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2014-04-02

U.N. Climate Panel Issues Dire Warning of Threat to Global Food Supply, Calls for Action & Adaption

Guests

Saleemul Huq, climate scientist at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London. He is also the director of International Center for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh. He is lead author of one of the chapters in the just-released IPCC report.

Tim Gore, head of policy for Food and Climate Justice at Oxfam GB. He was a civil society observer at the IPCC in Yokohama, Japan.

Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University. He is one of the main authors of the 32-volume report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued its most dire warning yet about how greenhouse gases have driven up global temperatures and extreme weather, while threatening sources of food and water. "Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger," the report says. We are joined by two climate scientists who helped write the IPCC’s report: Princeton University Professor Michael Oppenheimer and Saleemul Huq, a climate scientist at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London. We are also joined by Tim Gore, head of policy for Food and Climate Justice at Oxfam. "[Fossil fuel companies] are the drug suppliers to the rest of the world, who are junkies and hooked on fossil fuels," Huq says. "But we don’t have to remain hooked on fossil fuels. Indeed, we are going to have to cut ourselves off from them."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The United Nations’ top climate body has warned that human-driven climate change has impacted every corner of the globe, with the poorest suffering the worst effects. In its latest report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says greenhouse gases have driven up global temperatures and extreme weather, while threatening sources of food and water.

And the worst is yet to come. The report declared, quote, "Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger." Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC, said nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.

RAJENDRA PACHAURI: There is a reason for the world not really neglecting the findings of this report, because they are profound. And let me repeat once again, we have said very categorically in this report, the implications for human security. We have reasons to believe that if the world doesn’t do anything about mitigating the emissions of greenhouse gases and the extent of climate change continues to increase, then the very social stability of human systems could be at stake.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by three guests. Here in New York, Michael Oppenheimer is with us, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University. He’s one of the main authors of the 32-volume report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In London, Saleemul Huq joins us, a climate scientist at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London, also the director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh. He’s the lead author of one of the chapters in the just-released IPCC report.

And Tim Gore is head of policy for Food and Climate Justice at Oxfam. He was a civil society observer at the recent IPCC meeting in Yokohama, Japan, joining us by Democracy Now! video stream from Sweden.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Saleemul Huq in London. Can you talk about the significance of this report, how it differs from the previous report and the warning that it represents in the world?

SALEEMUL HUQ: Well, it’s made a significant new finding since the last report seven years ago, in that we now have very, very strong evidence of climate change actually happening all over the world on—both on land as well as in the oceans, which we didn’t have the last time around. So there’s no question that it’s already happening and we’re living in a climate-changed world already. It then goes on to make projections into the future and says that if we continue to warm at the rate that we are now, we’re heading for 4 degrees or above by the end of the century, and that is really a catastrophic scenario in terms of the potential impacts that are likely to happen. Even at a lower temperature of 2 degrees, we can still possibly manage, but there will be significant losses in certain parts of the world of ecosystems and, indeed, human lives, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: And that 2 percent, just explain for—we have a global audience, but, of course, we have a lot of Americans here, and the 2 percent is more—2 degrees, rather.

SALEEMUL HUQ: Sure. Well, it’s 2 degrees centigrade, which is over three-and-a-half degrees Fahrenheit. And that’s the temperature threshold at which the global leaders in countries around the world have agreed that we need to stay below that, under which we can probably manage to cope with the impacts in most parts of the world, although even that will be difficult in some parts of the world. But if we go well above that to 4 degrees, which is where we are headed at the moment, then we would not only double, but we increase by orders of magnitude the potential impacts, in some cases unpredictably. And that’s really what we want to avoid. And hence, what we need to be doing in the longer term is to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause the problem, so that we can bring the temperature down to 2 degrees or below and not to 4 degrees, where we are headed.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Michael Oppenheimer, could you comment on what Dr. Saleemul Huq said, especially the significance and likely impact of a possible 4-degree change in temperature, which is where we 'e headed if present emissions aren't reduced? And also speak specifically about what this report says about the issue of food production and security.

