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“Individual companies must lead the way when it comes to climate protection”

Interview with Mojib Latif, Climate Researcher

Mojib Latif is one of Germany’s most distinguished climate researchers. The meteorologist and oceanographer heads the maritime meteorologist research unit at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel and teaches at Kiel University (CAU). In an interview, he addresses the consequences of unchecked global warming and the opportunities arising from electromobility.

You say that the world must take urgent action against climate change. How would you evaluate the situation following the climate conference in Katowice?

We are still in the early stages. Last year, once again, marked a record level of CO₂ emissions worldwide. At the climate summit held in Paris in 2015, countries had already committed to keeping the increase in global temperatures well below two degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels, if possible even 1.5 degrees. Following this announcement, it is now finally time to take action. Memorandums of understanding are not enough.

Why is time of the essence?

The international community has had the topic of climate protection on their agenda ever since the early 1990s. However, we still haven’t achieved real progress. On the contrary: The CO₂ emissions have skyrocketed by an upward of more than 60 percent. Therefore, we are now facing a situation in which we can no longer afford to delay acting on climate change. Starting 2020, we must lower global CO₂ emissions – otherwise there will be no chance that we can uphold the promise made in Paris. In the long-term we need a carbon-neutral economy. But this cannot be achieved all at once. We have to start now.

Two degrees of global warming – that doesn’t sound very dramatic...

But it is. You have to understand that the difference between an interglacial and a glacial period only amounts to five degrees in terms of average temperature. Throughout the Earth’s history, such changes occurred over the course of 10,000 to 20,000 years. If we can’t stop climate change, then the Earth’s average temperature will already rise around five degrees higher than that of the preindustrial level by the end of this century. This speed is unprecedented.

How would the lives of people, for example in Germany, change if the Earth’s temperature rose by more than two degrees?

We have already had a taste of what’s to come – just think about the heatwave last summer. This resulted in many of us wishing it would rain, which is something most of us never could have imagined before. The other extreme is the torrential rain that causes not only small streams, but also rivers such as the Danube, Elbe and Oder to overflow.

What does climate change mean for developing countries?

The consequences are much more dramatic there than in Central Europe, for example. Extreme weather conditions are causing extensive damages here; however, severe weather frequently leads to the death of hundreds or thousands of people in developing countries, because they don’t have the financial means to protect themselves from storms or flooding. On top of this, sea levels are also rising. We are able to increase the height of our dikes, but small island nations usually don’t have this option. And literally every centimeter counts. This all underlines the full extent of injustice in connection with the climate change.

Why aren’t countries able to act effectively?

Unfortunately, climate protection negotiations often remind me of the Mikado game – whoever makes the first move is the one that loses. It’s important to change that: Individual countries and companies must lead the way when it comes to climate protection. Successfully demonstrating the economic advantages of sustainable business practices could encourage others to participate.

What would you say to those who are skeptical regarding the part humans have played in climate change?

Facts provided by international scientific experts are very, very clear. Even the American colleagues concur, regardless of the fact that the current U.S. president wants to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. There can never be absolute certainty, but the likelihood that humans are responsible for global warming is extremely high, perhaps even close to 100 percent. Even if it was different: Who would be willing to board an airplane knowing that there is just a ten percent chance that it could crash? Most likely nobody. But when it comes to climate policy we act completely different than we do when it comes to our personal life.

“Electromobility can make an important contribution to climate protection,” says Mojib Latif. “It’s crucial that we significantly expand our renewable energy sources at the same time.”

Volkswagen has launched a great electro-offensive to reach climate targets. In your opinion, what role will e-mobility play?

E-mobility has two advantages. First: If power is produced in a regenerative manner, then CO₂ emissions will also decline with the use of electric cars. Second, air quality in metropolitan areas will improve, as e-cars don’t emit CO₂.

How important is environmentally friendly mobility in terms of overall greenhouse gas emissions?

In Germany, for example, approximately 20 percent of emissions stem from the transport sector. In this respect, electromobility can make an important contribution to climate protection. It’s crucial that we significantly expand our renewable energy sources at the same time. Networks must also become more efficient and close-meshed. Globally, it is also important to set the right course for the transport sector. Many people don’t even have access to individual mobility, so it’s a growth sector.

In Germany, a governmental commission agreed upon a strategy to phase out coal. Doesn’t that represent great progress for climate protection?

We’ll have to wait and see. On the one hand, I was hoping that the phaseout would happen sooner. While on the other hand, this is the first opportunity that we have had in a long time that CO₂ emissions will significantly decrease. For ten years they have consistently hovered around the same level. I probably would’ve also signed this compromise – albeit with some teeth-grinding on my part. But it’s a step in the right direction.

You travel quite a lot – how do you personally organize your long-distance trips?

If possible, I usually take the train. However, with a full schedule or overseas destinations, traveling by plane is frequently the only option. Then I compensate the CO₂ emissions. I achieve this, for example, by supporting climate projects in developing countries.

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