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Climate ChangeFor a Scientist and Mother, Climate Change Is Generational ‘Robbery’

For a Scientist and Mother, Climate Change Is Generational ‘Robbery’

Diana Ürge-Vorsatz is a Hungarian academic; director of the Center for Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Policy at Central European University; mother of seven; completed athlete; and prolific researcher of energy demand and renewable energy supplies. She currently serves as a vice chair of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) working group III, which focuses on progress in emissions reduction and how one can mitigate the impacts of climate change.

This summer, Ürge-Vorsatz co-authored “A Call for Concerted Motion Against Environmental Crises” within the journal Annual Review of Environment and Resources (ARER), a journal where she serves on the editorial board. Together she and her colleagues despaired of the “intergenerational robbery” that has seen humanity’s reliance on fossil fuels steal the long run from today’s children — including her own.

In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Ürge-Vorsatz talks about why she thinks there was so little progress in cutting emissions, the importance of finding ways to cut back energy use, and the way even well-off families like hers is not going to be spared the impacts of climate change.

Diana Ürge-Vorsatz.
European Commission

Yale Environment 360: This should be personal for you – you’ve gotten seven kids. How do you are feeling about raising kids on this altered world?

Diana Ürge-Vorsatz: It is extremely alarming for me. I’m very, very frightened for the long run of my seven children. But I do hope that I actually have raised them in a way that they’ll contribute to the answer of this problem. As a mother, that is the meaning of my life, to make sure a superb future for them.

Nature surveyed IPCC authors, and a really high share [nearly half] reported that their decisions regarding their fertility or where they need to live have been seriously influenced by climate impacts. I feel 17 perent modified their original plans about having children. It’s serious.

e360: And yet you and I and your kids might be buffered from lots of the more serious effects of climate change by the privilege of our economic positions — no?

Ürge-Vorsatz: That’s true. However, it doesn’t really matter how much money you’ve gotten. Tornadoes and fires can affect the wealthy. The pandemic was a superb example. For those who got the virus, even in the event you’re wealthy, you’ll be able to die. Yes, to some extent, we will try to guard ourselves. This will give us less pressure to act. However, beyond a certain level, it’s scary for anybody.

e360: How old are your kids?

Ürge-Vorsatz: They’re between 8 and 23.

e360: Do you see a difference between them of their feelings about climate change?

Ürge-Vorsatz: Definitely. The older ones see it as the largest threat, and unfortunately they aren’t very optimistic. I try to offer them optimism and hope. My younger ones went through a climate anxiety period, and that’s hard to deal with. There are such a lot of pressures, from the pandemic and the war [in Ukraine, which borders Hungary]. It’s really hard for youngsters today growing up.

“The world just isn’t working in vain. It’s beginning to occur. But it surely’s insufficient. We literally have three years to show global emissions back.”

They do attempt to act. They take part in Fridays for Future [the youth-led climate movement]. But someway NGOs in Hungary aren’t as open to volunteers, so it hasn’t been a straightforward thing. It’s fairly ridiculous, but my son needed to go to america to volunteer on the conservation side, to wash up national parks and so forth. And in the event you take motion, you’ll be able to be discriminated against. It’s a really fantastic line they must walk to not destroy the possibilities of their careers.

e360: This summer marked 30 years for the reason that signing of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change on the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. How far have we come since then?

Ürge-Vorsatz: On the one hand, I do consider we have now come far. Now we have the Paris Agreement, which creates a really ambitious goal, which in principle could solve a majority of the issues related to climate change since it states that we have now to stabilize global warming well under 2 degrees [Celsius], ideally one and a half. That’s very ambitious.

But however, we’re really not doing so well. The independent agreements [by individual countries to reduce emissions] don’t correspond to the identical high-level political goals, and the implementation is even further behind.