MICHAEL OPPENHEIMER: OK, let me comment specifically on a couple of aspects of the report, which are important from the point of view of what will affect human beings. And for the first time, we have evidence that the climate changes, which we knew were happening, are actually affecting the welfare of humans. And I’ll give you two examples.

Number one, crop yields, which for a long time had been growing at the rate of 10 or 15 percent per decade and managing, therefore, to keep up with population changes and also dietary changes—people eating up the food chain—those gains have slowed and, in many areas, have been reversed, with crop yields actually decreasing in some areas. In fact, many more decreasing—crop yields decreasing in many more areas than areas where they’re increasing. And that’s a worrisome trend. And unless there are major changes in technologies—for instance, introducing genetically modified organisms or improved crops—we’re just going to have a growing shortfall between the demand and the supply of food. That’s going to lead to increasing malnutrition and perhaps starvation in some areas as the decades progress in the century.

The other interesting area is that human health is being directly affected. There are more area—there are more cases now of people dying from heat-related death related to climate change than are being saved by the warmer winters. So we’re having more heat-related deaths tied to climate change than we are benefiting from the warmer winters. Together, that presents a very difficult picture, because we are sure—we are sure that heat waves, intense heat are going to increase as we go into the future.

Those are just two examples of how, as we move from a slightly warmer world of today to—as Saleem said, a 2-degree Celsius warmer world—to a 4-degree Celsius warmer world, eventually things spin out of our control. We had better reduce the emissions that are causing the problem, while at the same time getting better at adapting to climate change, because we’re stuck with some of it.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim Gore, you’re with a nongovernmental organization, with Oxfam. You’re head of the Food and Climate Justice division of Oxfam. Talk about what this means and where justice fits into the whole issue of climate change.

TIM GORE: Sure. Well, both Saleem and Michael have outlined some of the areas of the report that we are most concerned about, as well, particularly the impacts on food and the impacts on hunger. And Saleem is absolutely right. What’s really different about this report is that it’s saying this isn’t just an issue for the future. The future projections are worrying enough, but what’s really significant here is that the report is saying that this thing—these impacts are happening now. We can already see the impact on crop yields, as Michael was saying.

But the report also is clear that we can already see the impacts of climate change on food prices. So in the years since the last IPCC report was released in 2007, we’ve seen several instances of extreme food price volatility. And each of those have been connected in some way to extreme weather events which are hitting harvests in big crop-producing areas, whether in the U.S., in Russia or in Australia and so on. And that’s a very different picture of how climate change is impacting on food than we’ve had in the past. We’ve long said that climate change is a problem for poor farmers in developing countries that don’t have the resources that they need to cope with changing seasons, changing rainfall patterns, increasing temperatures, but what we’re hearing now is that climate change is a problem for global agriculture. It’s having global implications, including on food prices. And for Oxfam, that’s a big problem, because we know that people that spend upwards of 50 percent of their incomes on food are the ones that get really badly affected when prices rise so rapidly. And that’s just a foretaste of what we can expect in the future if we don’t get a grip on climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim Gore is—

TIM GORE: You asked about it being a justice problem, and I would just say that, for us, it’s intrinsically a question of justice, because not only is it the inequalities in wealth and power which are driving climate change, it’s the fossil fuel industry which is making absolutely no bones about the fact that it’s going to continue to burn fossil fuels at a rate of knots, driving greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and driving this problem. That’s a problem of inequality of wealth and power of those corporations. But it’s also—it’s the poorest, it’s the least vulnerable [sic] that are ill-prepared to cope and are going to—are already feeling those impacts first and worst. And so, if anything, climate change is set to increase the inequalities that we see on this planet, and that really is a worrying picture for us.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim Gore is with Oxfam. They just put out a report called "Hot and Hungry" on the first day of the IPCC meeting in Yokohama, Japan. We are also joined by Saleemul Huq and Michael Oppenheimer, both co-authors of the newly released [Intergovernmental] Panel on Climate Change report. We’ll come back to them in a moment.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "The History of Climate Change Negotiations in 83 Seconds." And for our radio listeners, you can go to our website at democracynow.org to see the whole 83 seconds. Yes, this is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. As we talk about the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, let’s go back to the recent U.N. climate talks in Warsaw, Poland, in 2013. We spoke with Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, the former chair of the Africa Group at the U.N. climate change negotiations from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mpanu spoke about developed countries’ obligations to address the impacts of climate change.

