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TEDxLakeComo 2010 - Valentina Bosetti: Soluzioni nuove per il cambiamento climatico

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Let us start by looking at three facts. I will not play alarmist, but simply point out to what the scientific evidence is. Fact one: the average temperature (red line in the picture) has been increasing since the industrial revolution. Fact two: temperature depends on greenhouse gases concentration. Fact three (grey bars in the picture), CO2 emissions - a key greenhouse gas - have been substantially increasing, again since the industrial revolution, and that’s essentially because we have burned fossil fuels. Sure, we are uncertain about how fast global warming will be. How it will affect us and the future generations is also uncertain, as we don’t know how well we’ll adapt to changes. But keeping CO2 emissions up to current, or even higher, levels would make us face risks that are not worth taking. The debate over climate change has mostly polarized around two extremes; the “radical environmentalists” on one side, for whom the source of all “evils” is economic growth, and who see the solution in the return to a pristine nature, even at the price of economic decrease. And the “technocrats” on the other side, who argue that, though economic growth is indeed the cause of the problem, it will also be its solution, thanks to technological progress. Both sides hold sensible points, but today I’ll try to convince you that as complex an issue as climate change can only have a complex solution that cannot be simplified or reduced to one of these extremes. In particular, it is important to realize that the problem of climate change is only a brick of the wider challenge for the next century, the energy challenge, which will test our ability to live together in a planet whose resources are finite. So a piece of what we can call the energy challenge is definitely the one of climate change, here represented by the ice melting. It is indeed important to decouple energy and CO2 emissions. But just as important are the other pieces composing the energy challenge, such as the energy poverty problem. What do I mean by that? Well, more than half of the world’s population meets its energy needs by burning coal or biomass. Approximately one and a half million people (a person every twenty seconds) die in their own house, intoxicated by their indoor pollution. Designing ovens that reduce this risk and spread them across the world is clearly more urgent than solving the climate change problem. The good news is that solving the indoor pollution problem would lower greenhouse gas emissions, hence it would positively impact on climate change too. But such positive synergies aren’t always there. Local air pollution is a crucial component of the energy challenge that we, living in the Po Valley, know pretty well. But mitigating pollution does not necessarily mitigate greenhouse gases. There are several ways one could revolutionize transport in order to abate particulate matter, which in Milan is almost constantly above the risk thresholds. But particulate matter is not a greenhouse gas, and some solutions to this problem would exacerbate, rather than alleviate, the climate change problem. Yet it's just as important. An equally important issue is energy diversification: relying on a single, often scarce resource, or on few producing countries, for our energy supply raises security concerns. And the water issue: water is a scarce resource, and water and energy are deeply intertwined, so you cannot make long-term planning for water without taking energy into account. And finally the issue of land scarcity: although it might seem land has nothing to do with energy, the competition over land is often the break point, the one subtle link between two seemingly disjointed problems. Think, for instance, about an incentive for biofuels and the effects it could generate on deforestation, or on the prices of Mexican tortillas. The hidden link is actually the land, or better the scarcity of land. This image you are looking at (obviously a digital elaboration as Earth is never 100% dark...) this image is usually shown to environmental science freshmen to teach them what light pollution is. I am asking you to see something different here, the tie between wealth and energy demand. Today we are approximately 6.5 billions, two of which compose what we might call a “global middle class”. What do I mean by that? I mean those households that can afford their own car. If we run the clock forward until 2050, our projections tell us we’re going to be 9 billion, and the global middle class will then be composed of approximately five billions. Hence, not only will the planet be more and more populated: it will also be populated by a hopefully richer middle class that will ask for more energy, water and land. The energy challenge will then become more and more pressing, and all its components will have to be thought organically, as an integrated system. Let’s get back to the picture we have seen before, let’s get back to the problem of climate change and the CO2 emitted so far. What’s going to happen tomorrow? Well, our projections say that without a sound energy (or environmental, or climate) policy, and given both the growth of population and the growth in its wealth, CO2 emissions will double by 2050. Think about this: twice as much emissions as today in 2050. Can we instead imagine a different world, a world where CO2 emissions slow down and then start heading to zero? Let us approach this question by keeping in mind the entire energy challenge. Because if we forget all the other elements of the energy challenge and only focus on climate change we might, for example, find a solution that is so cost-ineffective that it creates development problems and thus worsens the energy poverty issue. Or it might take too much water, or too much land. So it is really important to approach the energy challenge holistically. Let us frame our problem: the picture above shows a future which is the continuation of today’s trends: a world where we keep depending heavily on fossil fuels (grey bars), and count on zero-emissions technologies for only a tiny fraction of