Le Journal du Dimanche, August 13, 2017
« No need to be a doomsayer: the situation already is. » The warning sends shivers down the spine. Climatologist and former Vice President of the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) Jean Jouzel, offers bleak reports on the evolution of global warming. “To expect to stay below 2 °C of warming compared to the pre-industrial era, it would mean that the peak of greenhouse gas emissions would need to occur in 2020- at the lastet,” says the climatologist. “We only have three years ahead of us.” The onset of global warming involves increasingly hot summers, up to 6-8 °C higher in the years to come. « We are no longer in the future: these are the children of today, those in the schoolyard, who may be subjected to these 50°C summers, » worries Jean Jouzel.
Certain regions in France would come to know days of more than 50°C, according to a recent study.
What will our summers look like tomorrow?
On average, they will be warmer. To give you an idea, in June, July and August of 2003, the year of the great heat wave in Europe, temperatures were 3°C higher compared to a 20th century summer of reference. If nothing is done to combat warming, this could become commonplace after 2050: scorching summers would get even warmer, up to 6-8°C more so, with two major issues. First of all, mortality. Even though we were better prepared, the heatwave of 2003 caused 15,000 deaths in France and 70,000 in Europe. Secondly, forest fires. 73,000 hectares burned that summer. And in certain mega-cities, such as Paris, urban heat islands will form, where the mercury will climb another 6 to 8°C, exacerbating health problems due to the pollution.
This work is highly valuable because it makes the phenomenon tangible. If we don’t act, the planet will increase its temperature by an average of 4 to 5°C by the end of the century from what is was during the pre-industrial era. The limit not to be exceeded is + 2°C. If we are to respect the Paris Agreement, it will be between the two, between + 3 and + 3.5°C. However, it is difficult to make it understood that just one more degree will tilt us into an entirely different climate.
These researchers have compiled the data of daily temperatures and worked with a Météo France model that’s accurate to 12.5 kilometers. If nothing is done, then around 2075, the maximum daily will increase another 12 to 13°C in the East of the France, 8°C in Brittany. This on top of temperatures that are already exceeding 40°C, meaning we would be getting up to 50 to 55°C in certain areas.
A heat wave in June, massive fires in July… Is France already overheating?
Summer is hotter and coming earlier. On June 15, we now have a climate of early 1960 July. The season is extending, with heat waves earlier in June or later in September. The link with climate change is obvious, and it is due with reasonable certainty to human activities since 1950. This situation raises concerns that current droughts in the Mediterranean Basin (40°C and more than 60 deaths in a fire in Portugal, water shortages in Italy, the South of France in flames…) are more frequent and severe. Fires are increasing everywhere and the factors are known: the temperature, drought, wind, but also urbanization and human negligence. By 2050, fire risk will increase in Central and Western France, which have thus far been spared.
Your brother, who took over the family farm in Brittany, does not believe in global warming!
True, as many farmers are adopting the credo of Claude Allègre, who thinks that we are in a cycle that has already repeated itself in the past. I, on the other hand, have a lot of hope in seeing my seven grandchildren. I recently heard two of my granddaughters, aged 9 and 10, talk for thirty minutes about wind turbines and renewable energy…
Only three years left to act, as stated by a group of scientists, politicians and economists in Nature Magazine.
Yes, we have only three years ahead. It was written in 2007 in the IPCC report. We have rewritten it since, but it’s still true! To expect to stay below an additional 2 °C compared to pre-industrial warming, it will mean the peak of greenhouse gas emissions can occur no later than 2020. The Paris Agreement has transformed this scientific diagnostic into a goal to reach this peak « as soon as possible, » with no date. We also wrote that it is necessary to diminish greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 70% by 2050 and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2100. It is a challenge. The dialogue between scientists and policies works at the international level, but current commitments are not up to the challenge. The urgency is present.
Are the speeches of scientists not too timid?
Perhaps we were not good, but we will not stop sounding the alarm! Everything was already said in the IPCC first report of 1990. The potential consequences of global warming were made known. People thought, “Keep talking, we’ll see ». Unfortunately, the facts are here. With the melting of the ice, the water level has risen 20 cm since 1900. It is increasing by 3 mm per year, and this is likely to accelerate. Brittany has warmed 1.5°C since the mid-20th century, which the people of my generation have witnessed. Everything we predicted is occurring, and we’re not exaggerating! Unfortunately, awareness comes at the cost of extremes. The heatwave of 2003 that affected all of Western Europe was a learning lesson, together with the report by economist Nicholas Stern in which it is stated that doing nothing would prove more costly than taking action. This message came as a shock to businesses.
What to say today to alert the consciences?
For a long time I have been saying that Western Europe warming was noticeable but not yet dangerous. I’m now altering my words: it is already dangerous. These disasters have human and financial costs, in property losses. Again, this is no longer something of the future: these are the children of tomorrow, those in the schoolyard, who may be subjected to these 50°C summers. We will not prevent the a rise from 40 cm to a 1 meter sea level in 2100; maybe not far from 2 meters, according to recent studies. The Île de Sein and the Île de Ré would be cut in half. And if the warming continues over several centuries, Greenland could eventually melt, causing an elevation of 7 meters.
And doesn’t that make you a doomsayer?
No need to be a doomsayer: the situation already is. If we do nothing I will indeed be alarmist. Warming is inevitable, but in limiting it to 2°C, we can adapt to it for the most part; at least in rich countries. Because the main consequence of global warming is the increase in inequality. It reduces the number of habitable places on the planet. Everywhere, the first victims are the less fortunate: this was true in France during the heatwave of 2003 and Xynthia: the homes most devastated by the storm were those built on cheap land. It is true elsewhere. Warming has effects on instability and the risk of conflict in the Middle East. This summer, it was 54°C in Pakistan and Iran. In the Middle East and the Horn of Africa all the way to Libya, the mercury will climb another 5 to 6°C… At these temperatures, outdoor activities are no longer possible. There are already 65 million displaced people on the planet. If the Sahel and the Horn of Africa become drier, the refugees will be even more numerous.
Despite this severe diagnosis, you remain optimistic. By faith in humans?
In my eyes, a world without oil, where we do better with less, is just as desirable. Globally, if we put our minds to it, 50% of energy could come from renewable energy by 2050. Creating a different development mode, it’s exciting! This requires innovation, jobs. We need to inspire hope and desire: people who bought an electric car will not return to gasoline. My main issue with Claude Allègre and his supporters, is that they send the message that there will always be solutions when the disasters arrive. This is not true for climate change. It’s pure human vanity. Nobody’s going to stop the rise of the seas. Shelters will shrink. It will be difficult to guarantee food security for 10 billion people.
Read the full interview on lejdd.fr