By ANDREW DUNNE
In Greece’s capital Athens, an ancient aqueduct could get a new lease of life as Europe steps up efforts to cope with global warming.
The city plans to use a water channel built on the orders of Roman Emperor Hadrian in the second century AD to irrigate modern-day green spaces, which are being expanded to limit the impact of sweltering temperatures. The channel ran 20 kilometres underground transporting water from the foot of Mount Parnitha in northern Athens to near the centre.
The possible revival is part of a push across the European Union to come up with distinct local answers to an increasingly common worldwide challenge: how best to adapt to the inevitable consequences of climate change?
‘Athens has very little green space and this has a huge impact on our high temperatures,’ said Professor Chrysi Laspidou, who leads the EU-funded ARSINOE project on climate adaptation. ‘On a small scale, we are trying to show what might be possible by giving people a different vision.’
As global warming intensifies, learning how to adapt to extreme weather events – including more severe heatwaves – is gaining urgency in parallel with cutting emissions that are exacerbating the climate crisis. Adaptation featured high on the agenda of this year’s COP27, the United Nations climate change summit that took place in November in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.
Against that backdrop, this has been a year like no other. Global weather reports have been dominated by floods, storms, droughts and wildfires. In Europe, Germany was battered by hail in June and the continent as a whole then had its hottest summer on record.
In a sign of growing attention to the challenges of adjusting to global warming, the European Commission has launched the ‘Mission on Adaptation to Climate Change‘ to support at least 150 regions and local authorities to become ready to face climate disruptions by 2030. ARSINOE is part of this initiative.
Far and wide
ARSINOE’s focus is far wider than Athens, bringing together 41 partners made up of industries, universities and local authorities from across Europe and beyond. From Denmark in the north to the Canary Islands in the south and the Black Sea in the east, the project is developing ‘living labs’ to tackle local and regional climate challenges.
‘Working with areas across Europe that are vulnerable to climate change, we are developing innovative ideas about how they might respond,’ said Laspidou, a professor at the University of Thessaly in Greece. ‘We aren’t coming in with solutions – these are decided upon through stakeholder engagement.’
One distinctive feature of the project is its use of an online marketplace known as the ‘Climate Innovation Window’. Still in development, this portal allows local people to list the climate challenges they face – from coastal floods to wildfires – and be matched with innovative solutions being tested in the field.
A separate EU-funded initiative that is advancing Mission Adaptation’s goals is IMPETUS. It combines Earth observation satellite information about climate change with on-the-ground data about affected communities. The project involves residents in weighing up the best responses to a given challenge.
‘We are connecting diverse data and human activities in new ways to implement climate adaptation measures at a local level, which we can then scale up and modify for different regional contexts,’ said Hannah Arpke, the project coordinator and a specialist in science management and rural development at the Eurecat Technology Centre in Spain.
The project covers test sites across Europe and brings together local residents, policymakers, businesses and partners from 32 organisations. Its demonstration sites span seven bioclimatic regions, ranging from the Mediterranean to the Arctic.
‘Our digital toolkit and engagement approach will allow people to define the kinds of climate scenarios they are facing, what kinds of adaptive measures they could take – such as limiting agricultural water use or raising flood barriers – and see which steps best help them to adjust,’ said the European Science Communication Institute’s Laura Durnford, who is the project’s spokesperson.
The 600-kilometres-long Catalan coast in north-eastern Spain is one of the demonstration sites. It’s an area that is highly vulnerable to climate change and will require a range of adaptation strategies.
The local team will map the region’s species, classify them according to their local extinction risk and identify ways to ensure their future. It will also improve the availability of fresh water at campsites and help promote investment decisions in the region.
A key priority for the area is recreating sand dunes and restoring wetlands in response to sea-level rise – a goal that requires Catalan businesses and regional players to forge a shared understanding of the threat and the protection the dunes and wetlands provide. This is challenging because coastal land ownership creates trade-offs, such as the desire for an unobstructed sea view, issues of access and questions over who pays.
‘Climate change poses a clear threat in Catalonia, but while there is goodwill towards adaptation there are also often conflicting interests and economic pressures in taking action,’ said Arpke.
