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Wine flavour change is least of climate change fears

Published on 1st December 2015

Dr Hans Joachim Schellnhuber

Italian Chianti could taste very different in 20 years’ time, writes Guild Member Andrew Blake, who recently attended the Greenaccord conference in Italy, courtesy of the European Network of Agricultural Journalists, via the Guild.

That was among many far more serious implications recently predicted if the world’s nations fail to agree on ways to prevent the earth’s temperature rising too far by curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

The messages came ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 21, in Paris which aims to achieve a legally binding, universal agreement on the way ahead.

COP21 seeks to prevent the earth’s average temperature rising by more than 2C above pre-industrial levels.

The 12th International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature meeting ‘Climate, Last Call’, organised by Greenaccord and including wide-ranging presentations from scientists and religious leaders, followed Pope Francis’s June encyclical Laudato si calling for action on climate change.

There were, notably however, no presentations from anyone denying that the climate is changing because of human activity and the greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide, which it causes.

Noting that the industrial revolution, the key contributor to such global-warming gases, is not yet over, Dr Hans Joachim Schellnhuber (pictured above) of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research likened the earth to the human body whose normal temperature is just below 37C.

“People say two degrees is nothing, so why worry?”

He pointed out that a rise of as little as a tenth of a degree makes us feel uncomfortable, and a temperature of 39C brings on fever. “A five degree rise means you’re dead,” he said.

Greenaccord Conference 2015With the earth’s average temperature already 1.6C above pre-industrial levels 2015 is on course to the hottest year on record, he noted.

Several speakers warned of the growing prospect of food and water shortages, coastal flooding, and enforced migration as formerly productive areas become deserts. Pilgrimages to Mecca could become impossible as the temperature rises to unbearable levels.

Carbon dioxide and another greenhouse gas, methane, released from melting permafrost regions could accelerate that rise, explained Dr Svante Bodin, European director of the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative.

Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, former vice-chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that delaying extra mitigation measures until 2030 would greatly increase the challenge of limiting global warming.

Agriculture in Mediterranean countries was especially vulnerable should that challenge not be successfully met, warned Francesco Ciancaleoni of Coldiretti, an Italian farmers’ organisation.

“It’s very likely that the Mediterranean climate will shift north, causing a crisis in agriculture.” Olive groves would need to be moved northwards, and maintaining regional and seasonal production would become especially difficult.

The resulting changes in sugar levels would affect wine quality causing consumer confusion, he added. “Chianti may end up having a different taste.”

Questioned about practical steps to take to avoid the potential end of civilisation by as soon as 2300 Dr Schellnhuber said he believed there was hope. “But there is very little prospect if we continue with business as usual.”

Energy from fossil fuels must be entirely replaced by renewable sources by 2050, and transport has to become solely based on electricity from such sources, he advised. “The combustion engine is a medieval machine using only 20% of the energy put into it.”

Individuals need to take responsibility, he added. “Don’t leave it to governments and politicians.” If everyone ate meat only once a week or became vegetarian it would cut greenhouse gas emissions “tremendously”.

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