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‘Climate change now a political problem’

  • Published at 09:30 pm March 4th, 2019
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Dr Jurgen Kropp Dhaka Tribune

Climate change is a global issue that has particular significance for a vulnerable coastal country like Bangladesh. In a recent interview with the Dhaka Tribune’s Mehedi Al Amin, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) Head of Climate Change and Development, Dr Jurgen Kropp, also the organization’s deputy chair for climate impact and vulnerabilities, discussed the Paris Agreement, carbon tax, and other issues related to the threat of climate change

The Paris Agreement was adopted by many countries, and it sets a target to keep temperatures from rising above a two degree celsius threshold. Do you think this is achievable?

What I am always saying is that climate change is not really a scientific problem anymore. We can proceed with our research as we always have, but most of the problems have already been solved. Climate change isn’t really a scientific problem anymore: it is a political problem. In terms of political achievement, the Paris Agreement was a great success. But that is all. Whether it is a success for climate is still to be proven.

In order to make the Paris Agreement successful for climatologists and global civilization, we need to avoid transgressing the two degree threshold, if not 1.5 degrees. Beyond this, it is very likely that subsystems of the earth will be pushed into irreversible states.

What are the risks of climate change for a vulnerable coastal country like Bangladesh?

What you have to consider here is the time horizon. We have short term impacts and long term impacts. Short term impacts are related to things like changes in the monsoon season, for instance. What we see increasingly over the last few decades is that the monsoon season now has some breaks. Normally, rain starts at a certain time in the season and then it continues more or less non-stop for around three months. In the last decade or so, what we have seen is that the rain sometimes stops for about four weeks and then restarts.

The long term impacts are related to the sea level rise, because Bangladesh is a very low-lying country. Most of the country is around 5-10m below sea level. If we proceed as we are doing, the sea level may rise by 1m or even more by the end of the 21st century. This would have a tremendous influence on existing infrastructure. You have to protect your coasts. In Germany, for example, we have a 600 year tradition of protecting our North Sea coasts with dikes that have an average height of more than 10m. These dikes extend for several hundred kilometres. If you have to establish such protection measures, it is very costly.

The silver lining is that, with a time horizon of about 100 years, you have the opportunity to adapt the coastal regions and make it safe. However, what you should not forget is that 10m dikes are sometimes not sufficient, because of things like storm surges and this is a high risk region for cyclones.

How optimistic are you about the compliance of developed countries regarding targets in the Paris Agreement to reduce carbon emissions?

In terms of emission reduction, the developed countries are still not doing enough. We have maybe 10-15 years before we cross the 1.5 degree threshold, and 20-25 years before we cross 2 degrees. That means the time horizon we have for action is very small. If we do not do anything, the temperature may even increase by 4-5 degrees. This would have tremendous consequences for many of the developing economies.

Waste management is also an issue, and even developed countries do not have fully functioning recycling systems as yet.

What about the issue of domestic migration? How do we address the large number of people moving to cities, which is straining resources?   

First, you need good governance. If you don’t have experts in urban planning and educated people who understand problems from a multi-disciplinary point of view, then everything is pointless. In terms of pressure and response factors, you have to look at why people are migrating to cities and then address the root causes. When the people are already in the cities, you are in deep trouble.

How can developed countries help their less developed counterparts?

One option is to make it so intellectual property rights (IPR) for environmentally friendly technologies do not apply for less developed and developing countries. Another option is to make it so IPR payments are made through the carbon tax. However, this brings me back to my point that climate change is no longer a scientific issue, but a political one. The problem has been solved in terms of  science, but political agreements to make the technology available are yet to be implemented.


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