Climate change

Global surface temperature increased 0.74 ± 0.18 °C during the last century. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that most of the observed temperature increase since the middle of the 20th century is caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases resulting from human activity such as fossil fuel burning and deforestation.

Global average temperature is predicted to increase over this century, with a probable increase in frequency of some extreme weather events, and changes in rainfall patterns. Some of the physical impacts of climate change are irreversible at continental and global scales. Sea level is expected to rise. Climate change will likely result in reduced diversity of ecosystems and the extinction of many species.

The impacts on human systems of climate change will probably be distributed unevenly. Some regions and sectors are expected to experience benefits while others will experience costs. With human systems, adaptation potential for climate change impacts is considerable, although the costs of adaptation are largely unknown and potentially large.

Societal impact and strategis research objectives

Climate change has a growing priority in society and politics. Time, energy and money is required not only for stabilising or reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases, but also for adapting to the warmer and more extreme climate. To ensure that the emission of greenhouse gases is reduced, research is needed into alternatives for fossil fuels, such as wind energy or solar energy.

In addition, research is needed into new technologies to make existing energy sources more climate-friendly and methods to reduce emissions from the transport sector. Researchers are also studying how greenhouse gases can be sequestered by means of forestry or agriculture.

We need to determine whether our cities can still expand without risking flooding. Researchers are involved with estimating flooding risks in specific areas and designing scenarios for an evacuation in case of a disaster. Nature must also adapt, and the question here is how land development can take place so that plants and animals can survive the new climatological conditions. Agriculture is also faced with adaptational strategies.

Political and administrative frame

In 1992 the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed asking for a stabilizing of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interferences with the climate system.

As a first step towards this goal the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997, which asks the developed world to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 % between 1990 and 2010.

The European Union has ratified the Kyoto Protocol, i.e. it has agreed to reduce its emissions by 8%, in order to contribute to the overall reduction of 5.2 %. The Protocol became international law on 16 February 2005.

European policies to implement the Kyoto Protocol are developed under the European Climate Change Programme of the European Commission's DG Environment. So far they have led to the adoption by the European Council of ambitions plans to cut EU greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020 compared to 1990.

Source: JRC

Background information

Main sub fields and areas

The PEER climate change activities fall into five main categories:

The PEER climate change activities fall into five main categories:

  • Land-atmosphere interactions 
  • Regional land-atmosphere coupled exchange studies 
  • Global modelling studies of the Earth Systems cycles and their interactions  Integrated climate studies 
  • Trans-disciplinary approaches towards integrated water system and water management studies
  • Adaptation to climate change



As an integrated methodological research area, a main objective of this research topic is to create permanent exchange between the research projects carried out in PEER institutes. This will enable the sharing of knowledge and the design of common approaches thus progressively creating synergies and critical mass and avoiding redundant work. Thereby the area can contribute to a dynamic integration of the PEER institutes.