Despite the concerted international effort to stop climate change, it remains one of the most troubling and challenging issues that our societies have to address. Looking at the IPCC AR5 report in its entirety, it confirms and underlines what many scientists have been saying for some time: there is now certainty – more than ever before in the history of climate science – that climate change is happening and that humans are the main cause of it.
As global carbon emissions have reached record levels and keep rising, the IPCC AR5 confirms that climate change is already impacting all continents and the oceans, resulting in changes that are often unprecedented and could partly be – or soon become – irreversible.
In his book “Reason in a Dark Time: Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed – and What It Means for Our Future”, Professor of Environmental Studies and Philosophy at NYU Dale Jamieson tries to explain what climate change is, why we have failed to stop it and, more importantly, why what we do still matters. Our failure to prevent or even to respond significantly to climate change, Jamieson says, reflects the impoverishment of our systems of practical reason, the paralysis of our politics, and the limits of our cognitive and affective capacities.
Interview by Laura Caciagli
Something is probably happening in the climate change communication domain. Take the example of the Risky Business Report, a publication promoted by a bipartisan group of businessmen and politicians (including the former Mayor of NYC, Michael Bloomberg) released in June 2014. What’s new in the report? The focus is more on impacts than on science and highlights threats and costs for our societies. This is an example of a shift in the public discourse on climate change: from uncertainty to risk. This shift is exactly what James Painter, Director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (Oxford University), is addressing in his latest research. “Several studies have shown that uncertainty messages about climate science are often an obstacle to public understanding, engagement or action – Painter says – but, at the same time, risk is a difficult way of framing the climate change story for television, which deals in pictures and strong narratives, not concepts or issues.”
So the shift is not easy and requires contributions not only from journalists and media experts, but also from decision makers and scientists. To say it with the words taken from the Republican former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson: “We’ll never know enough to resolve all of the uncertainties. But we know enough to recognize that we must act now.”
Climate Science and Policy explores the implications of this shift – in particular, from the language of uncertainty to the language of risks – with James Painter in this interview by Laura Caciagli
Climate justice, gender equality and decent work are three strongly related issues.
It’s clear that climate change is happening now and it is destroying quality jobs all around the world, especially in developing countries. Moreover, not only are women major victims of climate change, but they are also essential actors for climate mobilization, climate action and economic growth. Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) recently launched the “Unions4climate” campaign, a movement specifically designed to contribute to the political debate on the run up to Paris 2015. “It is imperative to decarbonise our world by 2050 – Burrow says – This requires both a decrease in carbon emissions and the deployment of breakthrough technologies. Another positive outcome is that Unions4climate will also provide millions of new job opportunities”.
Interviewed by Laura Caciagli, Sharan Burrow talks about how the movement of the trade union will aim to ensure jobs, rights and social equality while requiring a pledge and engagement to embrace the cause of a just transition towards sustainable development – a transition that must start now because “There are no jobs on a dead planet”.
Increasing demand for water, energy and food related to population growth and urbanization, as well as changing lifestyles and diets, has spurred a new global rush for agricultural land and water resources. This phenomenon has been referred to as “land grabbing” and mainly rests on three inter-related causes: the food crisis and the need to secure reliable supply of cheap food for water and land scarce countries (such as the Gulf States) by outsourcing food production; the need to diversify energy sources and to boost biofuel production; the financial crisis which has exacerbated speculation on food and land as a result of huge amounts of capital seeking for more secure and profitable investments than traditional markets.
Although the acquisition of farming land per se is not a new phenomenon, the character, scale, pace, orientation, and key drivers of the current wave is a distinct unprecedented phenomenon, which seems to be closely tied to major shifts in power and production characterizing the new global political economy. Europe, and Italy in particular, plays a major role as an investor in foreign land, which has been raising major concerns about the claimed sustainability of EU energy and food policies and targets. Climate Science and Policy explored the main drivers and implications of land transactions around the world with Marta Antonelli, Research Fellow at IUAV University. Interview by Laura Caciagli
The indirect effects of climate change represent a major threat and put human health and well-being at risk. Water and food scarcity, human migrations and conflicts may be some of the consequences of climate change impacts.
A study recently published underlies another unexpected event: high CO2 levels decrease the concentrations of zinc, iron and proteins in grains of rice, wheat, maize, soybeans and field peas, which are the most important food crops. An analysis of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization food balance sheets reveals that in 2010 approximately 2.3 billion people were living in countries whose populations received 60% of their dietary zinc and iron from grains and legumes. Therefore, decreasing amounts of zinc and iron in the edible portion of these food crops will likely exacerbate the issue of “hidden hunger” of micronutrient deficiencies.
In an interview conducted by Laura Caciagli, researcher and leading author of the study Samuel Myers (Harvard University, Center for the Environment), addresses these topics and explains to us the kinds of threats that human nutrition is expected to face in the near future.
It’s a matter of science and research, but it’s also a matter of gender equality: the environmental, economic and social risks and opportunities connected to the conditions of the Oceans are strictly linked to the conditions of women, especially in some regions of the Planet.
These are the main topics of our conversation with Francesca Santoro, Programme specialist at UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC). Dr. Santoro focuses, on one hand, on how much we need a holistic approach that should be able to guarantee a sustainable use of coastal resources, while identifying key habitats, functions, ecosystem services to be protected, restored, and maintained. On the other hand, Dr. Santoro explains that “Women – who are more socially, economically and politically vulnerable in most societies – are more severely affected by climate change and natural hazards (such as floods, cyclones, tsunamis, etc) than men”, and this is among the UNESCO major global priorities.
Interview by Laura Caciagli.
The local extinctions of lizards in Mexico, the threat of shrinking areas of polar climates, the decline of Aloe tree populations in the Namib desert, the increasing frequency of extreme warming and drying events in tropical areas. Climate change is more complex than what is often portrayed in maps of gradual warming or gradual increases or decreases in precipitation.
Biodiversity faces very different climatic challenges across regions and the impacts of the changing climate are still extremely difficult to predict.
A recent study tries to shed light on the implications of climate change for biodiversity while providing a detailed global overview of the threats and opportunities for species and ecosystems resulting from different measures of climate change. Researcher and co-author of the study, Raquel Garcia (CSIC National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid and Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at University of Copenhagen) addresses these topics and explains what challenges biodiversity is expected to face. Interview by Laura Caciagli
Droughts, floods, rising sea levels, extreme events: these are just some of the environmental impacts of climate change on sub-Saharan Africa. They may have serious consequences for many economic and development sectors, while threatening the economies and livelihoods of many African countries. This situation is exacerbated by low levels of development, limited adaptive capacity and widespread poverty across the continent.
A recent study illustrates the African regions that are the most severely struck by climate change impacts while investigating implications for adaptation and development. In this conversation with Laura Caciagli, Christoph Müller, co-author of the study cited and researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), explains the main topics of the African vulnerabilities to the changing climate.