AUCKLAND, 19 JUNE 2019 (RNZ PACIFIC)—A leading Pacific climate scientist says the global climate crisis will continue with devastating effect unless fossil fuels are completely phased out.
Samoan-born, New Zealand-based, Penehuro Lefale was one of the contributing authors for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was jointly-awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
Lefale said the world’s reliance on oil and gas and its inability to find alternatives for “clean fuel” are key contributors to the problem.
He said in order to win the “carbon war” the world must realise that carbon is the problem.
“Unfortunately, the world relies on fossil fuel which is the main sources of carbon. It is the fuel of the global economy.
“So, we need to find some alternative solutions to fossil fuel. We will not solve this problem by just doing what we’re doing now.”
He said the world is faced with a major challenge because the global economy relies heavily on oil and gas.
“You use your car, you go on a plane, the ships, your electricity at home. Every single human activity relates to fossil fuel carbon emissions.”
He said the other biggest challenge is to rid carbon from economic activity “before it’s too late when the atmosphere no longer can accept more carbon”.
Lefale said there have been numerous pacts signed and agreed to by world leaders – with the United Nations Forum Convention on Climate Change in 1992.
He said the international community also agreed to be proactive about the issue of climate change and pushed for the Kyoto Protocol – agreed to in 1997.
“The problem with the Kyoto Protocol, it was only for developed countries, so the US decided not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol because their argument is – even if the US and all the developed countries reduce their emissions at a safe level, the emissions from big developing countries are going to overtake that.
“And it’s come true now. China is now the number one greenhouse gas emitter compared to the US back in 1997.”
But Lefale said whatever the context of political debate, “the atmosphere doesn’t recognise political boundaries”.
“And that’s a difficult negotiation because the developed countries cannot do it on their own – developing countries have to act.
“But then developing countries need the technology and need assistance from developed countries not only to reduce gas emissions, but also adapt to current impacts.”
Lefale said there are two things the world can do to solve the problem.
“First is to remove fossil fuel subsidies because the bulk of the global economy is on fossil fuel.
“A lot of the big companies like oil companies, gas and gold companies are heavily subsidised by governments to make it cheaper for us – like when you go to fill your car in the gas station.
“So, unless we remove that subsidy, there will be no change.
“The second is coming up with a technological solution – really innovative, transformative technological solution that we need right away to bring it down, while hoping that the fossil fuel industry and the subsidies will be removed slowly over time,” he said.
“Some sort of planetary scale climate engineering technologies.”
Lefale called on the world’s leaders to follow up on their talks of commitment with real and effective action.
Lefale said he had been involved climate science since 1983, when he was still a student.
“I started off as a weather back in Apia under the former New Zealand Meteorological Service. And when we were looking at the trends back then, it was just a science issue, we were focusing on the science side, and it wasn’t politicised.
“Once you moved into the realm of the political process like in 1998 – the second world climate conference – when Margaret Thatcher the former prime minister of the United Kingdom called it the most difficult challenge the world’s going to face.
“Coming from that sort of highest level makes all the difference in terms of how the political debate moves on the climate change.”
Lefale said climate change became political when James Hansen, the former professor at NASA, testified in Congress, in 1988, following one of the worst-ever droughts in US history.
“This is where the human-induced component came up. So politically there was this movement towards the need to do something about it.
“When I compare how much carbon and other gases are in the atmosphere and I compare it to today – it’s doubled,” he said.