REVO­LU­TION IN THE OFF­ING

Pro­fes­sor Thomas Stocker is one of the five con­tenders for the Chair of the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change (IPCC). The elec­tions are sched­uled for Oc­to­ber, and if he should win, he will be lead­ing the No­bel Prize win­ning-or­gan­i­sa­tion dur­ing the

Qatar Today - - INSIDE THIS ISSUE - By Ayswarya Murthy

Pro­fes­sor Thomas Stocker is one of the five con­tenders for the Chair of the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change (IPCC). The elec­tions are sched­uled for Oc­to­ber, and if he should win, he will be lead­ing the No­bel Prize win­ning-or­gan­i­sa­tion dur­ing the al­limpor­tant COP21 in Paris and the tough years be­yond that. He talks ex­clu­sively to Qatar To­day dur­ing his re­cent visit to Doha.

It was a rather cozy gath­er­ing at the res­i­dence of the Am­bas­sador of Switzer­land to Qatar. That evening His Ex­cel­lency Martin Aeschbacher was host­ing his coun­try­man Thomas Stocker, who was on a whirl­wind tour of the re­gion, meet­ing gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and del­e­gates to put forth his can­di­dacy for the up­com­ing elec­tions for IPCC chair. The morn­ing was spent on meet­ings in the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment and with se­nior of­fi­cials in the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs. “I wanted to visit these coun­tries to present my­self and my ex­pe­ri­ence; build­ing trust that I would do a good, re­spon­si­ble job in the IPCC for the next seven years. More im­por­tantly, I want to lis­ten to their con­cerns and ex­pec­ta­tions from the IPCC,” he says. “Doha is an im­por­tant coun­try in the Ara­bian Penin­sula which has shown lead­er­ship in this field with the host­ing of COP18 in 2012, which pro­duced crit­i­cal re­sults re­gard­ing ocean dam­age. So this was a good op­por­tu­nity to lis­ten to the con­cerns of a coun­try that is ex­posed to the dan­gers of cli­mate change in mul­ti­ple ways – ex­pand­ing drought, in­creased sea lev­els, acid­i­fi­ca­tion of the ocean and ex­po­sure to ex­treme events like sum­mer heat.”

The meet­ings in the evening were prob­a­bly a lot less for­mal in com­par­i­son; a friendly gath­er­ing of aca­demics, jour­nal­ists, think-tank an­a­lysts and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Qatar's clean energy sec­tor. The en­su­ing dis­cus­sion was en­light­en­ing but un­for­tu­nately off-the-record; but we did man­age to get Pro­fes­sor Stocker to sit down with us for an in­ter­view at the end of the evening dur­ing which he pointed out the Mid­dle East gov­ern­ments' “de­clared aware­ness” about the prob­lem of cli­mate change. “The chal­lenges are on the ta­ble and gov­ern­ments and pol­i­cy­mak­ers are join­ing the ta­ble to seek so­lu­tions from a global point of view. Cer­tainly many coun­tries in this re­gion are de­vel­op­ing and re­quire fur­ther de­vel­op­ment. And cur­rently, of­ten this de­vel­op­ment is linked to the con­sump­tion of fos­sil fu­els. The chal­lenge would be to leapfrog their de­vel­op­ment and de­cou­ple it from the clas­si­cal way of ob­tain­ing energy.” He said that de­spite the re­gion's heavy re­liance on fos­sil fu­els, they are “in ev­ery way just as de­pen­dent as other non-hy­dro­car­bon pro­duc­ing coun­tries”.

