Sunday, August 7

The heat wave and other UN climate warnings that fully affect Spain

A heat wave runs through the Mediterranean basin of Europe and North Africa. It has left a trail of devastating forest fires in Greece, Turkey and Italy. In the transalpine country they have called him Lucifer and a measuring station in Syracuse has marked 48.8ºC. In the absence of confirmation, it would be a continental record. In Spain, the wave started this Wednesday and will last until Monday.

The heat wave reaches Spain and extends the maximum risk of forest fires

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Heat waves are directly related to the warming of the atmosphere that has caused the scab of greenhouse gases emitted by human activities. “Increase the frequency and intensity”, has just stated the IPCC, the UN panel of scientists. In Spain, the AEMET has registered twice as much in the last ten years. The longest and most intense from the year 2000.

The IPCC climate report launched this Monday has described the current situation of the planet: the verified impacts and the most certain projections about future damages of having already warmed the planet in an accelerated way in a short time. Spain, located in a very vulnerable area, is especially concerned by the scientific conclusions of this analysis.

The Mediterranean:

The UN divides the world into 45 regions to analyze climate evolution. The Mediterranean region, in which Spain is embedded, fares badly. IPCC scientists rate it as a hot spot of climate change. A hot spot where the crisis makes itself felt earlier. In fact, already in 2018 a study published in Nature –And which included experts from the CSIC– warned of the interconnected risks in the basin: the global temperature had risen 1.4ºC above the planetary average, the region overheating 20% ​​faster. Also, the mean sea level was six centimeters higher.

In 2021, one of the editors of the latest UN scientific report, Francisco Javier Doblas, summarized that “the Mediterranean is a particularly sensitive area where the impact of global warming is more quickly appreciated.” Doblas, who investigates in the Department of Earth Sciences of the Barcelona Supercomputing Center-National Supercomputing Center, explained to Efe when presenting the international work that “the Mediterranean basin is where the greatest and fastest warming of the European continent is observed and North Africa. It is one of the hot spots of global warming along with some areas of the Arctic and others in the Tropics. ”

The coast in the first line of fire

IPCC scientists take it as “virtually true” that mean sea level will continue to rise throughout the 21st century. It is one of those “irreversible” effects of warming caused by humanity to which you have referred. The climb varies between 28-55 cm, if the CO2 emissions are contained with force, and 105 cm, if it is not done. A country with almost 10,000 km. coastline, inscribed in a peninsula and several archipelagos, is especially exposed to this phenomenon.

The scientific conclusion is that “due to the rise in sea level, extreme events that until now occurred once every hundred years will tend to occur annually” thereby “contributing to increasing the frequency and severity of coastal flooding in low-lying areas and coastal erosion on most of the sandy shoreline “. The sea, as it expands, takes the beach away.

The message touches Spain directly, since 44% of the population lives in coastal municipalities –which represent 7% of the territory–, according to the calculations of the Ministry of Ecological Transition.

The latest measurement on the ground of the areas that would be most exposed to sea rises in the world indicated that in Spain the population directly at risk would range between 200,000 in 2050 and 340,000 at the end of the century. Doñana, the Ebro delta, the Bilbao estuary, Santander or the coast of Cádiz and Huelva appear in red on the risk map for mid-century.

Furthermore, rising sea levels pollute coastal aquifers in the driest areas of Spain with salt water. More than half of the 95 coastal aquifers already present this intrusion of seawater. A salt content of between 3% and 5% renders the water useless and detracts water resources where there is less.

Drought and aridity: conditions for fires

The general fall in rainfall affects the problem of aridity that already affects large areas of Spain. Desertification advances in the southeast and lift. Severe or very severe soil erosion affects one third of the territory. It is, at the same time, a “cause and symptom” of desertification, as the Action Plan against this phenomenon admits.

These drought and arid conditions are what increase the risk of forest fires and, once started, feed them until they become unmanageable and devastating. This pattern of fires has had its most recent example in the eastern Mediterranean: Greece, Turkey and Algeria have faced hundreds of simultaneous fires for many days in a row.

Little action: the airport expansion

“The world is listening, but it is not acting enough,” UN-Environment Executive Secretary Inger Andersen complained as she reviewed Monday’s IPCC report. He was referring to the national climate plans that will be analyzed at the Glasgow summit in November and whose joint effect, so far, has led to a warming of almost 3ºC extra (the agreed ideal limit is 1.5ºC). The vice president of Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, said in turn that “it is an alarm signal from scientists that we cannot afford to ignore.”

The point is that the red alert has come shortly after the agreement between the Government and the Generalitat to expand the El Prat airport and add capacity to reach 70 million travelers, that is, more flights. In addition, an extension of Barajas in Madrid has been added to that project.

Beyond the specific problem that the new El Prat project could eat up part of the protected land in the Llobregat delta (and which the European Commission monitors), a larger infrastructure implies more flights and, therefore, more CO2. However, the regional deputy of Junts, Joan Canadell, justified that the IPCC forecasts speak of a rise of 1.1 meters in sea level in that area by 2100 and “as an investment like that of the airport will be amortized in much less “Well, in his opinion, there would be no problem.

Where can Spain cut back from to reach net zero emissions

“Limiting the rise in global temperature requires achieving net zero CO2 emissions within a carbon budget,” the scientists have said. That is, there is an amount of carbon that can be expelled if it is intended to keep the excess heat at 1.5ºC and it is necessary to ensure that the emissions are equal (or less) than what can be absorbed in the ocean, forests or peatlands. .

In Spain, some 271 gigatons of GHG were emitted in 2020. The sinks kept 13% to give a net of 234 Gt. Last year, with all the stoppage associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, was the first time that the levels fell below those of 1990. We are in 24th place in the world ranking, according to the Global Carbon Atlas listing. What activity produces more CO2 in Spain? Road transport with 24%. After the industry with 21%, livestock and agriculture with 14% and the generation of electricity 10%. That is where Spain has room to cut: gasoline or diesel-based car journeys, flights, industrial and agricultural production with more polluting methods and the generation of electricity with fossil sources such as oil or gas.

The IPCC report makes a caveat about sinks (oceans, forests or peatlands) in which political leaders put a lot of emphasis to achieve a somewhat larger share of CO2 that can be emitted (because they consider that investing in sinks will capture more gas) . The IPCC understands that these sponges they will capture more of the gases in absolute terms, but in relative terms they will be less effective if emissions remain high. “Consequently, a greater proportion of CO2 will remain in the atmosphere,” they say, warming even more.