Wednesday, June 12, 2024
InterviewClimate victims in Africa get an ally in the Amazon

Climate victims in Africa get an ally in the Amazon

The 59th session of the intergovernmental body of the United Nations, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is slated for July 2023 in Nairobi, Kenya. Elections will be held for positions on the IPCC Bureau and Task Force Bureau.

Thelma Krug (PHD), a Brazilian climate expert with over two decades of experience and a contender for the IPCC chairperson role, is up against three other candidates. During a recent trip to Ethiopia, Thelma sat down with Sisay Sahlu of The Reporter to discuss her candidacy and the issues of climate change among others. EXCERPTS:

The Reporter: What initiated your interest to compete for the IPCC chairperson role?

Thelma Krug (PhD): I have been contributing to the IPCC since 2002 as co-chair of the task force for national greenhouse gas inventory. We develop methodologies and science-based guidelines for all countries to report their emissions. So all countries have to use the Panel’s  methodological reports to report their emissions. So it’s meaningful work.

In 2009, I was re-elected for the same function and then in 2015, I was elected as a vice chair. The IPCC structure has a chair and then co-chairs of the three working groups which ensure that developed and developing nations are represented. It is a combination of developing and developed countries.

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I have been contributing to the IPCC for decades on a voluntary basis. No one receives any compensation from the IPCC – it relies on voluntary contributions. So when the government of Brazil approached me and nominated me for the position, I was initially taken aback. I asked for time to consider before accepting the nomination.

When I finally agreed, I realized that in the IPCC’s 34-year history, no women had ever been nominated for a leadership position. In fact, when I became vice chair, I was the very first woman to hold that role.

Regarding equitable participation, we must move beyond just discussing it on paper and actually make changes. Many international organizations are striving for more equitable distribution, so it’s time for the IPCC to have a leader with the courage to face this challenge. That was a start, but for me, it wasn’t enough.

With 22 years of experience within the IPCC, I’ve seen firsthand the limitations we face regarding regional representation. We need more proportional representation and authors from different regions. The IPCC doesn’t have a set group of authors – countries nominate experts through their focal points.

My view is that we must encourage focal points from developing countries, especially from Africa, South America and Asia, to identify and nominate experts so we have an opportunity to improve regional representation. This would give us authors from diverse cultures.

I realized I could help emphasize the need for the IPCC to improve its regional representation. So I told the government yes, I will take on this challenge.

Access to scientific literature is also an issue. Developed countries have easy access, but we have to pay in developing countries. That’s unfair in my view. I see a whole range of issues that affect developing countries and potential authors. Having more women authors and diversity is important, but numbers alone don’t matter. What matters is whether people feel they belong, are respected and have what they need.

How do you see the impact of climate change specifically for women?

Yes, it is incredible. Women are affected hugely right now because they are responsible for many tasks, including collecting water. And water scarcity is one of the issues we will face with climate change.

If water is currently one kilometer from their homes, they may have to go 2 km or 3 km to fetch water. That has a huge impact on women overall. We all face issues with sanitation that Brazil and Africa face.

High temperatures, disease spread, and other climate impacts disproportionately affect the vulnerable, including women, children, the elderly and indigenous peoples. The IPCC cannot forget these most vulnerable communities. Women are among the first, along with children, elders and local communities.

We must really look at how climate change impacts the most vulnerable people, and women are among them. There is a lot of injustice. If we talk about climate justice and opportunities for all, we see that the most vulnerable people and regions do not want to be affected by climate change they did not cause. Yet they are affected the most, which is very unfair since they contributed the least to human-driven climate change.

How do you see this injustice, with the Horn of Africa paying the price for climate change they did not cause?

Absolutely. I see several problems. We have accelerating climate change as global temperatures rise rapidly, faster than in the past 15 years. To combat this, we need rapid, ambitious and sustainable reductions in emissions.

How are we going to do that? Especially in developing countries? How do we ensure that we have the ability to eliminate, say, some type of work that generates a lot of emissions and move to something else without creating jobless people? Are we building the capacity to carry out a just transformation or, as they call it in the IPCC, a just transition?

I find that the transformation required to limit global warming needs to come from increased technology and increased financial resources to help everyone tackle climate change in the right direction.

We usually differentiate because people used to say, ‘We always had drought, floods, and high temperatures, yes we always had that.’ But the natural variability we had before is now compounded with a human contribution from anthropogenic factors.

So now we have two problems: one from natural variability and second, the anthropogenic human factor. If humans have been causing the problem, they have to solve it and we have to solve it quickly.

How do you see the political commitment to deal with this issue? Especially the failure to meet the pledge of USD 100 billion by developed countries.

It is failing. Even the IPCC recognizes and mentions it in their finance report. It is absolutely insufficient. Funding would have to increase many times over for us to address the most important issues. I think mitigation is important but I also want to focus on the need for adaptation. It’s interesting because the most vulnerable people do not have the means to adapt.

The most vulnerable regions and people have difficulties implementing adaptation approaches. So obviously we see this pledge is absolutely insufficient, if we want to utilize the opportunities every country has to contribute to mitigation and achieve rapid reductions in emissions. We have to do this everywhere.

Every country has opportunities, particularly developing countries that are in the development stage. They can use better approaches and a different way than in the past, but they need access not only to financial and technological means, but also partnerships and international cooperation – which the IPCC keeps emphasizing is one of the key issues.

Without international cooperation, it will be very difficult for us to implement ambitious mitigation and also secure the adaptation needs to help every single country in the world.

There is no justice. I don’t see that coming up. I think we’re far away from that. And if we’re talking about transformation – transformations in all parts are difficult. You have to transform society, change the way we pursue and produce and consume. You have to change the way we view and respect ecosystems and biodiversity.

If we look at developing countries like ours, the major sources of emissions are land-based activities like deforestation, agriculture and ecosystem degradation; these are our main sources of emissions. In developed countries, the major sources are energy and industrial processes forests are absolutely valuable for countering drought, fires and floods.

See the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo – if we don’t act to combat fossil fuels, will these forests survive? If you don’t do your homework, these forests will be vulnerable.

Do you think there is an equal perception of the issue of climate change impacts?

There are 196 members of the IPCC who negotiate politically. So when we have a Summary for Policymakers report, which every country has to approve line by line, you make every single government aware of the main elements of the report’s summary.

They know to approve this report, but when it comes to the negotiation forum, the answer is often, ‘I know, but.’ When you look at bilateral contributions and other factors, you have to wonder: are they meeting our needs? Do they understand what our needs are? Or are they imposing their own perceptions of our needs and the technology we should implement? So it’s a complicated issue.

At least at the political level, there is recognition that climate change must be addressed. However, this recognition may not extend beyond politics. So what do we need? We need better communication. As the vice chair responsible for communication, this is one of the tasks assigned to me by the present chair.

How can we balance the need for economic growth with the need to address climate change?

There are obvious costs to address climate change, ranging from implementing mitigation actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to enhancing removal of these gases from the atmosphere. There are also costs to implement needed adaptation options in many parts of the world.

We must also consider that poverty and inequality decrease peoples ability to adapt to climate change. However, addressing climate change also presents opportunities, especially when considering the synergies of climate responses with the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals.

Addressing climate change can reduce impacts and risks from extreme weather events like heat waves, tropical cyclones, and heavy precipitation that causes floods. There are economic benefits from avoided climate impacts that should be considered in public and private sector planning, budgeting, and adaptation funding.

International cooperation, partnerships, and inclusive governance can help implement climate solutions, particularly in vulnerable regions.

How can individuals and communities make a difference in addressing climate change?

The IPCC recognizes in its reports that inclusive governance involving the participation of government representatives at all levels, as well as civil society organizations, the private sector, local communities and indigenous peoples, can facilitate the implementation of mitigation actions, especially those that are land-based.

The reports highlight the relevant contribution that consumption of low-carbon goods can have, from food to clothing, and from choices of different modes of transport to where we live.

Adaptation actions will be most effective if implemented in partnership with local communities, national governments, research institutes, the private sector and non-governmental organizations. If governments at all levels work with citizens, civil society, educational institutions, the media, investors, businesses and form partnerships with traditionally marginalized groups, including women, youth, Indigenous Peoples, local communities, for example, the prospects of effective action improve.

How do you respond to skeptics who question the science of climate change? What is your understanding of the current state of the science on climate change, and what are the most important research gaps that need to be addressed?

The IPCC provides evidence-based climate information and assigns qualitative and quantitative measures to its findings that indicate the maturity of the scientific information and agreement among the different pieces of literature assessed. This is why the human contribution to the warming of the atmosphere, ocean, and biosphere became unequivocal.

It is not possible to explain the rapid changes in the global surface temperature, for instance, if the observations from independent, multiple sources of data are not combined with accounting for natural climate variability.

The IPCC identifies in the report some gaps in the literature for some specific themes, for example the knowledge that some ecosystems are approaching irreversible change, such as the hydrological changes resulting from glacier retreat, changes in some mountain ecosystems, and Arctic ecosystems due to permafrost thawing.

I will highlight some of the current state of the science on climate change, first being the recent changes in the climate are widespread, rapid, and intensifying, and unprecedented in thousands of years.

Science also tells us that unless there are immediate, rapid, and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to 1.5°C will be beyond reach. Finally, there is the indisputable human contribution to climate change that is making extreme climate events, including heat waves, heavy rainfall, and droughts, more frequent and severe.

What role do you see for the IPCC in shaping global climate policy? How do you plan to work with policymakers and other stakeholders to advance climate action?

The IPCC reports should be policy-relevant but not policy-prescriptive. The scientific findings of the IPCC have been instrumental in providing policymakers with the policy-relevant information to inform their decisions.

As science advances, more updated information can be provided to policymakers, but not necessarily the concrete actions that science requires to—for instance—limit global warming to meet the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement are taking place. Science tells us that in order to meet these goals, rapid, profound and sustainable reductions of greenhouse gas emissions are necessary.

Unfortunately, presently we are not on track to limit global warming to, say, 1.5°C. Obviously, the chair can only convey the most updated findings to policymakers and show that the cost of inaction is much greater than that of action.

Addressing climate change has several synergies with the Sustainable Development Goals and fewer trade-offs reinforcing these aspects is relevant to advance climate action, but addressing the barriers for the implementation of mitigation and adaptation measures is crucial.

For developing countries, financial barriers are closely related, but institutional and socio-cultural barriers may also need to be addressed.

What is your vision for the future of the IPCC, and how do you plan to ensure that it remains relevant and effective in a rapidly changing global context?

The IPCC is the internationally recognized scientific authority on climate change, a position it has earned through rigorous processes–from the selection of authors to the review of report drafts by experts and member governments–that help make the report findings more robust.

I believe that by producing smaller, focused or by organizing targeted workshops on focused topics agreed upon by the Panel (the 195 member governments), the IPCC may provide the policy-relevant information that governments need in a time of unprecedented climate change. Focusing reports and workshops on issues most relevant to specific regions can help IPCC findings resonate and make the most impact.

Regardless of the products the IPCC produces, their scientific integrity will always be preserved. The regional members of the IPCC Bureau can play an important role in conveying the findings from scientific workshops to member governments in the region and in this way transparently share the event’s findings with them.

How do you plan to engage with and incorporate the perspectives of communities that are most affected by climate change, such as indigenous peoples and low-income communities, in the IPCC’s work?

Indigenous and local communities’ knowledge bases, particularly those of indigenous peoples, have been substantially more recognized in this IPCC cycle. Including indigenous knowledge and local knowledge in IPCC reports can help address the combined challenges of climate change, food security, biodiversity conservation, combating desertification, and land degradation.

Indigenous people and local communities often use oral histories to develop their knowledge systems, which do differ from scientific methods. As the IPCC recognizes in one report, this does not mean the knowledge is invalid. Questioning its validity can be inappropriate, unnecessary, disrespectful of identities and histories, and limits sharing these perspectives in formal literature.

The IPCC has been working to enable indigenous knowledge holders to directly participate in its assessment reports. Since the IPCC does not conduct research itself but assesses the climate-related scientific literature worldwide. Still, it’s important the IPCC makes space for the view that each cultural knowledge system, based on linguistic-cultural specificity, is unique and inherently valuable. I’m sure the authors will further include diverse knowledge systems in AR7 reports, enhancing their contribution to an even larger number of stakeholders.

How do you intend to address concerns around the politicization of climate science and the possibility for external pressure to influence the IPCC’s work?

IPCC products are based on evidence from multiple, independent sources of scientific information. All governments have the opportunity to review drafts of the reports, helping to identify any prescriptive language and contributing to making the reports relevant by identifying relevant information that has not been assessed.

The reports include a ‘summary for policymakers’ that contains the most important findings in the underlying report and undergoes a line-by-line approval during a panel meeting.

During the approval session, the authors may be asked to explain specific elements of any findings and the underlying material that supported that finding, which eliminates the possibility of having to deal with external pressure that could influence the IPCC’s work.

Looking at the initiative taken by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s “Green Legacy” aimed at planting billions of trees in a campaign, how do you view the practicality of such moves beyond the politicization of them by Ethiopian officials?

Science is clear that restoration and preventing new forest losses play an essential role in combating climate change, however, it is crucial to consider that planting areas that historically have not been forested, such as savannas, can reduce biodiversity and increase risks of damage. So, it is fundamental to adequately plan where the trees will be planted and use appropriate species.

Besides removing carbon from the atmosphere, planting trees can reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change by increasing shade and reducing warmth. It can also prevent erosion and reduce flood risk.

However, it is important that these actions be coupled with global actions to limit global warming since forests are vulnerable to climate change and may not be resilient to the projected higher frequency and intensity of extreme events as warming increases. Droughts and wildfires may undermine efforts to have forests contribute to combating climate change.

The Horn of Africa has experienced unrelenting drought for over five years now. How do you perceive this climate-induced drought and the injustice of global climate policy and politics?

You see, even at the current level of global surface temperature increase of 1.10C above pre-industrial levels the frequency, and increase in intensity of extreme temperature events that occurred once every 10 years on average in a climate without human influence are now likely to be 2.8 times more frequent, and at warming of 1.50C, this increase rises to 4.1 times.

Unfortunately, the IPCC reports show that extreme events will impact the most vulnerable regions and people, those that contributed the least to human-caused climate change and have the least ability to adapt.

It is imperative that the scientific messages in the IPCC reports be internalized at appropriate political forums to ensure that climate justice is exercised in every region, thus minimizing the risks of impacts for natural and human systems, including biodiversity and water.

The barriers to implementing measures of adaptation and mitigation in developing countries are numerous, but the financial barrier is at the top, and the current flow of financing is insufficient to help implement needed measures and take additional actions to tackle and adapt to climate change.

[speaker]
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