IVA 100 years: IVA and the Climate

A little-known fact – in Sweden if not elsewhere in the world – is that several IVA members have been prominent figures in early climate research. This is a tradition that IVA is building on in its projects, and is also an important issue for our future.

How long have we known that the Earth’s climate is warming far too quickly due to human activity? Research from the 1990s? The 70s? Even earlier?

The fact is that a Swedish scientist called Svante Arrhenius back in 1896 demonstrated the effect that certain gases could have on the Earth’s surface temperature. He also made attempts to calculate what he called “the greenhouse effect” of mainly carbon dioxide on the Earth’s climate. This Swedish research pioneer was the first person ever to use this term.

Arrhenius lived from 1859 to 1927 and was inducted into IVA as an honorary member in 1920. His achievements, which were celebrated by IVA in the Academy’s 2008 Commemorative Booklet, have in modern times been cited in international online fact-checking forums such as Snopes, not least in light of the climate scepticism that has been expressed by populist movements and politicians in recent years.

There are also other prominent climate science profiles among IVA’s members. One important name alongside Svante Arrhenius is meteorologist Carl-Johan Rossby (1898–1957, inducted into IVA in 1954).

“He ended up in the US where he became one of that country’s leading meteorologists. He also conducted research into things like air currents and computerised weather forecasts,” says Sverker Sörlin, Professor in Environmental History at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) and member of IVA.

Rossby’s research was so important that a portrait of him was featured on the cover of the influential Time Magazine in 1956. Sverker Sörlin was the author of IVA’s Commemorative Booklet on Rossby in 2015.

“Rossby also became increasingly interested in the hypothesis on the human impact on the climate. Towards the end of his life he started making more and more statements in which he maintained that humans were about be the cause of very significant climate change,” says Sverker.

What is IVA’s position on this issue today? Well, times change and the pendulum swings back and forth – but IVA has been running projects with an environmental profile for several years now. The Energy Crossroads project, for example, addressed the importance of climate adaptation of Sweden’s energy production and Innovation in the Forest Industry looked at bioeconomics and the green transformation. Today IVA is running the climate-focused projects Resource Efficiency and the Circular Economy and Climate Crossroads.

“Sweden has a political goal to be climate-neutral by 2045. In the Climate Crossroads project IVA is preparing an action plan to achieve that goal. It will cover the necessary changes to technical systems as well as changes needed in society,” says Karin Byman, energy expert and Project Manager for Climate Crossroads.