Climate science

The Carbon Brief Interview: Janos Pasztor

  • 26 Jun 2015, 17:30
  • Leo Hickman

Janos Pasztor was appointed Ban Ki-moon's assistant secretary-general on climate change in January 2015. He will serve as the UN secretary-general's senior advisor on climate change until the climate conference in Paris in December. Previously, he was director of policy and science at WWF International in Switzerland. From 2011 to 2012, he served as the executive secretary of the UN secretary-general's high-level panel on global sustainability.

Pasztor on how much time Ban Ki-moon is dedicating to climate change: "There is not another subject that he spends as much time on as climate change."

On the importance of tackling climate change: "If we don't fix climate change, all the development advances that we have achieved will go backwards again."

On the role of Ban Ki-moon: "[His] role...in all this is to keep reminding ourselves of what the science tells us and what the science tells us where we need to be and where we are now."

On the importance of climate finance: "We need a lot of trust in this negotiation process. To have a finance package be resolved...this would be very helpful for the overall negotiation process."

On whether the world could tackle climate change without the UN: "Change...is not happening fast enough...We need a global agreement that clarifies the direction in which we are going and, therefore, accelerates the whole process. Who else can do this other than the UN?"

On whether the 1.5C target is still politically possible? "It is possible. The feasibility is more difficult, let's be honest."

On the need for a ratchet mechanism in the Paris deal: "We have to be sure that in the agreement there is a good system of monitoring and review...ratchet up the ambition over time, correcting and adjusting as needs be, to make sure that we can move off the 4-5C pathway."

On the need for a long-term goal in the Paris deal: "The long-term goal also has to address adaptation and address the financing  of developing countries."

 

CB: What proportion of Ban Ki-moon's working week is he dedicating to climate change?

JP: Wow, it's a lot! He has consistently, since his first term, been very much focused on climate change. It's hard to say how many hours. We don't count the hours when your secretary general; the days and the weeks and so on. But I can tell you that I don't think there is another subject that he has to deal with - and there are many - there is not another subject that he spends as much time on as climate change.

CB: And at what point did it become this intense? At the summit last September in New York? Has this been a dominant theme for the last two years? Or was it particularly 2015?

JP: No, no. It goes back to his first term. He's been there now for eight years. And his interests and his engagement in climate change was from the very beginning, shortly after he became secretary-general. And the first major event where he was in action was at the Bali conference and this was in 2007. That's where he was then  he spoke very engagingly and then he left and the negotiations were not going well so he came back and got the people together and said, "You've got to agree on something". That's how the Bali agreement was finalised. That was his first real interaction and after that he formulated a strategy that he really needs to deal with this particular issue as it was so important to everything that the United Nations does. If we don't fix climate change, all the development advances that we have achieved will go backwards again: the impact on poverty and food security, and all the things of the UN stands for.  So he recognised it quite early and he said this is something I have to focus on. Then he went on and has been focused on this ever since. It's not just this year or last year. It's a long-term, eight-year project.

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Solar minimum could bring cold winters to Europe and US, but would not hold off climate change

  • 23 Jun 2015, 16:00
  • Robert McSweeney

Over the past few decades, our Sun has been relatively active, giving off high levels of the solar radiation that warms the Earth. However, in recent years this peak activity has tailed off, prompting scientists to wonder if the Sun is heading into a period of lower output.

A new study says even if the Sun's activity did drop off for a while, it wouldn't have much impact on rising global temperatures. But it could mean a higher chance of a chilly winter in Europe and the US, the researchers say.

Solar output

The Sun's activity rises and falls on an approximately 11-year cycle, but it can experience longer variations from one century to another. Over the past 10,000 years, the Sun has hit around 30 periods of very high or very low activity - called 'grand maxima' and 'grand minima'.

One of these occurred between 1645 and 1715, when the Sun went through a prolonged spell of low solar activity, known as the Maunder Minimum. This didn't have much of an effect on global climate, but it was linked to a number of  very cold winters in Europe.

In 2010, scientists  predicted an 8% chance that we could return to Maunder Minimum conditions within the next 40 years.

But since that study was published, solar activity has declined further, and this likelihood has increased to 15 or 20%, says new research published today in open-access journal Nature Communications.

In fact, the Sun's output has declined faster than any time in our 9,300-year record, say the researchers. And so they set out to analyse what this could mean for global and regional climate.

Small decrease

The researchers used a climate model to run two scenarios where solar activity declines to a grand minimum. They then compared the results with a control scenario where the Sun continues on its regular cycle.

For all model runs they used the RCP8.5 scenario to account for future climate change - this is the scenario with the highest greenhouse gas emissions of those used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( IPCC). Global emissions are currently tracking just above this scenario.

You can see the modelling results in the maps below. Overall, a grand solar minimum could see global average temperature rise trimmed by around 0.12C for the second half of this century, the researchers say. Larger changes (shown as dark greens and blues) are seen in some parts of the northern hemisphere.Ineson Et Al (2015) Fig2Projected difference in annual average surface temperature for 2050-99 between RCP8.5 emissions scenario and a) Solar scenario 1 and b) Solar scenario 2. Areas of blue and green show regions projected to be cooler because of the solar minimum. Source: Ineson, S. et al. (2015)

 

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Tackling climate change will reap benefits for human health

  • 23 Jun 2015, 00:01
  • Roz Pidcock

Curbing climate change could be the biggest global health opportunity of the 21st century. But if we choose not to act, we could reverse all the progress made by economic development in the last 50 years towards improving global public health.

These are the conclusions of a new report by the Lancet Commission out today.

Curbing air pollution, phasing out coal, access to clean energy worldwide and promoting healthier lifestyles would have "immediate gains" for human health, says the report. 

The authors also call for a global price on carbon and a scaling-up of adaptation financing.

The Lancet Commission is a body set up to map out the impacts of climate change on health, and make recommendations to improve health standards worldwide.

Today's report is a collaboration between European and Chinese academics across the physical, health, political and social sciences, economics, energy policy and engineering.

Impacts are here and now

The risks posed by climate change are already unacceptably high, today's report begins:

"After only 0.85C warming, many anticipated threats have already become real-world impacts."

And if we continue to track the highest emissions scenarios - taking us to  4C or 5C by the end of the century - the risk of potentially catastrophic impacts rises even higher, the report adds.

Screenshot 2015-06-22 17.21.32

Changing exposure in over 65s to heatwaves by 2090 for RCP8.5 (left). Growth in annual heatwave exposure for over 65s with and without accounting for a growing and ageing population (right). Source: Lancet Commission report on health and climate change (2015)

The impacts of climate change on human health are all-pervading. Small risks can interact to produce larger-than-expected chances of catastrophic outcomes, the report notes.

As well as the  direct effects of rising temperatures on heat stress, floods, drought and other extreme weather, climate change increases air pollution, alters the spread of disease and raises the risk of food insecurity, malnutrition, migration and conflict.

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