TOSI MPANU-MPANU: Well, it’s certainly not charity. I think it’s rather something along the lines of compensation, because runaway climate change is putting one billion Africans in harm’s way. Today those Africans have to go through adverse effect of a global phenomenon that they didn’t create. It’s actually creating not only droughts, floods; it’s creating conflicts, because people have to go further and further to get some water, and other people are not just welcoming them. So, Mr. Jones can drive two SUVs in the U.S., while a poor African is fighting to get some water. So it’s about doing what’s right. And it has to be done in two ways: to reduce their lifestyles, the consumption of carbon, in the North, and to provide some resources so that we can deal with the climate change phenomenon which was imposed on us.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to get the comments of our guests today, Saleemul Huq and Michael Oppenheimer. Michael Oppenheimer, professor at Princeton University, and Saleemul Huq, both are co-authors of the newly released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. We’re also joined in Sweden by Tim Gore of Oxfam. Saleemul Huq in London, if you can talk about the effect of climate change on the least-developed countries, sticking with this theme of how this increases disparity in the world?

SALEEMUL HUQ: That’s absolutely right. As you heard from Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, poor countries have been hit hardest by the impacts of climate change and are already seeing those impacts. And there’s a group of poorest countries in the world called the least-developed countries, which are 50 of the poorest countries in the world, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, but also in Asia, including my country, Bangladesh, and these countries are recognized to be the most vulnerable. And there are obligations that the rich world have taken on to support them and help them. They have made pledges of funding, but they haven’t met those pledges fully yet, so that’s one aspect that they need to do.

On the other hand, one of the recent, if you like, new outcomes from the Fifth Assessment Report is that these countries aren’t sitting idle. They’re actually going ahead and trying to adapt to the potential impacts of climate change and the ones that they’re seeing. I’ll give you the example of my country, Bangladesh. Bangladesh has a very far-reaching climate change strategy and action plan. They’re putting in the order of a half-a-billion dollars of their own money into implementing it. At the same time, they’re asking for international donors to match that, and they’ve matched it to about half that level. But the country is not sitting idle; they’re going ahead at community level, at national level, at sector level. And so are a number of other least-developed countries. So, in many ways, the least-developed countries are actually leading the world in trying to find ways to tackle the impacts of climate change and adapt. But there is a limit to what they can do. As I said, perhaps up to 2 degrees, they can do it, but beyond that, it’s going to be much more difficult.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to go back to comments that our Oxfam guest, Tim Gore, made about fossil fuels. The largest oil and gas company in the world, ExxonMobil, just released a report after the IPCC report this week, saying that climate policies are, quote, "highly unlikely" to stop it from producing and selling fossil fuels in the near future. ExxonMobil’s report says, quote, "We believe producing these assets is essential to meeting growing energy demand worldwide, and in preventing consumers—especially those in the least developed and most vulnerable economies—from themselves becoming stranded in the global pursuit of higher living standards and greater economic opportunity." That’s a report from ExxonMobil released after the IPCC report came out this week. So, Michael Oppenheimer, could I get you to comment first on the impact of fossil fuels and what this means?

