1165 København K
Tlf: 35 32 28 98 (mon-thurs)
Stopping runaway climate change is possible, reckons scientist Katherine Richardson before the COP21 summit. And it is easier to work hard for something that you believe in
Despite raised security after the Paris terrorist attacks, France has decided not to postpone the climate change summit COP21.
The question is: Will world leaders and representatives manage to reach an agreement that would see so many nations committing themselves to climate action?
We asked Professor Katherine Richardson, head of the Sustainability Science Center at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) to tell us more about what she hopes can be achieved at COP21.
Katherine Richardson is a specialist in biological oceanography. She studies the carbon cycle in the ocean, which, she reminds us, is important for the climate, since most of the increase in energy resulting from climate change and greenhouse gases is stored at the surface of the Earth, and more precisely, in the ocean.
Katherine Richardson: “…the ocean has, until now, taken up between a third and a half of the extra CO2 that we have put into the atmosphere and it may not continue to do so”
”The ocean hasn’t yet gotten into balance with the atmosphere,” she explains, ”so even if we stop putting out greenhouse gases today, the air would still get warmer because there is so much heat stored in the ocean.”
This year has been an exceptionally warm year because it was an El Niño year. El Niño consists of a prolonged warming of the sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. In short: Instead of getting cold water up from the bottom of the ocean, a warm layer of ocean water at the surface is kept up which has more chance to give heat off to the atmosphere than cold water.
”In fact, the ocean has, until now, taken up between a third and a half of the extra CO2 that we have put into the atmosphere and it may not continue to do so… And that’s what my research is all about – how it might decrease or whether it will continue – so the ocean is dead important,” points out Richardson.
According to Richardson, the press is bound to call COP21 a failure because countries have not managed to reach the 2°C target (we need to keep global warming below 2°C to avoid dangerous climate change) and because the Paris climate talks will not deliver a ‘treaty’ with legally binding measures that would require countries to cut their carbon emissions.
“…if we are negotiating reduction of emissions, we are also negotiating the right to grow economically, which is why it is so hard”
Yet, we should not only look at what happens at the actual COPs themselves, but rather at the changes that occur between COPs, points out Richardson, for there has been a huge difference in the level of ambition in recent years.
”COP21 needs to be looked at in the sense of a process,” underlines Richardson, ”this increasing ambition level clearly signals that climate change is taken seriously and that decision-makers are starting to believe in both the technology and the economy in making changes – at least in terms of our energy use.”
”But our problem with climate change is that greenhouse emissions come primarily from our energy use and our food production, which are both also primarily linked to our economic growth. So if we are negotiating reduction of emissions, we are also negotiating the right to grow economically, which is why it is so hard and why things do not get done so easily.”
Increased ambitions from one COP to another COP means has seen us ‘decoupling’ our energy use and our food production from greenhouse gases, according to Richardson. The COP process is actually about trying to develop mechanisms and technologies that would allow governments to facilitate and accelerate this decoupling process that is so crucial.
“COP21 is going to give a very clear signal not the least of which is to investors, that we are moving towards low-carbon societies”
”Sometimes I think it is easier to work hard for something that you believe in than something you believe is impossible. I think this is possible, and I think we will get good things out of COP21,” she says.
”I think COP21 is going to give a very clear signal not the least of which is to investors, that we are moving towards low-carbon societies which means that investors will be less likely to invest in fossil fuel infrastructures and all sorts of things that produce greenhouse gases.”
Despite the Danish government’s plans to lower financial support intended for national environmental projects, Denmark will still appear as an environmental leader, not only thanks to its delegates and experts, but also thanks to the Danish Pavilion which will showcase various Danish companies and organisations that are at the forefront of green technology.
”What science is telling us with climate change is that we need to manage resources at the global level, for our own sake,” says Richardson before adding, ”I am optimistic, but that does not mean that there is room for complacency. Science tells us this needs to happen, but fast.”
Do you have a good story? We would like to hear from you. In the meantime, like us on Facebook for features, guides and tips on upcoming events and follow us on Twitter for links to other Copenhagen academia news stories.