In time, the researchers believe their approach can help communities across Europe and beyond to adapt and thrive.
Back to the future
Meanwhile, back in Athens, ARSINOE is helping to focus minds on the immediate challenge of scorching temperatures.
For a city that last year became the first in Europe to appoint a ‘chief heat officer’, more vegetation is a pressing need. The heat official has warned about Athens becoming uninhabitable as a result of temperature rises. Research has shown that increasing green spaces could help to reduce overall temperatures in cities by up to six degrees Celsius.
ARSINOE is asking Athenians to report local tree cover via a common platform and using virtual reality to showcase the benefits of a greener city. The two technologies increase public awareness about climate adaptation and help researchers get a better understanding of residents’ preferred solutions.
ARSINOE has also teamed up with local schools. Teaching students about climate change’s effects on the environment and society could pave the way for more sustainable consumer behaviour including reductions in energy use and waste – and help children to cope with global warming in the future.
But perhaps the project’s most ambitious initiative is to revive the Hadrian aqueduct, constructed over 15 years beginning in 125 AD.
Until the 1930s, the aqueduct served metropolitan Athens and today still contains water, which, while unsanitised, could be used for irrigation. Pipes are already being built and a water-distribution system is under development.
‘Greening Athens and using water from the Hadrian aqueduct would enhance our resilience in a multifaceted way at the local level,’ said Laspidou. ‘It would involve not only intervening with green spaces and alleviating heat, but also integrating local knowledge, culture and history to promote a distinct sense of identity and community.’
Research in this article was funded via the EU. This material was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.
Global warming did the Unthinkable
French ski resort closes permanently because there’s not enough snow, CNN informs. Winter is coming. And for yet another ski resort in France, that means facing up to the reality that there isn’t enough snow to carry on.
La Sambuy, a town which runs a family skiing destination near Mont Blanc in the French Alps, has decided to dismantle its ski lifts because global warming has shrunk its ski season to just a few weeks, meaning it’s no longer profitable to keep them open.
“Before, we used to have snow practically from the first of December up until the 30th of March,” La Sambuy’s mayor, Jacques Dalex, told CNN.
Last winter, however, there was only “four weeks of snow, and even then, not much snow,” he added. That meant “very quickly, stones and rocks appeared on the piste.”
Able to open for fewer than five weeks during January and February, Dalex said the resort was looking at an annual operating loss of roughly 500,000 euros ($530,000). Keeping the lifts going alone costs 80,000 euros per year.
La Sambuy isn’t a huge resort, with just three lifts and a handful of pistes reaching up to a top height of 1,850 meters (about 6,070 feet).
But with a range of slopes running from expert “black” to beginner “green” and relatively cheap ski passes, it was popular with families seeking more of a low-key Alps experience than offered by bigger, higher-altitude destinations.
UK snow report website On The Snow calls it “an idyllic place to visit, with exceptional panoramic views and everything you need in a friendly resort.”
La Sambuy is not the only French ski resort facing a meltdown. Last year, Saint-Firmin, another small Alpine ski destination, opted to remove its ski lift after seeing its winter season dwindle from months to weeks, a situation also blamed on climate change.
Mountain Wilderness, a French environmental group, says it has dismantled 22 ski lifts in France since 2001, and estimates that there are still 106 abandoned ski lifts across 59 sites in the country.
According to a report published in August by the scientific journal Nature Climate Change, 53% of 2,234 ski resorts surveyed in Europe are likely to experience “a very high snow supply risk” at 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) of global warming above pre-industrial levels, without use of artificial snow.
A report published in January in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal found a “substantial possibility” of global temperature rises crossing this 2-degree Celsius threshold by mid-century.
La Sambuy’s Dalex said that “all winter sports resorts in France are impacted by global warming,” particularly those at a medium mountain altitude between 1,000 and 1,500 meters.
G20 summit must formulate plan for Global South climate change threat
The G20 summit in India must have a “concrete plan” for “scaled-up” green financing for the Global South as a critical strategy to combat climate change, affirms the founder of one of the world’s largest independent financial advisory, asset management and fintech organizations.