Paris and 2C

“In Europe we have started de­car­bon­is­ing, but are still far away from where we and an in­creased level of am­bi­tion are needed if we are se­ri­ous about the 2C tar­get,” he notes. We spoke a lot about the 2C tar­get in our last is­sue (Au­gust, 2013), about 2C in re­la­tion to the car­bon bub­ble. Many an­a­lysts be­lieve that this tar­get is ar­bi­trary, too high and, worse still, not re­al­is­tic. Stocker clar­i­fies this point. “It's not ar­bi­trary in the com­plete sense. Sure, it's not a sci­en­tif­i­cally ob­tained limit of warn­ing; it's also not a limit where we say ev­ery­thing is good be­low and only to­tal global catas­tro­phe above. How­ever, it's suf­fi­ciently am­bi­tious, po­lit­i­cally ac­cept­able and science in­di­cates that be­low this level, some of the se­ri­ous risks as­so­ci­ated with cli­mate change – dis­as­trous and ex­treme events, their in­crease in in­ten­sity and fre­quency, change in wa­ter cy­cle, change in ecosys­tem and their ser­vices – are still man­age­able to the ex­tent that you can adapt to it in most re­gions. Be­yond 2C, the num­ber of re­gions where you will have reached the lim­i­ta­tion of your adap­ta­tion ca­pac­ity will in­crease rapidly. So while there is some sense in the 2C tar­get, it's not a magic bar­rier,” he says. “And we are more than half­way to­wards cross­ing 2C. The global mean tem­per­a­ture in­crease is in the or­der of 0.85 C. There is

“This was a good op­por­tu­nity to lis­ten to the con­cerns of a coun­try that is ex­posed to the dan­gers of cli­mate change in mul­ti­ple ways – ex­pand­ing drought, in­creased sea lev­els, acid­i­fi­ca­tion of the ocean and ex­po­sure to ex­treme events like sum­mer heat.”

“What we are see­ing here is a huge chal­lenge, but also a huge op­por­tu­nity. Prob­a­bly the big­gest ever for hu­mankind. De­car­bon­i­sa­tion in the long term will be rev­o­lu­tion­ary.”

another 0.6 C that is com­mit­ted warm­ing i.e., warm­ing that will ar­rive even if we keep the con­cen­tra­tion of green­house gases in the at­mos­phere con­stant be­cause the sys­tem is slowly ap­proach­ing equi­lib­rium. So we are ba­si­cally at a com­mit­ted 1.4-1.5 C and that is another in­di­ca­tor of the ur­gency to act.”

On the face of it, Pro­fes­sor Stocker's op­ti­mism is dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand. Here he is, will­ingly con­test­ing to be at helm of the world's premier au­thor­ity on cli­mate change, dur­ing a wa­ter­shed mo­ment in history that could po­ten­tially de­cide the fate of hu­man­ity. Dra­matic as it sounds, it does feel like we are gain­ing mo­men­tum as we head to­wards the precipice, and no one seems will­ing to ap­ply the brakes. But Stocker prob­a­bly has a dif­fer­ent view of things from where he is stand­ing. “I am per­son­ally op­ti­mistic about the Paris con­fer­ence,” he says. For three rea­sons: “First, never be­fore have the pol­i­cy­mak­ers had so much sci­en­tific knowl­edge about the prob­lem, the im­pact and so­lu­tions. Sec­ond, for the first time I am hear­ing global busi­nesses en­gage in a se­ri­ous dis­cus­sion about the threat of cli­mate change to their busi­ness mod­els and the will­ing­ness to dis­cuss mea­sures such as a global car­bon pric­ing. That was not the case even six years ago when many peo­ple be­lieved that car­bon pric­ing will col­lapse economies. Thirdly, the es­tab­lish­ment of a new process in the frame­work con­ven­tion called In­tended Na­tion­ally De­ter­mined Con­tri­bu­tions (INDC) to green­house gas emis­sions, which has com­pletely changed the dy­nam­ics of how coun­tries con­front the prob­lem. Rather than a top-down ap­proach like the Ky­oto Pro­to­col, we now ad­di­tion­ally have a bot­tom-up process that has al­ready re­sulted in good progress. So there is a new dy­namic in these ne­go­ti­a­tions that has nei­ther been seen be­fore nor was ex­pected,” he says.

