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DTU expert calls for increased focus after IPCC report

Tuesday 01 Mar 22

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Karsten Arnbjerg-Nielsen
Professor
DTU Sustain
+45 45 25 14 50
In Denmark, the biggest climate threat is flooding due to rising sea levels that will affect many of our coastlines.

The latest IPCC report focuses on both the consequences of climate change and the opportunities for adaptation to future climate change.

In relation to the current adaptations to climate change, the report highlights a couple of significant focus areas. Firstly, some of the existing global responses are not sufficient in relation to the major changes we will be facing as a result of climate change. Two of the reasons for this are that many of the solutions operate with a time frame that is too short and that their aim is not sufficiently broad. In other words, this means that—in some contexts—we are currently directly increasing the vulnerability of people, nature, and society to the climate change we will have to live with in the future.

Karsten Arnbjerg-Nielsen—Professor of Climate Adaptation, Precipitation and Flooding at DTU—elaborated on these points from a Danish perspective in connection with the presentation of the report.

“In Denmark, we’ve long only focused on reductions of CO2 and other climate gases in the debate on climate change. However, we need also to focus much more on how to adapt our society to the climate change we’ve already seen and are sure to experience in the future. Because it will affect our daily lives, our economy, as well as our nature and environment. By adopting a long-term perspective, we can mitigate the worst consequences and actually also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Rising sea levels threaten Denmark
The IPCC report highlights three threats that will affect Europe on an unprecedented scale in the future due to climate change. One threat is heat waves similar to the one we experienced in Southern Europe in 2003, resulting in high mortality rates. Another threat is water shortages, which is already a huge problem in big cities like Los Angeles, Sydney, Taipei, and Johannesburg.

"We need to focus much more on how to adapt our society to the climate change we’ve already seen and are sure to experience in the future. Because it will affect our daily lives, our economy, as well as our nature and environment. "

These climate changes primarily affect Southern Europe. In Denmark, however, rising sea levels pose the biggest threat from climate change. At the moment, sea levels are rising globally by 3.7 mm a year. This may not sound like much, but it means that sea levels have increased more in the past 15 years than they did from the Viking Age and until the year 1900. And the expectation is that the increase will continue and perhaps become even more pronounced over the next 200-400 years.

National perspective on climate change
 In this context, the IPCC points out that responses to rising sea levels should be based on sufficiently large geographical areas to make them rational. In Denmark, this work has so far been anchored in the municipalities, but it should instead be done at regional, national, or international level.

“In my opinion, it’s obvious that Denmark has areas in which we need to prioritize the protection of the many values located there. For example—over the past decades—many large urban areas have been developed in low-lying areas, at sea level. Some of these areas have achieved a status of ‘too big to fail’,” says Karsten Arnbjerg-Nielsen.

“But—in the rest of Denmark—we should consider whether, for example, the many abandoned port areas are all to be transformed into new urban areas with attractive dwellings and cultural institutions, like we’re currently seeing on a large scale. These areas will require protection in the form of dikes, thus creating a vicious circle between urban development and protection with dikes.”

According to Karsten Arnbjerg-Nielsen, it would instead make sense to discuss other options. One example could be a deliberate choice to move the central parts of the city to safer areas and utilize the former ports for activities that are either of a more short-term nature or resistant to flooding. This could be areas with urban nature, thereby increasing the biodiversity of the area.

“In future, such discussions should be included to a greater extent in the development of coastal areas in Denmark, but it requires action based on a long-term perspective,” says Karsten Arnbjerg-Nielsen.