Plenary Session I: Climate, Environment, Water and Future Earth

Tuesday, 5 September, 10:30-12:00
Moderator: Enric Banda

Session overview, speakers and titles

This session will debate a number of critical issues related to climate, environment and water that will certainly impact the future of our planet. Water scarcity and alternative water supply systems; sea-level rise, its consequences and how to mitigate them; inefficiencies of most industrials systems and how can we learn to be efficient; climate change is largely influencing our health status; what policies can be applied to produce major health benefits. These are among the topics that will be debated after an introduction by the speakers.


Enric Banda

Speakers, titles, summaries

Georges Vachaud,

Directeur de Recherches Emérite, CNRS-France

Title: Expected impact of climate change on fresh water availability

Environmental and social issues dealing with impacts of climate change on the water cycle will probably be one of the greatest problems to deal with in the forthcoming decades.
Inland Europe, and essentially in Southern countries, water scarcity will be a very important challenge for economic and social development. In relation with development of urbanization and agriculture, alternative water supply systems will have to be developed, particularly from water reuse, brackish water and saline water. Regional conflicts over water resources could be feared.
On the European sea shore, the danger will come from the rise of oceanic level, with erosion affecting already 20% of the littoral, and concerning more than 70 Million persons, with severe flooding of several European metropolis (Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Barcelona, ..). The situation will be worst in South East Asia
Some case studies will be briefly illustrated and disruptive solutions will be proposed

Kate Hendry
University of Bristol

Title: It is Not Just Sea Level: How Melting Ice Sheets Can Influence Marine Productivity

High latitude and mountain glaciers are melting at an ever increasing rate. The removal of freshwater, locked up as ice on land, into the ocean is causing unprecedented rates of sea-level rise. Furthermore, the release of cold, low salinity water into the sea potentially impacts both the local density profile and large-scale ocean circulation. In addition to the physical changes, melting of glaciers and ice sheets has the potential to change the chemistry of the oceans. There is evidence that subglacial melt from the Greenland ice sheet releases a large quantity of key nutrients, such as phosphate and silicon, in addition to trace elements both in dissolved form and as reactive particles. As these nutrients escape into the ocean, they will have a major impact on the marine ecosystems, potentially changing algal populations that feed important fisheries. These changes will have clear impacts on local populations, reliant on natural marine resources.
We can only mitigate against these impacts by curbing greenhouse gas emissions, which will take a global effort of multi-lateral agreements. We can also engage with local populations, and plan for changes and help with adaptation. However, we are only just beginning to understand the impact of ice sheet melt on nutrient cycling and oceanic ecosystems, and we don’t fully understand what the future holds for these marine resources. There is a clear need to put resources into modelling future outcomes, and include nutrient cycling and ecosystems into our future projections.

Steve Evans
Director of Research in Industrial Sustainability, University of Cambridge, UK

Title: On the efficiency of our industrial system as a stakeholder in our natural system

Human systems are often considered to be efficient – why would a business waste expensive energy? This brief talk will present real data and show how large scale in-efficiency enters most industrial systems. I will argue for the potential of efficiency gains to deliver much needed respite to the demands on the many natural systems that provide energy, materials and water into the industrial system.
My data shows very significant (even surprising) levels of in-efficiencies that can be addressed at low or zero economic cost. The core of my ‘main challenge’ for our socio-technical industrial system is therefore how do we learn to be efficient within today’s technological possibilities. This has implications across energy, water and resources but I expect to be seen as a ‘customer/user/citizen’ in this session, rather than an earth scientist or energy scientist.
My research addresses HOW to resolve this which inevitably leads to issues of multi-disciplinary collaboration, which may also be of interest to this debate.

Josep María Antó
Scientific Director, Barcelona Institute for Global Health, Barcelona, Spain

Title: The impacts of climate change in human health: a global bidirectional challenge

There is compelling evidence that climate change is causing major global disruptions which will both directly and indirectly undermine the health status of large human populations. Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250.000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress. Europe with large urbanized areas is also at high risk of severe health impacts. Extreme high air temperatures contribute directly to deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory disease, particularly among elderly people. In the heat wave of summer 2003 in Europe for example, more than 70 000 excess deaths were recorded. High temperatures also raise the levels of ozone and other pollutants in the air that exacerbate cardiovascular and respiratory disease. Many policies and individual choices have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and produce major health co-benefits. For example, cleaner energy systems, and promoting the safe use of public transportation and active movement – such as cycling or walking as alternatives to using private vehicles – could reduce carbon emissions, reducing the burden of air pollution and increasing physical activity preventing the loss of millions deaths every year. Europe has the opportunity and the responsibility to be at the forefront of these policies.