But de­spite the enor­mous pres­sure on COP21 to pro­duce re­sults, Pro­fes­sor Stocker says no one is un­der the il­lu­sion that Paris will once and for­ever solve the prob­lem. “It's but the first step to­wards the so­lu­tion. Many con­fer­ences will have to fol­low that talk about a po­ten­tial sched­ule of re­duc­tions, meth­ods to in­crease am­bi­tion of con­tri­bu­tions, and even talk about con­tin­gency plans if spe­cific tar­gets can no longer be reached, which is a pos­si­ble re­al­ity.”

Sights on the long term

Our con­sumer cul­ture has made “sac­ri­fice” and “mod­er­a­tion” lesser ideals. We'd loathe road­blocks in our quest to live as large as pos­si­ble to­day and short-term grat­i­fi­ca­tion is hard-wired in all of us. This ex­plains the hes­i­ta­tion to throw one's weight be­hind what will un­doubt­edly be a bru­tal de­car­bon­i­sa­tion process. There sim­ply doesn't seem to be a pain­less roadmap for the same. But Stocker shakes his head. “Pain is a very rel­a­tive no­tion. Is it painful to re­duce the size of your car or take public trans­port? Some peo­ple might re­gard that as a pain, oth­ers might not. It has to do with our per­sonal per­cep­tions and lifestyle. I would ar­gue that in the fu­ture we'll all have to read­just our value sys­tem.” So more

“COP21 is but the first step to­wards the so­lu­tion. Many con­fer­ences will have to fol­low that talk; about po­ten­tial sched­ule of re­duc­tions, meth­ods to in­crease am­bi­tion of con­tri­bu­tions, and even talk about con­tin­gency plans if spe­cific tar­gets can no longer be reached, which is a pos­si­ble re­al­ity.”

DR THOMAS STOCKER Pro­fes­sor of Cli­mate and En­vi­ron­ment Physics, Physics In­sti­tute Univer­sity of Bern Co-Chair of Work­ing Group 1, IPCC

im­por­tant than get­ting from A to B in the fastest, most com­fort­able fash­ion, will be get­ting from A to B in the smartest and most in­tel­li­gent way that is fully com­pat­i­ble with de­car­bon­i­sa­tion.

Un­der the present price regime, de­car­bon­i­sa­tion is likely more dif­fi­cult for de­vel­op­ing and less-de­vel­oped economies, Stocker con­cedes. “But we have to think of ways to ac­cel­er­ate de­vel­op­ment and not make the mis­take of lock­ing our­selves into an in­fra­struc­ture, par­tic­u­larly in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, that com­mits us to use that old energy in 20 years' time when it per­haps will have be­come too ex­pen­sive. When I talk to col­leagues in Africa, in some of the poor­est na­tions in the world, they are very much aware of the risks of these lock-in in­vest­ments; in­vest­ing heav­ily in old tech­nol­ogy, that may be good for to­day, but ul­ti­mately in­com­pat­i­ble with de­car­bon­i­sa­tion.”

One sec­tor that ob­vi­ously is down­play­ing de­car­bon­i­sa­tion is the energy sec­tor, made up of car­bon com­pa­nies “largely mo­ti­vated by short-ter­mism and a view of the busi­ness model for the next 5-10 years”. In their view, the sta­tus quo is un­likely to change (too fast) and they are sim­ply busi­nesses ad­dress­ing the growth in de­mand that is clearly seen in the charts. But this “is cer­tainly in­com­pat­i­ble with a view of the next 20, 50 or 100 years”, ac­cord­ing to Stocker, “which is the view we have to take when talk­ing about the well­be­ing of the so­ci­ety, con­tin­u­ing de­liv­ery of ecosys­tem ser­vices to feed up to 11 bil­lion peo­ple in the com­ing years. So when we start talk­ing about re­sources, we will open up our time hori­zon of plan­ning. And here I am con­vinced that a sen­si­ble per­son would also look at the op­tion where an old busi­ness model doesn't pro­vide any in­come any­more,” he says point­edly.