MICHAEL OPPENHEIMER: Well, first of all, the problem is caused, by and large, by burning coal, oil and, to a lesser extent, natural gas—the fossil fuels, which, by and large, power our society. It’s rather interesting that Exxon felt compelled to make any statement about it at all. What they’ve done in the past is fund groups to kick up a smokescreen of contrarian science—or contrarian non-science—to confuse the public. I think the company is slowly coming around to realizing that that won’t do much good over the long term. This is a problem that has to be grappled with. On the other hand, I don’t expect Exxon to say, "We’re going to give up the oil business." That is their business, after all. The question is: How are they going to position themselves with respect to particular U.S. political initiatives which will eventually happen again, like the bill in Congress in 2009 that was aimed at controlling emissions? Are they going to oppose President Obama’s efforts to use his regulatory authority to control emissions? Those are the key questions. The rest of it is rhetoric.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, talking about that politics, I mean, the House has approved a measure that would effectively force government agencies to stop studying climate change. The measure calls on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and related bodies to focus on forecasting severe weather, but not exploring one of its likely causes. I’m wondering if you could address this and the overall climate, if you will, in the United States—you’re a professor at Princeton University—around this pushback on whether humans are causing climate change?

MICHAEL OPPENHEIMER: Well, first of all, that’s clearly an ostrich-head-in-the-sand policy: If you pretend you can’t see it, then it’s not happening. And it doesn’t—isn’t going to do us any good, obviously. It isn’t going to stop climate change. And it’s symptomatic of, unfortunately, an attitude that we’ve seen in parts, particularly the House of Representatives, you know, where people just don’t believe in science. And that’s something that has to change, or else we can never effectively grapple not only with this problem, but a whole raft of issues in our very highly technological society. You know, what the future holds in that regard, it’s hard to tell. I’m not the first one to point out to you that this country is polarized terrifically politically. This is a problem which, if it’s going to be solved, goes to the root of our energy system. We need a bipartisan approach to solving it. And the political rhetoric and the political inaction, that is freezing everything these days, really gets in the way.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Tim Gore, before we continue, I’d like you to talk about some of the work that Oxfam has done and its experience with people on the ground dealing with the impact of climate change. You’ve spoken specifically about an irrigation project in Zimbabwe, for instance. Could you talk about the impact already being felt in many parts of the world as a consequence of climate change?

TIM GORE: Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, Oxfam is working in many countries right around the world already grappling with those impacts, with small-scale farmers across sub-Saharan Africa, working with them to understand how the seasons are changing, what that means for their cropping patterns, helping them to think about different seeds, different planting regimes, helping with small-scale irrigation schemes. Actually, in Bangladesh, in Saleem’s country, Oxfam is doing a lot of work on early warning systems to make sure that fisherfolk and other people living in highly vulnerable areas, essentially below sea level, get the information that they need about incoming storm surges or cyclones, so that they can get out of harm’s way in time. So, I think, as Saleem says, there’s a whole raft of action that is going on now in some of the poorest countries to try to adapt to climate change. And that’s very welcome, and we’re working on that in partnership with many other organizations.

But as Saleem has also said, there are real limits here to what the poorest countries can do on their own. You only have to look at the amount of money that rich countries are spending on adaptation. In the U.S., for example, I think the Congress approved something like $60 billion for the recovery efforts following Hurricane Sandy in New York. I mean, those are the orders of magnitude that we’re talking about in terms of dealing with this problem. Another example from the U.S. is the amount of money that—public money that’s currently being spent to support farmers in the U.S. to deal with climate impacts or to insure their crops, something on the order of a billion or so—for a billion dollars of public money going in to support the insurance schemes that protect farmers in the U.S. in the wake of losses like we’ve seen from the droughts in 2012 or currently ongoing in California. Now, that’s—those are huge sums of money, of public money, being invested by rich countries in their own protection, their own adaptation, their own preparedness for climate impacts. Poorest—the poorest countries on the planet simply don’t have those resources to draw upon. They are investing some of their money, but they need more support from the international community, from the rich countries that, in the end, have emitted most of the greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. And it’s they that are responsible for providing some of that money to make sure that the poorest people, who are least responsible for this problem, get the kinds of resources that they need to adapt.