So, on paper it was a significant achievement. It really turned the world around: Today, it’s publicly recognized that climate change is the largest threat to humanity and economic growth and wellbeing of civilizations. We had greater than 150 heads of state under one roof, which had never happened [for a UN meeting] before in human history, not for genocides, not for a world war, not a financial crisis, ever.

The aftermath of a wildfire in Kiskunhalas, Hungary this summer.

The aftermath of a wildfire in Kiskunhalas, Hungary this summer.
Akos Stiller / Bloomberg via Getty Images

e360: Why is implementation lagging a lot?

Ürge-Vorsatz: We scientists have been attempting to get to the foundation of why we have now been not been in a position to bend the emissions curve. It’s difficult to pinpoint two or three reasons. Nevertheless, from my perspective, an important thing is it’s difficult for large businesses to vary, to acknowledge they need to do something totally different. Like fossil fuel corporations that must shut down — it’s difficult once they are providing so many roles. They make plenty of people joyful; they make governments joyful. Even when governments are wanting to fight climate change, they aren’t as wanting to hurt these very strong and necessary industries.

e360: You were the vice chair of the IPCC’s working group III — the group that appears at mitigation. What were the large surprises in your report that got here out earlier this yr? What was latest?

Ürge-Vorsatz: To begin with, it’s very latest that we have now several climate-related technologies which have dropped in price very significantly, for instance photovoltaics and wind power and batteries for electric vehicles. In consequence, the penetration of those technologies has increased very significantly. This had not been predicted or foreseen.

One other necessary message from the report was that, yes, climate policies have been mounting. There are something like 18 countries where emissions have been decreasing, even on a consumption basis, for a decade. The world just isn’t working in vain. It’s beginning to occur. But it surely’s insufficient. We literally have three years to show global emissions back.

Also, it’s not only the way you produce clean energy, but additionally, “Do I really want this energy?” We focus very strongly on demand and energy services, and that has put mitigation right into a very different perspective. For instance, within the cement industry there’s a robust give attention to sequestering emissions. First, we should always say: “Can we really want all this cement? How can we replace it, or repurpose it?” This is probably an important a part of this report, coming from the attitude of “How can we reduce?”.

“The issue is that lots of our actions today are incremental, and this can be a time when small just isn’t all the time beautiful.”

e360: Some people say that the IPCC has grown too big and ponderous to run effectively while at the identical time affected by being limited to Northern and Western views and data. Do you see those problems?

Ürge-Vorsatz: The IPCC is placing a really strong emphasis on shifting the main target to the non-Western world. Now we have been improving. Nevertheless it’s still difficult. There is a big divide between the scientific opportunities within the Global South in comparison with the Global North. So, even with our greatest intentions, there are underlying problems for representing the attitude of those communities, because we’d like underlying scientific literature. There are heavy initiatives to fill on this gap. Income from the [IPCC’s] Nobel Prize in 2007 was put right into a program that’s for scientific capability constructing within the developing world, for instance.

e360: You regularly give attention to the ‘lock-in effect’—how the alternatives we make today to construct or avoid carbon-intensive infrastructure will impact a long time, and the way we really want to amplify, harder decisions now so as to avoid future emissions which can be even harder to chop. Are you able to explain?

Ürge-Vorsatz: The issue is that lots of our actions today are incremental, and this can be a time when small just isn’t all the time beautiful. A few of these actions are going to lock us into long-term emissions that might be very difficult to cut back later. For instance, if we construct cities for the automotive, it’s almost not possible, very difficult, to later redesign them to be walking-centric or bicycle-centric. For those who design them the mistaken way, you lock in emissions because people can only get around by automotive. And in the event you design buildings within the mistaken way, it takes more energy to heat them or cool them. It is going to not be possible to the touch that for a very long time; you’re locking in emissions for a long time. That could be a very big problem.

A pipeline under construction this month that will carry natural gas from a new liquified natural gas terminal in Wilhelmshaven, Germany.

