Bangalore: Even as politicians and the public find it difficult to understand the uncertainties of climate change, the fact is that its impact on society and businesses is far more certain than ever before, says Sir Brian Hoskins, one of the world’s leading meteorologists and director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at the Imperial College, London. A member of the UK committee that advised the British Parliament in November to pass the Climate Change Act and set carbon emission targets, a reduction of 80% by 2050 from 1990 levels, Sir Brian says policies should be backed by the right technologies to achieve mitigationresults.
His institute is collaborating with the newly set up Divecha Centre for Climate Change at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, which is funded by the UK-based Grantham Foundation and Arjun Divecha, a California-based businessman. On a trip to Bangalore to set the research agenda, Sir Brian spoke about why businesses should pressure the government for effective policies that make carbon-reducing decision-making easier. Edited excerpt:
Much-needed spur: Sir Brian Hoskins says India has a lot of influential industries that should exert pressure on the government to go green. Hemant Mishra / Mint
To begin with, what are some of the climate research areas that your institute and the Divecha Centre will look at?
We are very interested in studying the Indian monsoon. There isn’t any understanding on how the monsoon is likely to change but what we can tell you is that it is definitely going to change. There’s also a general agreement that intense rainfall is likely to get more intense but we don’t know how the characteristics, onset and the active break periods of the monsoon will change, which could have crucial impact on India. At the global scale these changes may look subtle, but locally it could be huge for the country. We don’t live in global averages and the variations around regions are vast. If you look at the summer of 2002, there was flooding in Europe and severe drought in India.
How did scientists convince the UK government for setting targets; globally, emission reduction is becoming a subject of slippery politics?
People who think it’s going to be business as usual are like Alice in Wonderland… We passed the Climate Change Act in the UK Parliament unanimously; there was just one vote against it. The businesses wanted it to happen. They (industries) look for certainty (in policies) and like to know which direction we are going in as there’s money to be made in that direction. I don’t think UK politicians know what they’ve done, but I think we’ve done something quite dramatic.
India has a lot of influential industries; they should take this opportunity to exert pressure on the government. Once they understand that there are business opportunities in alternate ways of doing things (in order to reduce greenhouse gases), they’d have the much-needed spur (to restrict carbon dioxide).
In the past we’ve had international treaties that banned chlorofluorocarbons to protect the ozone layer, or the 1980s legislations in the UK and the US that made the power plants cleaner and cut acid rain. Can’t we have something similar for carbon dioxide?
Those are lovely examples. But the crucial thing then was the coming together of DuPont in the US and ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries Plc., now part of Akzo Nobel NV) in the UK who saw opportunities in CFC (chlorofluorocarbon) substitutes and understood that there was money to be made. That shows we have to look for similar opportunities now. But this time the problem is much greater.
How do you see the stance India is taking for the Copenhagen conference? Are you optimistic countries will strike a global deal in December?
It’s going to be interesting how India signs the agreement. But if we agree that by 2050 every citizen of the world has an entitlement of 2 tonnes of CO2 (carbon dioxide) emission per year, whether in India or in the UK, then it’d give India some way of moving up and providing better quality of life to its people. (Currently, the average per capita emission in the UK is 5 tonnes. If the targets set by the UK government are met, per capita emission will reduce to 2.1 to 2.6 tonnes by 2050).
I am optimistic about Copenhagen. The perfect world is not what we have and the recession doesn’t make it easier. Mind you, when countries are growing rapidly, they tell you, ‘Don’t disturb us, we are doing well and we mustn’t depart from this path’. When they are not doing so well, they say, ‘Come back later, we need to get our economy back on track’. There’s never the right time. But I think now is the right time (to clamp down on carbon)!