“The problems will get worse until our greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced to zero” and “The continued success of our species and of many others on our planet is in doubt” warns leading Climate Change Scientist
Professor Sir Brian Hoskins was the Founding Director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London and has been a Professor in Meteorology at the University of Reading for 38 years.
He has held national and international posts including vice-chair of the Joint Scientific Committee for the World Climate Research Programme and was a member of the UK Committee on Climate Change for more than a decade.
In 1988, Professor Hoskins become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, in 1998 he received a CBE for his services to meteorology and in 2007 he was knighted by the Queen.
In short, Professor Hoskins is one of the world’s pre-eminent experts on the subject of meteorology and climate change. An accomplished author and an in-demand speaker.
And he very kindly gave his time for this interview that can leave us all in doubt where we stand on climate change…
For many people, climate change isn’t something that was part of everyday life until more recently. For how long have you been involved in research on the challenges (and potential solutions for tackling) climate change?
“I have been researching into how the atmosphere works in weather and climate for more than 50 years. From the beginning, this brought me very close to the climate change issue, and I gave my first public talk on it in 1987.”
In that time, what changes has the world seen?
“In 1987, the observed warming was no larger than the natural variability of climate and there was little evidence of changing weather patterns and extreme weather events that could definitely be associated with our greenhouse gas emissions. This is all very different now. In addition, climate observations and computer models of the climate system are now much more advanced.”
What are the most recent developments? Will the problem just go away, as some would suggest?
“We now see so many phenomena associated with human-induced climate change, from rising sea levels to heavier rainstorms and more intense and wide-spread heat waves. The problems will get worse until our greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced to zero.”
To those who remain sceptical about climate change or find it hard to comprehend the scale of the problem, how would you summarise the situation and the threats we face?
“It is a threat to us and to our planet. However, it is also an opportunity to move rapidly to a more sustainable and pleasanter way of life and to develop the new clean industries that are urgently needed.”
Do you think that world leaders are taking the issue seriously enough?
“Clearly, they are keener on talking than on taking the necessary actions.”
In the UK where do you think that our efforts rank on the global scale?
“Our 2008 Climate Change Act, with its emission reduction targets and legal charge to the Government to take action, was world-leading. We have reduced our emissions by 40%, although the figure is less if you take account of the emissions associated with the goods we import.
“However, we are faltering at the moment, and not on course for the 2050 reduction target in the Climate Charge Act, let alone the new net zero target. We are in the top group of countries but could and should be leading the way in the next industrial revolution as we did in the first.”
What are the biggest contributors to emissions/climate change in the UK?
“Road transport, power generation, and heating homes are the largest contributors. Industry and agriculture/land use are also very important.”
Are big corporations doing enough?
“Some are trying to see how they can play their part and are moving in that direction. Others are dragging their feet, wanting to continue to make a great deal of money as they have been doing.”
Are we right to praise the likes of Sir David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg for their efforts? Are their less obvious “hero” figures in the fight against climate change?
“The impact of Greta and Sir David has been huge, and the praise is well justified. There are other “heroes” at many levels, from a few Chief Executives, through to NGOs and those working towards a sustainability goal at a local level.
“We need them all, and more of them!”
Do you feel that public’s awareness, understanding and response to the situation is moving in the right direction?
“Yes, there has been a real change over the past year or so. The fact that climate change is a top issue in the UK General Election campaign is a sign of this.
I totally ages that we can all make a difference. My Institute at Imperial has reacted to the question “What can I do” by issuing a small booklet entitled “9 things you can do about climate change”. This and an interactive digital feature can be found here.
What three things can we all do to help our planet?
I will pick out three of the nine mentioned above; “make your voice heard by those in power”, “leave the car at home” and “talk about the changes you make”.
What will the consequences of inaction be over the course of the next 10 years?
“We would see heat waves and extreme weather events getting slightly worse.”
And the next 50 years?
“The impacts of the changing climate will make many aspects of life increasingly difficult. The sea level will have risen by half a metre or so. Food and water will be dangerously scarce for huge populations in some years. There is likely to be major concern for the fate of the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps.
“Climate migrants within countries and between countries will be causing the destabilisation of societies.
And beyond the next 50 years?
“The continued success of our species and of many others on our planet is in doubt.”