Background note on Climate Change Indicators for eea/etc-acc expert meeting on 22 and 23 November

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Background note on Climate Change Indicators

for EEA/ETC-ACC expert meeting on 22 and 23 November (EEA, Copenhagen)

Markus Erhard, Jelle van Minnen, Thomas Voigt

1. Objective of the ETC/ACC work

The EU has identified climate change as one of the key environmental themes. Indicators reflect trends in the state of the environment and monitor the progress made in meeting environmental policy targets. The EEA work programme and the EEA Scientific Committee recognise the need for more work on climate change “state” indicators such as temperature increase, shifts in precipitation and “impact/effect” indicators on ecosystems, biodiversity, health, forests, water and other resources, agriculture etc., as part of the general EEA DPSIR assessment framework (Driving force (socio-economic), Pressure, State, Impact, policy Response). Such indicators are designed to assist the policy process (EU 6th Environmental Assessment Programme and other related EU legislative frameworks such as the European Climate Change Programme) by highlighting trends and underlying causes and where adaptation and mitigation measures may be required. This report, prepared by the ETC/ACC, aims to identify the required data for such climate change state/impact indicators, the possible gaps in knowledge and a preliminary broad and core set of indicators.

Apart from climate change state/impact indicators the ETC has already established, as part of the support to the EU Greenhouse Gas Monitoring Mechanism, indicators for pressures (emissions) and policy responses (e.g. emission projections and emission intensity), which have been reported elsewhere and are not further addressed in this report (see for example the report “EC and MS greenhouse gas trends”, EEA, 2001).

2. Introduction

The ETC wishes to collect readily available information, which can be used to compile climate change indicators to be used in EEA reports (environmental signals series or special EEA report on climate indicators) to support policy making at the EU level. The underlying data to build such indicators is available at a number of national institutes and research organisations in Europe and in addition at EU/international organisations such as JRC, WMO, UNFCCC/IPCC, WHO, EUMETNET and AMAP. The ETC also aims to identify gaps in knowledge and analyse the time frames by when underlying data could become available in future.

Based on available data, indicators will need to be selected on criteria such as relevance (for climate policy), spatial representation (e.g. for the whole of Europe or for certain regions only), transparency (i.e. can they be understood by policy makers, scientists and stakeholders?), analytical soundness and measurability. Also indicators, which are potentially very relevant for climate policy, but where data is currently not sufficiently available, are taken into account.

This paper gives an overview of potential state and impact indicators on climate change. Both a broad list and a preliminary core set of state and impact indicators were defined. The indicators characterise the trends in climate change in the near past and the present on European and regional level. The preliminary core set has been derived from the broad set using criteria such as data availability, feasibility, appropriate temporal and spatial scale and relevance as well as transparency to decision makers and the public (as listed in the EEA Indicator Fact Sheet Model used for all indicators within EEA). The proposal is to use both lists of indicators as a base for discussion with experts, initially at an expert meeting at EEA (22 and 23 November). Subsequently a draft technical report will be prepared by the ETC based on this background note and the outcome of the expert meeting, which will be distributed to the regular EEA contacts in countries and other organisations, including DG Environment (National Focal Points/EIONET)

The final technical report will include a set of state and impact climate change indicators, to be used as a subset in an indicator hierarchy suitable for reporting under the EU 6th Environmental Assessment Programme and other related EU legislative frameworks such as the European Climate Change Programme)

3. Background

There is significant evidence of changes in climate, which are at least partly driven by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (IPCC, 2001). Several aspects of climate change are of major concern, globally but also for Europe. Firstly global and European average temperatures are higher than in the last 10.000 years. This is beyond the range of historic temperature trends to which our civilization has adapted in the past. Secondly, the rate of temperature and other climate changes may be faster than the adaptation capacity of natural as well as of social and economic systems.

Consequently climate change has been identified as a key environmental topic. To limit climate change and its potential impacts countries agreed in 1997 in Kyoto to supplement the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) with quantitative limits for emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) in industrial countries by 2008-2012, which will be legally binding after ratification (expected in 2002). Further, some countries and regions (e.g. the EU) defined indicative targets for potentially “sustainable” climate changes (e.g. a maximum global temperature increase of 2 degrees above pre-industrial values).

Policy makers need indicators to measure progress towards achieving agreed objectives, which means indicators that can be used to measure quantitatively greenhouse gas emissions and for evaluating the effectiveness of policies aimed at reducing these emissions. In addition indicators should also monitor the actual trends in climate change and its impacts, because public concern is mostly interested in these impacts. Furthermore climate change state/impact indicators could also provide early warning signals to policymakers, which subsequently could provide arguments for further emission reductions, in particular after 2012. Policymakers are also interested in projected impact of climate change over long time periods, e.g. up to 2050 and 2100, in order to develop already now the potentially required additional policies or societal changes.

Scientists use indicators for assessing the link between observed changes in climate and changes in natural and social systems and for developing models to project future changes. The multi-factoral causes (i.e. changes in temperature, precipitation, greenhouse gas concentrations etc) and impacts of climate change include synergistic and antagonistic effects, which are in most cases not completely understood. Indicators can help scientists to describe and model these complex relationships. Scientists may integrate mean values as well as extreme events to show how changes in climate affect different sectors, at least in a qualitative way. The many uncertainties in the relationships between pressure (greenhouse gas emissions) and state/impact due to deficits in knowledge can be reduced, by demonstrating what happens under changing climate conditions in complex systems through modeling exercises However this note focuses primarily on observed past and current climate changes and impacts.

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