energy supply. The picture below, instead, depicts a different future where little by little our dependence on fossil fuel starts to lower, thanks to both zero-emissions technology and a lower energy demand, namely through efficiency and energy saving. Let us see in detail how we could shift to such a different world, but first two key messages to take home: First, all the technologies we need for this medium term shift are already there; second, none is sufficient by itself, but all are necessary: if we push a technological solution to its extreme, we’ll end up creating more problems than we solved. What are our trump cards? Energy saving and efficiency, the yellow bar, plays obviously an important role. This is not just technology (think about low-consumption light bulbs) but also our habits: the way we travel, we build, the way we conceive cities and move through them: it all affects energy demand. The second, essential point is renewable sources. As you can see in the green bar, they have an important role because they’ll have to take a much greater share, but their development is constrained. We only need electrical power in some given moments of the day, usually in the morning and in the evening. But these are not necessarily the moments when the wind blows the most, or the sun shines the most, so we need to find a way to store energy and use it when we really need it, or their intermittent supply will represent their limit. Another available technology is nuclear power. Nuclear power is important, it allows us to generate electricity without emissions, but this option only makes sense in some parts of the world, again because of its limits, such as waste management and proliferation risks. In fact in many areas there is a widespread repulsion for this technology, at least in the generation now available. Biofuels compete with food for the control of vast extensions of land. So we need to find a more land-efficient generation of biofuels, or their role will be limited. The fifth card you is carbon capture and sequestration. This technology will partially allow us to keep using fossil fuels (e.g. generating power by burning coal) without emitting CO2. How? Well, CO2 can be captured and geologically sequestrated. However, many uncertainties characterize this technology, and it might turn out expensive too. Again, a technology solution that may have an important, but limited, role. Finally, how will we substitute the oil we use to move? That’s a fundamental question, and the technologies we know today and in the medium-term will essentially be hybrid or high-efficiency cars. Electrified transports are likely to be the solution in the medium-long term. Up to now, we have thought and talked about a 2050 time horizon. What then? I ask you to think beyond 2050 when, to keep the warming below the alarm threshold, e.g. the 2°C all politicians talk about, or even warmer temperatures, like 3°C degrees, emissions must drop down to zero. Essentially, the second half of the century will necessarily see a zero emissions world economy. We still don’t know what technologies will bring us there, and they’re not available yet. They’re in the labs, probably. What we know, though, is that we need three tools to be able to face the challenge after 2050: 1) investments in energy R&D, which, since the ‘70s, namely the oil crisis, have decreased, not grown, so we have to revert this tendency. 2) Investments in education: we cannot transfer technology in the developing world without investing in education both in the developed and developing worlds. 3) Envisioning new scenarios, something we can all work on, as well as the media, artists. I'll show you an image to prove my point. It’s taken from a 1974 book, called “Barbapapa’s ark”. Barbapapa himself has kindly allowed me to use it, he actually wrote me a personal email! What does this image show you? It shows you a world where men and women have achieved a lifestyle where limited resources don't imply limited happiness. This image changed my (generation’s) worldview, and it is as important as the work of scientists and engineers. Changing the worldview will be also important for a second reason. We have seen that technological answers to the problem are, at least for the medium run, already there. What’s truly missing are the institutions. Democracy, as we know it today, is not ready to solve a worldwide problem that requires a cooperation between all the countries on Earth, and has a timeframe of decades, if not centuries. Democracy, as we know it today, is limited in its time horizon, by policy makers’ mandates, namely four-five years. And until we find a way of imagining a democratic system that thinks beyond so short a horizon, there will be little chance to effectively address the climate change problem, even with all the technological tools at our disposal. But even if our politicians' sight isn't longer than four, five years, our sight is! As (grand)parents, as aunts and uncles, we think on a longer scale. In 2050, my sons will be 40, so figuring out how the world will look like in 2050 does matter to me. It does matter to us. It’s not irrelevant... and we can impact a lot. First, we can work to change our habits and reduce the energy demand: we have seen how important energy saving can be. And second, we can do our part, as voters, to imagine a different democracy. So we are probably the answer to the question: “how to shift from a world like this, to a world that looks instead like this”. Thank you very much. (Applause)

Video Details

Duration: 16 minutes and 48 seconds
Country: Italy
Language: Italian
Producer: TEDx
Director: Gerolamo Saibene
Views: 98
Posted by: tradottiinitaliano on Dec 22, 2010

Valentina Bosetti è vincitrice di un prestigioso grant ERC, European Research Council, con il progetto ICARUS (Innovation for Climate change mitigation: A study of energy R&D, its Uncertain effectiveness and Spillovers) che svolge, presso la FEEM, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei a Milano, guidando il suo gruppo di ricerca sulla modellistica e le politiche del cambiamento climatico. È reduce da un periodo di ricerca a Princeton, USA, presso il Princeton Environmental Institute.

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