A pipeline under construction this month that may carry natural gas from a latest liquified natural gas terminal in Wilhelmshaven, Germany.
David Hecker / Getty Images

e360: But of our cities are already built; our buildings are built. We will’t just knock them down and begin again.

Ürge-Vorsatz: No, that will be even worse. But each time we retrofit a constructing it’s very necessary to do it to net zero level, or energy-postive level. Each time we retrofit and we don’t try this, it’s an enormous loss. With cities you’re right it’s more tricky. However the cities we construct now, within the developing world, ought to be built this manner. Now we have an article in Nature Climate Change about locking in positive changes.

e360: What has your most up-to-date research been focused on?

Ürge-Vorsatz: Now we have tested a high-efficiency constructing model that appears at what you’ll be able to do to do away with Russian natural gas imports in a single or 20 years through accelerating constructing retrofit programs. That is basically necessary because we face a really big crisis, because Russia just isn’t allowing as much gas into Europe, and we’re very depending on this so that folks is not going to freeze within the winter. What we’re doing is constructing more natural gas infrastructure, latest LNG terminals, pipelines and so forth. It’s the mistaken option to react to the crisis. We must always use this as a chance to deal with climate goals that do away with energy poverty and in addition do away with import dependence altogether.

What we’re seeing now’s an increasing variety of solar farms being established. In my opinion, that could be a real waste of resources because land is so precious. There’s a lot competition for the land available either for food production and ecosystem services, we cannot afford to make use of it for energy production. In our models, we have now shown that we will integrate solar into the current infrastructure that we have now [for example by installing it on rooftops]. And that just isn’t just for heating and cooling, but additionally for power — covering 75 percent of suitable roofs with photovoltaic/thermal systems could satisfy the facility needs of buildings.

“We had a really severe drought in Europe. Individuals are starting to know this isn’t just something we will ‘get used to.’”

e360: The world now stands at a bit over 1 degree Celsius of warming over pre-industrial times. Is a 1.5 degree Celcius goal for warming still feasible?

Ürge-Vorsatz: I don’t really like this emphasis on numbers. Whether it’s 1.5 or 1.6 or 1.8, it doesn’t matter. We want to aim for as little warming as possible. Where we find yourself, nobody knows. There may be a lot uncertainty anyway. We shouldn’t be hung up on the numbers, but do every thing we will.

This summer has shown, even the previous summer has shown, that heat waves will cause plenty of death, destroy agricultural production, increase food prices. I could go on and on. Now we’re in it, we see it impacting us. I actually consider our calculations on future costs are underestimates.

e360: How is Hungary faring during this yr’s European heat wave? Do weather events like this help to vary policies and minds?

Ürge-Vorsatz: We’ve had a really severe drought in Europe, essentially the most severe since records began. Eastern Hungary is essentially the most strongly affected in Europe besides parts of the Iberian peninsula. We thought we were very wealthy in water resources — we never would have thought we would want severe water restrictions. Individuals are starting to know now finally this isn’t just something we will “get used to.”

e360: Along with being a professor, doing research, editing one journal and serving on the board of one other, heading up IPCC reports, and raising a family, you’re also an enormous adventure runner. Is that right?

Ürge-Vorsatz: It’s called orienteering. That’s my favorite sport, running around within the woods.

e360: How has your experience of out of doors life modified over the past 30 years due to climate change?

Ürge-Vorsatz: Fortunately, I’d say the forests aren’t that badly affected yet. It’s still a refuge. Nature still has plenty of biodiversity. But there may be one necessary pine species planted throughout Hungary, for instance, that’s struggling. This yr we had serious forest fires for the primary time. There have been bush fires even in Budapest. And Hungary now has several tropical diseases; one among my friends nearly died from the West Nile virus, which was not present in Hungary earlier. Pests are going to vary their abundance.

Now we have to get up that the threats we face are getting greater and larger. Now we have to revive biodiversity, the natural protection against disease and droughts.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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