This paper discusses the climate history of the Earth, exploring some of the driving forces of climate change along the way. It points out that it may not be the gradual increase in global mean temperature that we have to fear the most. Rather the variability of the climate may pose an even greater threat to us. The paper outlines some possible future scenarios of climate change based on what we now think we know about the causes of climate change and possible future development in emissions of greenhouse gases. It then goes on to describe the current climate negotiations and possible political solutions in the near term, before concluding with a description of the more long-term fundamental challenges we face. The aim of the discussion is to provide a deeper understanding of the climate problem we are facing, as well as the challenges that lie ahead of us, individually as well as a region, in securing the climate aspect of a sustainable development for Europe and the world.
The paper is based on a presentation given at the conference Rio + 10 in Dublin in September 2001, made possible by a kind contribution from the European Environment Agency.