Two seasons, limited access to water and rising temperatures - this is the picture that climate forecasts for Poland draw over the next few decades. Dr Mirosława Malinowska, Deputy Dean for Student Affairs at the Faculty of Oceanography and Geography UG, talks about whether we can do anything to prevent this.
A climatologist from UG, she has written many papers collecting data from meteorological stations all over Poland and is leading an interdisciplinary postgraduate course on 'Mitigation and Adaptation to Climate Change', which involves scientists from UG, the Technical University of Gdańsk and the Medical University of Gdańsk.
Anomalies of mean annual air temperatures at selected stations in 1951-2018, source: Ustrnul Z., Wypych A., Czekierda D., 2021, Air Temperature Change, [in:] Falarz M., (ed.), Climate Change in Poland. Past, Present, Future, Springer Climate, p. 287
Marcel Jakubowski: - You have analysed climate change over the decades not only in Pomerania but also in Poland as a whole. Which way is our climate heading?
Dr Mirosława Malinowska: - We are currently seeing an increase in air temperatures around the world. A few decades ago the average temperature in Poland was 8 degrees Celsius, now it is already 8.5 or even 9. Climatologists can see this from the data, and Poles feel it, among other things, during the summer seasons, when hot days with temperatures reaching over 30 degrees are becoming more frequent.
- Is the rarer occurrence of snowfall during winter also due to this warming?
- On average in Poland, around 25 per cent of all precipitation is snow, but there is much less snow at the moment, making it less frequent that we have a white Christmas. This is also due to the shift in the onset of winter, with temperatures in December more characteristic of autumn or pre-winter. On the other hand, the coldest season of the year doesn't arrive until January, and can even end in March or April, so there are years when we have a white Easter.
- Can we attribute all these changes to global warming?
- Firstly, in Poland, we have a great deal of weather variability. Above our area, the low that formed over the North Atlantic is moving. They bring with them precipitation and strong winds, followed by a period of calm, or more high weather. This weather swing is a feature of our country. The second factor contributing to these changes is precisely the modern climate change of increasing average temperatures and less frequent sub-zero temperatures and snowfall. According to forecasts, our climate will evolve towards a subtropical climate with two seasons - warm and dry and cool and wet. At present, the climate system, which is deregulated by greenhouse gases, is slowly shifting climate zones, a change that we will be able to observe in a few decades.
- Is there a chance that, if we put in a lot of effort, we could return to that climate of the 1970s and 1980s, where Christmas was white and the holidays not so hot?
- The climate system is such an unstoppable machine. This means that even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases in one day, i.e. switched off all the factories and stopped driving cars, these chemicals would still raise the amount of energy in the Earth-atmosphere system and the glaciers would not stop melting. It would take some time before their levels would naturally decrease. At present, we do not know how to remove excess greenhouse gases effectively and in large quantities, although work is ongoing. So it remains to be seen whether we can go back to the way things were a few decades ago.
- What are our risks if we continue to develop without considering the environment?
- In 2015, at the Paris climate summit, one of the demands that rang out very clearly was that the average global temperature should not increase by two degrees, and ideally, everything should be done to ensure that the increase does not exceed 1.5 degrees. At present, we can only guess what will happen if we exceed this two-degree threshold. In such a deregulated system, cataclysms, migrations and lack of access to water await us. For our civilisation to continue to function under such conditions, technology would have to develop enough to make water and food production less dependent on the weather. This is all very difficult and poses quite a challenge for the younger generations.
- Why does such a pessimistic vision of the future not motivate the whole world to solve these problems?
- Globally, we must also pay attention to the diversity of economic development of countries. Western countries developed thanks to the industrial revolution. In the 1960s, Western companies began to relocate their production to less developed countries. Now we resent Bangladesh or the Philippines for emitting large quantities of greenhouse gases and not wanting to reduce them. However, Europe and America have sufficient resources to switch to renewable energy sources and they have not yet. The problem is, first of all, that you have to implement these solutions while maintaining a decent standard of living for people. This is where wise decisions and support for less developed countries are needed.
- One of your recent publications deals with the analysis of the climate between 1989 and 2014 in the Vistula lagoon in the context of tourism. What is the relationship between the two issues?
- Climate change affects many areas of the economy, including tourism. An increase in temperature means an extension of the tourist season. Weather, which allows for outdoor recreation, occurs from April to October. On the coast, this also means an extended beach season. However, the hot temperatures can make it difficult for people who have heart or circulatory problems. Unless it is not the most popular activity in Pomerania, skiing of all kinds also loses out in the less frequent occurrence of snow.
- With so many problems and risks, are you able to look to the future with hope?
- There is hope in scientists, for example in the previously mentioned removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, but also in the more efficient use of renewable energy sources or in reducing the amount of solar energy absorbed by the earth's surface. There is also hope in young people, who are very aware of climate change and the effects it causes. Already, young people are switching more often to vegetarianism and veganism, using public transport, or taking care to separate their rubbish. These are micro-level actions, but they show how aware this younger generation is of these problems. In the future, some of them will probably enter politics and make decisions that support sustainable development. You can also see how much young people want to learn about the environment. Studies related to marine hydrography or aquaculture, for example, are becoming increasingly popular. I am in charge of the postgraduate course 'Mitigation and Adaptation to Climate Change', which addresses issues related to the implementation of sustainable development. They cover environmental as well as socio-economic issues. Expertise on the engineering side is offered by scientists from the Gdańsk University of Technology, while public health aspects are explained by specialists from the Medical University of Gdańsk. We offer a very broad approach in just two semesters, and enrolment is still open until the end of January.
- Thank you for the interview.
- Thank you.