UN climate report co-author says time is almost up, but targets are achievable
Climate researcher and professor Detlef van Vuuren has had some “rather intense days.” As one of the authors of the latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), he followed the discussions on the summary. Those were supposed to be completed Friday, but dragged on until Sunday evening. "A lot is at stake. We are getting closer to solutions, and that makes such negotiations more tense," Van Vuuren said to explain the delay.
Summaries are made for policy makers of all IPCC scientific reports. These subsequently play a major role in the global climate debate. They are easier to read than the dense scientific reports on which they are based.
Government delegations held intensive meetings for almost two weeks about the text that came out on Monday. The summary is discussed sentence by sentence. Scientists such as Van Vuuren keep a close eye on this process and intervene if necessary. "As authors, we must ensure that everything in it is scientifically accurate," said the climate expert, who is a professor at Utrecht University and has also worked for the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) for years. "It's a continuous dialogue."
The great advantage of the painstaking work is that the final text is endorsed by governments all over the world. "You no longer have to discuss the facts," said the Dutch climate expert.
For Van Vuuren, the most important message of the report he co-wrote is that the world now really needs to intervene on a large scale to keep global warming within 1.5 degrees. "It's no longer five minutes to midnight, but one minute to midnight." The good news, according to the scientist, is that the climate goals set in Paris are still achievable. "The report is very clear: The possibilities are there. It will not be easy for society, because there are interests in the current system."
The IPCC does not want to dictate to governments what measures they must take, Van Vuuren said, but it mainly describes the options. This concerns options like energy conservation, the generation of much more energy from renewable sources, and better protection of forests. "More than ever before, it is also about the role of behaviour, about the consumption side." For example, consumers can eat less meat or travel more often by public transport. "But solutions do not only lie with the consumer. The government must facilitate measures. Also on the production side, so a lot has to be done within companies."
More ambitious climate policy also makes economic sense, Van Vuuren and his co-authors within the IPCC said. According to them, the costs of all necessary measures to be climate neutral by 2050 are only a fraction of the expected economic growth in the same period. "And the benefits of avoided climate damage are counterbalanced. They are greater than the costs."
Reporting by ANP