Lena Strömbäck works for the Swedish national meteorological organization SMHI. At CLARITY she supports infrastructure projects in the EU to adapt to climate change.
MCS: It was a very dry summer this year in Europe. Sweden has experienced some of the worst forest fires of modern times. Tens of thousands of hectares of forest burned down - villages had to be evacuated. Is this a consequence of climate change?
Strömbäck: That's a tricky question. At SMHI we try to investigate this question very thoroughly. It was an exceptionally extreme summer, but one can't say it was a linear consequence of climate change. On the other hand, this summer is a very good example of what we can expect to be more common in the future if climate change proceeds according to the scenarios.
Heat waves change the routines of elderly care
MCS: From 3 December, the United Nations will meet in Katowice, Poland, to determine how the goals of the Paris Agreement will be implemented. Climate change cannot be stopped completely. How can we best adapt to the new climate that is already being felt? There was a conference in Sweden on climate change adaption in October. What is your conclusion?
Strömbäck: In Sweden, this issue is a high priority. At the "Nordic Conference on Climate Change Adaptation", research, policy makers, municipalities and external consultants discussed this issue. Heat was of course a major topic this year due to the summer. But the consequences of climate change go much further than we often imagine.
For example, one topic discussed was the development of new routines in the elderly care. As a result of the extreme heat wave, nursing staff had to change their routines to protect elderly people from the heat, for instance, not follow cleaning routines and instead put effort on that the elderly drink sufficient water. Such routines need to be implemented in all municipalities and based on SMHI warnings.
A new climate change adaption tool for cities
MCS: SMHI is partner of the project "CLARITY". It is funded by the EU research funding programme Horizon 2020 and aims to help infrastructure projects in the EU preparing for climate threats. What are you doing there with SMHI?
Strömbäck: We are evaluating an adaption tool for cities called the “Green Area Factor”. The “Green Area Factor” improves cities’ prerequisites for adapting to climate change by promoting the green infrastructure. Vegetation mitigates the risk of flooding, reserves carbon dioxide, cools down the heat islands of built environments and increases the pleasantness and beneficial health-effects of the urban spaces.
As a part of that we are working with different future scenarios of the cities of Stockholm, simulating the effect of green infrastructure. We work with current plans for Stockholm but also have a very “green scenario” and a very “grey scenario” for the city. The method can be adapted to other places in Europe.
We have also launched a Workshop in the beginning of September, which is connected to the CLARITY project. The workshop was about planning the heat in cities in a future climate scenario. There will be a second workshop in 2019, possibly concerning heat and hydrology.
“People should avoid long distance flights”
MCS: Talking of climate change – you as a meteorologist – what are the biggest threats for infrastructure projects in Sweden concerning climate?
Strömbäck:. In Sweden we know that it is going to be generally warmer but some parts of Sweden are going to be wetter and some parts dryer. Also, different scenarios give very different pictures. Depentent on the project different factors can be more or less important. CLARITY is supporting infrastructure projects within the EU concerning these possible climate threats.
MCS: The head of the UN Environment Programme resigned on 22 November. Norwegian Erik Solheims spent half a million euros on jet-setting in two years. As head of the environmental authority this is fatal. But on a small scale it is similar for many people. We talk about climate protection and fly around the world. What do we have to do to protect the climate?
Strömbäck: I think it is important that everybody is trying to do whatever he or she can do. Of course people should avoid long distance flights, but I also think it is important that people do what they can. Maybe you can go by train instead of by car. Maybe it is possible not to take this flight or to enjoy more vegetarian food. If, of course, you calculate what you really have to do to protect the climate, then it's really hard.
“A fossil free future is possible”
MCS: The Swedish biathlete Björn Ferry reports for SVT on the current World Cup - his prerequisite for this was that he only does it when he doesn't have to board a single plane. The station said yes. As a consequence, Ferry is travelling 13,000 kilometres by train through Europe this winter. "Flygskam" is the Swedish word for the shame of getting on a plane. Your countrymen prefer to stay on the ground. Björn Ferry even wants to live fossil free until 2025. Would you like that, too?
Strömbäck: I think it is possible. The Swedish government set a goal for a climate neutral Sweden in 2045 with fossil free traffic already in 2030. We would be one of the first fossil free countries in the world.
SMHI is the national meteorological and hydrological institute of Sweden under the Ministry of the Environment and Energy. Through unique expertise in meteorology, hydrology, oceanography and climatology, SMHI contributes towards greater public welfare, increased safety and a sustainable society. Lena Strömbäck is “Head of Unit” at Air Quality Research and supervises the CLARITY project for SMHI.