Javier Martín-Vide

Climate change expert

Late but still time to act

Professor and head of the UB's water research institute, he is one of Catalonia's main climate change experts

Where are we with climate change?
Climate change is already upon us, without a doubt. There are few researchers and scientists who do not recognise that the planet is warming up, and that global warming is the most visible manifestation of climate change. Yet there is a more decisive element, which is that for the first time humans who are behind it. Climate change is nothing new; our planet has experienced it many times and will do so in the future. What is new is that in Earth's 4.5-billion-year history it is now that 7.3 billion of the planet's inhabitants have the capacity to leave a mark on the global climate. Science confirms it with a 95% or greater probability.
So we are destroying the planet?
Humans have always modified their immediate environments. We have gathered, planted, used wood and stone for building... but always on a local scale. Now, since the end of the 20th century, humans have the ability to change the environment on a planetary scale.
Is the public noticing the effects of climate change?
The timescale of climate change is not daily, but takes place over a longer period, so it is hard for the public to perceive it as a reality here and now. The public has more immediate concerns, while climate change takes place gradually.
It used to be easy to find people who said climate change was exaggerated.
It's true, but that has changed. Polls say that about 90% of the public consider climate change a fact. Paradoxically, when asked if they are ready to do something to fight climate change, a high percentage of people say they are. But, when offered real options, such as not using the car in favour of collective transport –whether public or private– the percentage drops drastically. Yet, it is true that awareness of this new reality is greater.
The situation is not good.
I personally stay away from catastrophic views, because if we want people to act accordingly, with common sense and doing the right things, we cannot put forward a fatalistic vision. I have few reasons to be optimistic, but I have to be as positive as possible. And positive means that although the reality is dark, I have to do everything possible as a citizen, even if it be only a grain of sand, to help turn the situation around. We are ethically obliged to demand measures from those who govern us.
For example?
The solution demands a change in our energy, social and economic models. Our economy cannot continue based on non-renewable resources, such as fossil fuels. We burn them and they disappear, forever. So, what is required is a change of energy and economic model, as a natural transition to make it viable.
Is there still time to stop climate change?
There is still time to stop global warming going over the famous 2ºC compared with temperatures in the preindustrial era. We are still not over the limit, but we are well on the way, with more than one degree accumulated. This makes a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions essential. And why 2ºC? Because studies indicate that if the planet goes over this threshold, the results will most likely be catastrophic and irreversible, such as an irreplaceable loss of biodiversity, a dangerous rise in sea levels, and so on. The situation is such that even if we emitted no more greenhouse gases, the planet would continue to warm up for decades. We must act urgently, as was recognised in the COP 21 summit in Paris in December.
Are governments beginning to do their part?
Paris was different and more positive than previous summits. A series of agreements were reached to halt warming at the threshold mentioned. They are agreements that include almost all countries and the most interesting part, in my opinion, is that they are reviewable every five years.
Is the reduction of emissions the main objective?
We are talking about mitigation, reducing greenhouse gases, which is something we can all play a part in. In fact, from the moment we get up until we go to bed we are contributing to emissions by using lights, transport, shopping with plastic bags. It all involves the consumption of resources and waste generation. Yet, there is also the issue of adapting. In other words, we will have to live in a world with environmental and climatic conditions very different from the past. We have to readjust to reduce the risks and take advantage of new opportunities.
New opportunities?
For example, in Catalonia there are businesses in the wine sector which are adapting to climate change because they know that land in the Penedès area in the future will have temperatures unsuitable for the varieties used. So they are buying land at an altitude of 800 metres in the Pre-Pyrenees, which is uncultivated land that could be ideal for vineyards after a rise in temperature. These businesses are making a financial effort and adapting and diversifying. There are also ski resorts. I think that in three decades they will not be viable for skiing. The concept of a ski resort will have to change to a mountain resort. Mitigation and adaptation are essential.
Not everywhere can plan.
Clearly, in poor countries the priority is eating today. That's why, as we are all in the same ship, we are obliged to transfer financial resources to developing countries, something that the Paris agreements include. We have to show solidarity on a global scale, for two reasons: if the ship goes down, we all go down, but also out of a sense of historical justice. The countries that have put the planet in this situation are developed countries, which have been burning huge amounts of fossil fuels since the 19th century. What's more, all of the policies for mitigation and adaptation are infused with the four pillars of sustainable development: economic efficiency, social inclusion, respect for the environment, and the promotion of education and culture, which is the basis for the future.

Director of the IdRA

As well as being a professor of Physical Geopgraphy, Javier Martín-Vide is currently the director of the Institut de Recerca de l'Aigua, Barcelona University's water research institute. This interdisciplinary organisation includes around a hundred professors and researchers from different spheres related to water resources. Among them are biochemists, geologists, pharmacists, chemists, economists, geographers and even artists. “Now, for example, we are looking into tourism in Barcelona from the point of view of the economy, the law and the hydric footprint it leaves. We are seeing that a typical tourist consumes up to three times more water than a local resident. Why is that? Well, because the tourist is relaxed in a hotel and showers two or three times a day, and so on,” says the professor.

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