The comments from deVere Group’s Nigel Green comes as leaders of the Group of 20 top industrialised and developing countries will gather this weekend in New Delhi for a summit that will celebrate the end of India’s 12-month G20 presidency.
He says: Climate change is no longer a distant threat; it is a present reality. Rising global temperatures, extreme weather events, melting ice caps, and sea-level rise are already affecting communities, ecosystems, and economies worldwide.
“The Global South, comprising developing nations with limited resources, bears a disproportionate burden in this climate crisis, despite contributing minimally to greenhouse gas emissions.
“As such, the leader of the G20 – the richest countries in the world – must use the summit starting in India this week to formulate a concrete plan for scaled-up green financing to help the Global South tackle the biggest issue of our time.
“A failure to do this could, ultimately, have catastrophic consequences for our planet and its communities.”
Green financing encompasses a range of mechanisms designed to support sustainable, environmentally friendly projects that mitigate climate change and enhance resilience.
These include investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, climate adaptation, sustainable agriculture, and conservation efforts.
“One of the major challenges faced by the Global South is access to financial resources needed for climate action. Developing nations often lack the financial capacity to invest in green projects without incurring significant debt,” says the deVere CEO.
“The G20 summit must play a pivotal role in bridging this financial gap by prioritising green financing and creating mechanisms to make it more accessible.”
G20 countries, being the largest economies in the world, must also “commit to increasing in a considerable way their financial contributions to international climate finance mechanisms. These funds are essential for providing support to developing nations in their efforts to mitigate emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change,” he notes.
Nigel Green goes on to add that the G20 summit should also serve as a platform for fostering collaboration between developed and developing nations.
This collaboration can take various forms, including knowledge sharing, technology transfer, and capacity building.
In addition, to scale up climate action, it is crucial to engage the private sector. G20 countries can promote public-private partnerships and initiatives that attract private sector investment in green projects.
“This can be achieved through incentives, guarantees, or risk-sharing mechanisms that make investments in sustainability more appealing to businesses.”
Innovation in financial instruments, such as green bonds and climate insurance, can unlock alternative funding sources for climate projects in developing nations.
The deVere CEO says: “The G20 summit must urgently encourage the development and adoption of such instruments to diversify funding options.”
The G20 summit in India presents a crucial opportunity to prioritize green financing for the Global South as a key strategy to combat climate change.
This summit can be a turning point in the global fight against climate change, demonstrating that unity, innovation, and commitment can drive transformative change toward a sustainable future for all.
“The urgency of climate action cannot be overstated, and the global community must act decisively.
“By committing to green financing, promoting collaboration, and bridging the financial gap, the G20 can lead the way in ensuring that all nations, particularly those in the Global South, have the resources and support they need to address the climate crisis effectively,” concludes Nigel Green.
To tackle wildfires, researchers in Europe team up with frontline forces
The EU is seeking to limit growing threats from blazes through the use of satellites, artificial intelligence and unmanned aerial vehicles.
By JACK MCGOVAN
Picture the following scene on the French island of Corsica: a local fire service uses a special surveillance camera to detect smoke in the area, quickly declare the outbreak of a blaze and mobilise a targeted response.
No, the action in the Biguglia municipality on Corsica’s northeastern coast wasn’t one of the many wildfire emergencies in Europe in 2023. Rather, it was a demonstration in October 2022 under an EU-funded research project to help regions in Europe counter threats from wildfires.
The Biguglia exercise used a smoke bomb to simulate the start of a fire and an extensive data network to trigger the rapid-reaction steps. It involved a service that has 1 300 firefighters who protect a population in this part of Corsica – the Mediterranean’s fourth-biggest island – that grows to around 400 000 in summer.
‘This first demonstration on Corsica was very positive,’ said Michael Pelissier, a firefighter who participated in the test.
As part of the EU project, called SAFERS, a similar firefighting exercise took place in the Piedmont region of Italy in February 2023 and two more trials are planned in Greece and Spain toward the end of this year.