IPCC in the com­ing years

Pro­fes­sor Stocker has served in one ca­pac­ity or another on the IPCC for 17 years and has been a cli­mate sci­en­tist for longer than that. We ask him whether it is frus­trat­ing that, af­ter these long years in study­ing and re­port­ing on cli­mate science, he is still hav­ing to deal with cli­mate skep­tics. “There is some frus­tra­tion in that, yes, but I am sur­prised how few of them are left. With the last re­port (IPCC's Fifth As­sess­ment Re­port), we have reached a level of clar­ity in our mes­sage that even the most stub­born voices have gone quite. While I ap­pre­ci­ate a healthy skep­ti­cism, which is the blood and life of science, skep­ti­cism of es­tab­lished fact is ig­no­rance,” he says.

This is all the more rea­son why, he be­lieves, that cli­mate sci­en­tists have to be “ex­tremely care­ful in our com­mu­ni­ca­tion to sep­a­rate es­tab­lished facts, which are many and in­creas­ing in num­ber, from the ar­eas where there are still un­cer­tain­ties. Un­cer­tain­ties that re­flect the ef­fect of un­known pro­cesses and as­sump­tions that are the nor­mal busi­ness of the sci­en­tific ac­tiv­i­ties. Since the be­gin­ning of IPCC, all the re­ports are al­ways ac­com­pa­nied by dec­la­ra­tions of un­cer­tainty and con­fi­dence.”

What will the role of IPCC be when this di­min­ish­ing voice of cli­mate skep­tics is fi­nally ex­tin­guished? “It's go­ing to be more im­por­tant than ever,” he says. “The ques­tions will shift to the specifics and re­gional and will re­volve around the sta­tis­tics of ex­treme events that hurt re­sources and cost money. So in­stead of ask­ing gen­eral global ques­tions like 'how warm will the planet be', we'll ask, 'how many dry days will this spe­cific coun­try face' or 'What are the max­i­mum tem­per­a­tures over three weeks in this coun­try'. So phys­i­cal science and that part of IPCC will at­tempt to an­swer these sorts of ques­tions in the fu­ture. Of course with IPCC's com­pre­hen­sive view of things, we will also look at risks and the im­pact of so­cio-eco­nomic pro­cesses. That part of the re­port will see in­creas­ing at­ten­tion among the public and pol­i­cy­mak­ers,” he says. Pro­fes­sor Stocker hopes that he will see the in­volve­ment of sci­en­tists from ev­ery coun­try, in one func­tion or another, work­ing to­gether to bring out con­sis­tently su­pe­rior as­sess­ment re­ports.

For those that are cur­rently part of the process, specif­i­cally those at­tend­ing COP21, he has a spe­cial mes­sage. “What we are see­ing here is a huge chal­lenge, but also a huge op­por­tu­nity,” he says. “Prob­a­bly the big­gest ever for hu­mankind. De­car­bon­i­sa­tion in the long term will be rev­o­lu­tion­ary. Each of the three in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tions so far – mech­a­ni­sa­tion, elec­tri­fi­ca­tion and dig­i­tal­iza­tion – have af­fected the en­tire hu­man pop­u­la­tion, brought new jobs, new wealth, cre­ated pros­per­ity and a bet­ter life. So there is no rea­son for me not to be­lieve that this will be the case for the fourth in­dus­trial revo­lu­tion. We will no longer be de­pen­dent on fi­nite re­sources that is pol­lut­ing our en­vi­ron­ment and in­creas­ing risks for hu­mans and ecosys­tems. Yes, it is am­bi­tious be­cause the scale of the task is such. It's not a lit­tle change here and there but a revo­lu­tion!”

HE the Min­is­ter of En­vi­ron­ment Ahmed bin Amer Al Hu­maidi met with Dr Thomas Stocker and HE Am­bas­sador Martin Aeschbacher to dis­cuss deal­ing with cli­mate change is­sues and the State of Qatar’s ef­forts in this di­rec­tion, as well as its co­op­er­a­tion with rel­e­vant re­gional and in­ter­na­tional bod­ies. The meet­ing was also at­tended by the di­rec­tor of the cli­mate change depart­ment within the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment, Ab­dul­hadi Nasser Al Marri.

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