Buenos Aires Times

world EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

‘This is the last chance to get things right’ on global warming

IPCC member and CONICET researcher Carolina Vera on why Argentina and the world must take action on global warming – and fast.

Saturday 13 October, 2018
Carolina Vera.
Carolina Vera. Foto:Cedoc

Emphasising there is still time to avoid a global warming of 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels, this week’s new report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) called for the global community to enact significant and fast changes on climate change policy, such as a big push for renewable energy, while warning of the consequences that an extra half-degree of warming would have on the world we live in.

In an interview with the Times, Carolina Vera – a member of the IPCC and a researcher at the CONICET (National Scientific and Technical Research Council) government research institute – argues that humanity must go through a huge transition to avoid the worst consequences of global warming. She also described the potential impact of climate change on Argentina, warning of the most severe effects that would come with a 2ºC-rise above pre-industrial levels.

News stories about the report this week have ranged between optimistic and doomladen perspectives when looking towards the future. How would you describe it?

It’s positive as it gives us resources, about how to avoid the temperature from going over 1.5ºC [higher than pre-industrial levels]. We already knew we were in a difficult situation; the challenge was reviewing if it was possible or not to stay at 1.5ºC. Based on the report, we now know that we can avoid crossing that threshold and that there are technological solutions.

The IPCC asked for unprecedented changes to avoid the temperature going over that level. What kind of changes are required?

Humanity has to go through a big transition, changing its energy system and its behaviour. But it’s worth it. To avoid a global warming of over 1.5ºC, the world has to cut emissions by 45 percent by 2030, achieving carbon neutrality ideally by 2040. There are different techniques available to do that such as reforestation and land restoration. But we have to be careful over the impacts.

What differences would we see, between a temperature increase of 1.5ºC and 2ºC?

Reaching 2ºC would mean higher risk for many aspects such as coral reefs, heatwaves and fishing. Keeping the temperature increase to half a degree lower would mean millions would be less exposed to severe heatwaves. Every half-degree of warming matters.

According to the report, renewables would have to supply between 70 and 85 percent of electricity needs by 2050 to avoid the worst impact of climate change. That goal would mean a phasing out of fossil fuels. Is that feasible, with countries such as Argentina investing in areas like Vaca Muerta?

There are countries in which energy transition is super slow and will have to move faster. The report doesn’t look at specific regions or countries. Avoiding global warming of an extra half-degree requires global efforts. There’s no time for some countries not to act. Argentina is not the only one investing in fossil fuels. But it’s being proven that taking care of the environment no longer means not obtaining profits. The longer time we take to act, the more drastic the measures we will have to take.

This is the last chance to make things right. We still have time to get out of this problem in a correct way. But if we take more time that will not be the case and we might even not get out.

Avoiding a temperature increase of more than 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels would require increasing the level of ambition of every country. Is that feasible, considering most of the climate commitments made so far are currently described as insufficient?

Politicians usually say they don’t have sufficient information in order to act. But this report is clear. We now have strong elements and they cannot avoid taking strong action. This is a political and social problem and changing our behaviour is central. But moving toward a low-carbon economy isn’t free or easy.

Some developing countries still claim they shouldn’t be leading climate action as they didn’t cause the problem. With the scenario highlighted in the report, is that a still valid claim?

No, that’s not a valid argument any more. The world doesn’t have more room to have climate action limited to a group of countries. Everyone should bring climate action to the table.

What would it mean for Argentina if temperatures increased over the 1.5ºC level?

The report showed that, for Argentina, an extra half-degree would mean more severe impacts such as heat waves, extreme weather events and steep rain. At the same time, the projection for the future showed a stronger effect of drought. There are meaningful differences between 1.5ºC and 2ºC for Argentina.

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