‘After the next two demonstrations, we would like to push the management system forward in Europe and also beyond,’ said Claudio Rossi, who coordinates the project and is a senior researcher at an Italian research and innovation centre called the Links Foundation in the city of Turin.
With the help of EU funding, Europe’s research community is joining forces with firefighters to prevent fires from spreading or from happening at all. SAFERS is one of several EU projects to combine resources and know-how for tackling wildfires on the continent.
The focus of SAFERS is primarily on the use of satellites and artificial intelligence, or AI, to provide information that could help save lives and contain environmental damage.
‘The orchestrated utilisation of AI-powered solutions can increase resilience to forest fires,’ Rossi said.
Running for three and a half years through March 2024, the project features weather and hazard maps, fire-detection techniques, input from the general public and other tools to help local authorities prepare.
The ultimate goal is to build on the demonstrations in France, Greece, Italy and Spain and develop a comprehensive wildfire-control system for use around Europe.
By combining satellite images and other data, the system is intended to give first responders, decision-makers and ordinary people a clearer view of what’s happening and to facilitate the best responses.
Earth-observation data from the EU’s Copernicus programme is the primary source of information. This would be combined with data collected from smoke detectors, mobile applications, social media and forecast models.
A stark reminder that wildfires pose a growing threat in Europe came from news images in July 2023 of tourists fleeing flames on the Greek island of Rhodes and blazes spreading near the Sicilian city of Palermo.
A month later, attention turned to Spain and Portugal where blazes destroyed more than 16 300 hectares of land and forced the evacuation of villages and tourist accommodations.
The Biguglia municipality on Corsica was chosen as a SAFERS demonstration site in part because of a major fire there in 2017.
‘These last years we have noticed that, notably because of global warming, the summer season has a tendency to expand,’ said Pelissier, the firefighter. ‘So we are increasingly threatened by forest fires.’
The EU, which recently doubled its firefighting fleet of aircraft, has deployed more than 10 planes, 500 firefighters and 100 vehicles to help control and quell wildfires in Greece alone during the summer of 2023.
Over the past two months, the EU has also mobilised such support for Cyprus and – outside Europe – Tunisia. The moves were closely coordinated with national authorities.
Another EU-funded project – TREEADS – plans to feature drones, high-altitude balloons and satellites in a Europe-wide protection system.
‘We can’t only invest in fire trucks, helicopters or planes – we need to train our communities before the fires happen,’ said Kemal Sarp Arsava, who coordinates the project.
Arsava is a senior research scientist at Norway-based RISE Fire Research, which specialises in fire safety.
TREEADS aims to establish a comprehensive fire-management platform covering all three stages of wildfires – before, during and after a blaze breaks out.
Arsava is a native of Turkey who has also worked and studied in the US.
While in the US in late 2019, he was reminded of the international dimension of the wildfires threat by noticing the effect of Australia’s major outbreak of bushfires at the time.
Based then in the state of New Hampshire, Arsava said the blazes caused a slight haze in North America while primarily hurting air quality in South America.
‘The smoke from all of the wildfires in Australia basically crossed the Pacific Ocean and even changed the colour of the sky in America,’ he said.
Drones and balloons
TREEADS began in December 2021 and is due to run until end-May 2025.
The initiative brings together research institutes and companies from 14 European countries and Taiwan.
Besides Norway and Taiwan, the participants are from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Romania, Spain and Sweden.
The team of researchers is developing new technologies that’ll be tested in eight countries represented in the project.
One plan is to use drones and high-altitude balloons to detect blazes early, collect data for fire crews and even aid their actions by dropping fire-suppressant materials.
A four-layer approach is foreseen: low-altitude drones to locate fire hotspots; mid-altitude drones to drop fire suppressants; high-altitude balloons to provide a broader view; and satellites for the whole picture.
The trials are due to start early next year.
The project is also testing a virtual-reality headset to train firefighters who aren’t typically assigned to dealing with wildfires. That means teaching city firefighters to deal with blazes in different terrains should the need arise.
In total, more than 26 technologies including for fire protection and suppression will be enhanced, developed and verified in TREEADS.
‘These new technologies will make it easier to fight wildfires in the future,’ said Arsava.
Research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.
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