And the example that you gave from Zimbabwe is important, because it’s an example, actually, of the limits to adaptation. And although we can do a lot and we must do a lot to adapt to climate change, we’re also starting to see already in some instances that there are limits to adaptation. You can’t adapt to any types of climate impacts. And that particular example in Zimbabwe is of an irrigation scheme where it helps the local community to deal with more erratic rainfall, but when you get very extreme droughts, the water table drops so low that there is not enough water pressure to get water into the system. And it just goes to highlight that in the end, although we must increase our efforts to adapt very rapidly, unless we also reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, the levels of global warming we’re going to see will also surpass our adaptive capacities within the next two, three, four decades. And so, it’s absolutely critical that we scale up adaptation, but at the same time we drive down greenhouse gas emissions. That’s the only way to protect the poorest people on the planet from going hungry because of climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a report released the same day as the IPCC report by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, or NIPCC. The study was funded completely by the Heartland Institute, a think tank that’s systematically questioned climate change. This is what the report had to say about global warming: quote, "A modest warming of the planet will result in a net reduction of human mortality from temperature-related events. More lives are saved by global warming via the amelioration of cold-related deaths than those lost under excessive heat. Global warming will have a negligible influence on human morbidity and the spread of infectious diseases, a phenomenon observed in virtually all parts of the world," they said. Tim Gore, can you comment on this pushback, but also talk about the kind of momentum, if there is momentum, leading not just to Peru next year, but the binding summit that will take place in Paris in 2015? The Heartland Institute may not be significant in the world, but in the United States it’s part of that force that’s trying to prevent any kind of binding action on climate change.

TIM GORE: Yeah, and this is—you know, goes back to the problem of corporations like Exxon, the powerful economic interests that are currently profiting from our high-carbon economic model and that stand to lose the most from a transition to a low-carbon, fair alternative. And, you know, we know that, when you can track the financing from those groups into groups like the Heartland Institute and others that are lobbying the U.S. government, lobbying interests also in Brussels, trying to prevent the European Union from taking more ambitious action on climate change, lobbying in the Australian context, as well, and are behind many of the more aggressive steps that the Australian government has taken on climate change in recent months, as well. So, this is an incestuous influence of the fossil fuel industry. We’re seeing it in our planet politics all around the world, and it’s working directly against the interests of the poorest and the most vulnerable people on the planet, who are already being impacted by climate change.

And we have to stand up to that. And I think that’s why you’re seeing an increasing movement starting to build, starting to swell, with strong roots there in the U.S. around divestment, around starting to say, actually, if we want to get serious about tackling this problem, there’s no question of a partnership with some of these energy companies. They simply don’t have any interest in seeing climate change tackled. What we have to do is we have to get the money, the investment, out of those companies and into cleaner, sustainable, renewable energy alternatives.

AMY GOODMAN: Saleemul Huq, we just—

TIM GORE: And that, I think—

AMY GOODMAN: We just have 15 seconds, if you could comment from London on that point of where you’re going from here? And, Michael Oppenheimer, 15 seconds, as well.

SALEEMUL HUQ: Well, I think, you know, to cite the example of the fossil fuel companies that you mentioned, it’s like they are the drug suppliers to the rest of the world who are junkies and are hooked on fossil fuels. But we don’t have to remain hooked on fossil fuels. Indeed, we are going to have to cut ourselves off from them if we want to see a real transition and prevent the kinds of temperature rises that I mentioned, up to 4 degrees. The only way is to wean ourselves off the fossil fuels that we use at the moment.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Oppenheimer?

MICHAEL OPPENHEIMER: I just want to point out it’s not just a problem for the rest of the world. Just think about Hurricane Sandy. Think about how hard it was to deal with that storm. That’s today’s storms. Think about what happens over the next 10, 20, 30 years, when sea level goes up and the storms, in all cases—in most cases, get worse.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you all for being with us. Michael Oppenheimer and Saleemul Huq, both co-authors of the newly released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. And thank you so much to Tim Gore of Oxfam, speaking to us from Sweden.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, Dragnet Nation. Stay with us.

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