce food.
So it is clear to climate experts that adaptation also means changing one’s lifestyle. “Per capita consumption in Western countries is very high,” says Arneth. “We don’t all have to be vegetarians, walk around in jute bags and not heat the apartment, but we can look at our noses.” Nearly 60 percent of agricultural land is used for meat production worldwide. “How do I convince Germans that they might only eat meat twice a week instead of every day?”
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