Rain and floods now ‘the new normal’

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After a wet and wild summer, Norway is heading into a season where autumn storms are typically even more common. The West Coast continues to be battered and climate researchers predict that torrential rain and floods will be “the new normal” in Norway, unless carbon emissions are dramatically cut, and quickly.

This was the scene on the main E39 highway at Helleland, south of Stavanger, Saturday afternoon. The water rose even higher later in the day, forcing closure of the road first for cars and later for trucks as well. The road was still closed late Sunday afternoon. PHOTO: Statens vegvesen

This was the scene on the main E39 highway south of Stavanger earlier this year. As Norway emerges from one of its wettest and wildest summers ever, a professor at the Universitiy of Bergen says heavy rain and flooding will be “the new normal.” PHOTO: Statens vegvesen

Professor Eystein Jansen of the University of Bergen recently released a new report for a Norwegian climate foundation (Norsk klimastiftelse) that claims the next few decades will be critical in terms of what will happen in the coming centuries. It’s the first report in Norway to offer an updated overview of climate research since the last UN report in 2013.

One thing is clear, according to Jansen’s report: The world is already in trouble. Emissions have continued to rise in many countries including Norway and global temperatures are already half-way towards rising to the global maximum of two degrees set at the UN climate talks in Paris. Some oil industry executives meeting in Norway last month also didn’t seem to care, and were more intent on continuing to pump up business.

“It unfortunately isn’t looking good,” Jansen told newspaper Dagsavisen. “We should have begun to cut emissions earlier. Now we have very little time.” Even if all the emissions cuts promised by countries around the world are made, Jansen said an average global temperature rise can only be limited to 2.7 degrees.

Eystein Jansen is a professor of earth sciences and paleoclimatology at the University of Bergen. He misses concrete action by politicians to cut emissions in Norway, a quarter of which are generated by the oil and gas industry. PHOTO: University of Bergen

Eystein Jansen is a professor of earth sciences and paleoclimatology at the University of Bergen. He misses concrete action by politicians to cut emissions in Norway, a quarter of which are generated by the oil and gas industry. PHOTO: University of Bergen

Jansen also had predictions specifically for Norway, and they aren’t good. The heavy rains that have poured down on southern Norway and the records for precipitation set along the West Coast this summer will become common if global warming isn’t halted. Jansen said average annual temperatures can rise by 4.5 degrees in Norway this century, average annual rainfall will increase by 18 percent, there will be stronger and even more frequent periods of torrential rain, bigger and more frequent floods and rising danger for major floods in other parts of the country.

As as been warned earlier, snow will no longer fall at lower elevations in Norway, the glaciers will continue to recede and sea levels will rise by as much as 15-55 centimeters.

“We’re already seeing this happen,” Jansen told Dagsavisen. “And the more emissions, the bigger climate changes.” The higher sea levels and heavy rain pose new community risks and have negative economic effects as well.

“Extreme precipitation, rising seas and a warmer climate mean we must think differently when we build bridges and public transportation systems,” Jansen said. “We must have infrastructure that can tolerate another climate. This will affect winter tourism and challenge the travel industry.”

Although climate issues were high on the agenda at the recent political gatherings in Arendal, Jansen said he wasn’t convinced politicians were doing everything they could to cut emissions. “We have the intellectual and financial capital needed to invest in this,” he said, “but the politicians are far too vague.”

He noted that the two biggest sources of carbon emissions in Norway are the oil and gas industry and transport. “The government is talking a bit about how we can cut emissions from road transport, but little about what we will do with the emissions from oil and gas production. That stands for a quarter of Norway’s emissions. We have a carbon tax, but it doesn’t seem to help.

“I miss a sense of real willingness to do something that will really bring emissions down.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund