With 200 days to go before the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP21), the Business & Climate Summit is taking place in Paris, bringing together private-sector companies, including Total, and government leaders. Climatologist Valérie Masson-Delmotte took this opportunity to revisit global warming challenges and the important role businesses have to play in the energy transition. Research Director at France's Climate & Environmental Sciences Laboratory (LSCE), she will speak alongside Total at World Environment Day held on June 5, 2015 under the auspices of the United Nations to encourage worldwide awareness and action for the environment.
Why did you agree to speak alongside Total at the World Environment Day?
Valérie Masson-Delmotte / I'm delighted to present alongside businesses from various sectors. We have to acknowledge the problem of global warming collectively and propose solutions. Unless we enter into a conversation with them, nothing will happen. It's something that has to be undertaken at every level, from the individual to the community, business and government. I've noticed that businesses have become aware of their role and responsibilities in addressing the situation. As a scientist, I feel a responsibility to share current state of knowledge as widely as possible.
What is the goal we should keep in sight in the fight against climate change?
V. M.-D. / The main goal set by heads of state at the Copenhagen Summit in 2009 was to limit this increase to 2°C in 2100, compared to the 1900 baseline. We've already produced two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions compatible with that goal, half of which in the last 40 years. So there’s only one-third left going forward. That gives you an idea of the scope of the transformation we have to bring about. Climate change calculations show that if we want to reach that goal, carbon emissions must not only stop rising as soon as possible, they then have to decrease significantly. And even if they do, the climate would keep warming up until 2050, and only then stabilize. But a certain degree of climate change is unavoidable, so we have to plan ahead to adapt to it. If greenhouse gas emissions keep climbing every year at current rates, warming will pick up pace considerably — an additional 4°C in 2100 — and climate change impacts will be that much worse.
Why is it vital to act?
V. M.-D. / Unless we alter the path we're on, sea levels could rise one meter by 2100 and we could see more frequent and more pronounced extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts and torrential rain. Remember, every additional degree of heat in the atmosphere increases humidity 7%. We can also expect less precipitation in regions with a Mediterranean climate, because of changes in atmospheric circulation. The faster the climate changes, the greater the impacts, which societies and ecosystems will be unable to adapt to. To avoid unwanted changes, we need a major agricultural and energy transition as soon as possible, in order to manage greenhouse gas emissions.
What role can businesses play in the fight against climate change?
V. M.-D. / Some of them are exemplary about energy efficiency, which is still a cornerstone of the energy transition, especially in the building sector. Companies can provide solutions that are innovative both in terms of technology and organization, to offer an energy mix that is as low-carbon as possible. They have a real role to play in advising and providing services to consumers. But the most important thing is that the transition to a low-carbon economy create jobs. In that sense, the fight against climate change is not a drag on the economic recovery — it’s actually quite the opposite.