The global economy really struggled during 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Did this have any noticeable effect on climate change?
As many societies shut down, we saw a drop in carbon emissions by about 7 percent, or around 2.3 billion tonnes. This is different to carbon concentrations in the atmosphere, which have continued to rise, albeit at a slightly slower rate. But the effects of climate change we’re already seeing today - the observed trends in European climate and the change in the occurrence of some extreme weather events, for example - are not caused by recent emissions, but by everything we’ve emitted in the past. This accumulating effect means we are heading for a world characterised by more intense variation, and only by bringing down emissions permanently can we start to contain the impacts of climate change.
The world reacted quickly to the COVID-19 emergency. Within a year, scientists developed vaccines, which is an extraordinary success. Similarly, we know that climate change is happening and is going to develop further. This therefore gives us an opportunity to get ahead and prepare for the changes that will come by building resilience into our societies. We are seeing increased interest from politicians, business leaders and industry professionals from across the economy in considering future climate impacts.
What is also really promising to me is that I really feel like this crisis gave people the opportunity to reconnect with the environment around them. With less traffic and less pollution in cities, I think everyone now realises more than ever the importance of the environment. I think this is probably the biggest impact on the climate this pandemic has had, which gives me hope for future progress.
Picking up on that point, governments will soon start turning their attention back to the larger problem of climate change. With COP26 taking place later this year, five years after the Paris Agreement was signed, politicians are setting more ambitious goals for reducing carbon emissions, such as those under the European Green Deal. Can you tell us how C3S will be supporting these efforts?
Absolutely. We’re seeing an unprecedented interest in climate data. What we need to ensure is that quality data, the right data, is at the core of future policies. ECMWF is a trusted source with over four decades of weather predictions, with a high level of scientific knowledge and expertise, and some of the most powerful computing in Europe. The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) offers curated, quality-controlled data operationally produced to meet the needs of a growing market. This goes from the gathering of the observations, to the curation of the data and metadata. Politicians are asking for this, and we can offer it.
We take high-quality earth observation data from the Copernicus satellite network and combine it with situ data from sensors all over the world measuring ocean, air, and land processes. It comes to around 350 million observations a day. So we have this huge data resource, the Climate Data Store, which offers open, accurate data that can be used by anyone from politicians to business executives, completely free of charge.
Processes like the European Green Deal will be supported by us through various tools that can monitor progress made toward specific goals. Our 1.5 degree app can be used to see the current rate of global warming, and see how quickly we could reach temperature limits according to global emissions. This kind of monitoring can help us reach our climate goals and aid the development of greener policies in the future.
Policymakers and business leaders alike know that making informed choices can help secure the planet’s future. But how do you help raise awareness of climate change issues so that everyone is involved?
As part of our monitoring role, we publish monthly climate bulletins which are broadly picked up and broadcasted, and on top of that we produce an in-depth report yearly, the European State of the Climate Report, which details the exact changes happening right now across Europe. We make it as accessible as possible, so readers can understand quickly specific events that happened across Europe and why.
The ESOTC gives curated information on climate conditions, focusing on key events from the past year. It also shows in granular detail the shifting environmental characteristics, even at a more local scale, and across all parts of the Earth system, such as humidity, temperature, precipitation.
For those making policies, it’s important to know precisely where, how, and when environmental changes like this will happen, but also to have a solid benchmark to make comparisons. The ESOTC gives updates on key global climate indicators for Europe and the rest of the world, like greenhouse gas emissions, or sea level rise.
ECMWF pioneered a technique known as reanalysis, a powerful climate reconstruction tool, to compile an entire history of Earth’s climate from the past. This gives us complete and consistent coverage of past weather around the globe, filling in the gaps in areas such as the poles. This information is vital for future climate modelling. We just released the latest generation of climate projections - CMIP6 - which will underpin the next IPCC Assessment Report - released next year.
And this information draws on our partners across the C3S community, including national meteorological services, to ensure the data is highly accurate.
Organisations like C3S are only going to grow in importance as climate change becomes increasingly central to policy and business decisions. Where do you see C3S going from here?
Our primary goal will always be the same: to provide clear, accurate, reliable, and near-real time climate data for free, for everyone to access.
We’re constantly releasing new detailed datasets, most recently on the European Arctic. What happens there will affect all of Europe, so this kind of data is vital for policy decisions regarding each region.
And we’re building new tools, often in collaboration with partners. For example, one designed by environment consultancy Lautec uses C3S data to simulate the effectiveness of off-shore wind projects. This kind of tool is invaluable when planning green infrastructure. We can help politicians and businesses use the data in this kind of way, to bring added strategic value.
Last year as the pandemic took hold, we pioneered a Covid-19 application, using our climate data, to help epidemiologists understand which factors may be influencing the spread of the coronavirus. We were able to act quickly, providing information to scientists and policymakers.
Today, our Climate Data Store is used by almost 80,000 people from 171 different countries. Our aim is to grow these numbers further. Our climate data, along with our insights and analysis, are available for any policymaker, business professional and citizen to access and use.
Working with businesses across the economy, we can provide climate data that gives them an edge over competitors. And for those setting policies, they have the information they need to make difficult decisions, based on evidence and the latest scientific thinking. We urge everyone to check out this year’s ESOTC report, and get in touch to see what C3S can do for them.