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The science is rigorous but the report is a compromise between its findings and the worst emitters, says Professor Giovanni Baiocchi of University of Maryland

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

On Sunday, the intergovernmental panel on climate change presented its Synthesis Report. It has been called the most important document on climate change in history, as it provides the most important and comprehensive scientific evidence of the link between human activity and climate change and its dire impacts. The report also provides solutions to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Joining us today in our studio to help us understand the details of the report is Dr. Giovanni Baiocchi. Dr. Giovanni Baiocchi is an applied environmental economist at the Department of Geographical Sciences at University of Maryland, College Park. Giovanni’s main research looks at the global and local impact of economic activity, including trade, urbanization, and lifestyles.

Thank you for joining us.


PERIES: So let’s begin by doing a summary of the main findings of the Synthesis Report.

BAIOCCHI: Well, the Synthesis Report just puts together–it’s the summary of summaries, if you like. It puts together, presents to the policymaker all the recent evidence of climate change happening, and it basically tells us that the climate change is happening, we are very confident that is happening. It tells us that humans are responsible, mostly, for these changes and provides some options, policy options to mitigate these changes. So, basically, it’s reviewing all the recent literature on the subject, hundreds of science scientists, thousands of pieces of literature, and put together–the best way to put it is all the pieces put together are a powerful–something emerges, something different emerges that shows that there’s overwhelming evidence of change happening. And though each individual part can be discussed on and you could [incompr.] temperature here and there, but when you put everything together–the sea level rises, the human activity, the emission that go with it–you have a powerful image of what’s actually happening.

PERIES: And your particular role in Working Group III included what?

BAIOCCHI: I was–well, I’m still kind of a lead author for the summary, the technical summary, so the kind of background material that goes into the summary for policymaker. And I was contributing author also in several chapters, especially on trends of emissions and energy. And there is no real contribution as such, but there is, because we are supposed to review the material that’s out there. But we still need to provide our expertise to select the relevant material, to summarize, synthesize, and put pieces together so that the whole picture emerges out of it.

PERIES: Right. So the IPCC has, after all these years, finally come out with some very bold analysis of the dire impacts and has made some very serious recommendations for us to deal with it. What are they?

BAIOCCHI: Oh, they are many. First of all, you correctly say the statements are getting bolder. So we’ve been saying this for a long time, scientists have been saying this for long time, but now the evidence is really overwhelming. The data is plentiful. And when you put everything together, the picture is very clear.

And what the report puts in is also–you know, it makes some recommendation, of course. It cannot be prescriptive, in a sense. You cannot tell the policymakers what to do. So you always have to offer some options. And there are many options, depending on sectors and human activities, from the simple thing we can do every day, like taking a bike to go to work, putting some insulation in our homes, to bigger things that would require a lot of technological investment and research and development, like carbon capture storage and solar and wind power technology. So there is a bit for everybody, from the building sectors to the energy sector, to the cities, how they’re structured, how important it is to have particular types of city structures, and so on. Everything, it’s organized in chapters, and every chapter proposes some sort of options that a policymaker can pick to help mitigate that change.

PERIES: Right. In the draft report of the IPCC Synthesis Report, one of the things that it showed is that the United States and China, the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, CO2 emissions in the world, was the United States and China. Further, it added that the top ten countries–and it listed who those countries were–that contributed to 70 percent of the emissions were also identified in the report. I understand that that part of the report is now not included in the Synthesis Report. And why is that so? Explain to us what some of the processes are at the UN that would allow the IPCC to do something like this.

BAIOCCHI: Well, as I said, it’s also a political process. It’s scientists meeting politicians. And though we try to–the report tries to preserve at least integrity and be consistent with what the underlying reports says, there is usually a big debate on how to present the findings.

There is a constraint. When we do research, we are allowed to name names; we are allowed to say these countries are the top emitters; we are allowed to say this kind of–. When we review this material and put it into these summaries, we are not allowed to do that. So we have to come up–we try to come up with a classification that makes–we cannot name individual countries, so we try to come up with some sort of classification that allows at least to link–everything needs to be linked to somebody or something to be able to actually do some meaningful intervention.

But every type of classification was kind of rejected, because there are intense negotiation going on. And the status of a developing country versus a non—it’s negotiated these days. So the fact that you have high income, it’s irrelevant. And though we try to present at least some groupings that would help us identify those country and see where they share responsibilities or what they can do about this, this could not be put into the report.

So, basically, the science is getting stronger, in a sense, but actually being able to do something about, it’s becoming actually harder, because a lot of these links, even sectoral links, it’s very difficult to mention energy sector, and people will, you know, politicians will complain. And so it has been a bit removed and put into the background. So every link to something that can help us put things in practice, it’s a bit weaker in the report, in the final report–not in the underlying reports; just in what goes on main display as the summary of policymakers. It’s a compromise between what is politically acceptable to say and what scientists would like to say.

PERIES: That seems absurd to me in terms of you’re mandated with a job as scientists, and you’re supposed to draw some conclusions based on scientific evidence, and then you’re left to not be able to say what is really happening. So when you have countries who are more responsible and historically responsible for the situation we find ourselves in, it seems to me only fair that in terms of looking at solutions and addressing the problem, we have to look to those countries that have done the most damage to the environment. Doesn’t that make sense to you?

BAIOCCHI: It absolutely makes sense. It is a complex problem, because historical responsibility is one thing and current development is another thing. So countries that are historically responsible for cumulative admissions happening from Industrial Revolution are the traditional Western countries, whereas the new emerging economies are the one that are growing faster at the moment, and they are responsible of most emissions right now.

We try to present all options, all cases, so that one could, you could see who is responsible historically and who is currently to try to make sure that there is a compromise between these countries, that we can reach some sort of an agreement. But as you can imagine, this is very complex, and countries found it very hard to–first of all, they find it very hard to accept, and because, again, this position of being a developing a country is negotiated. Making any claim in a UN type of document that says, you are high-income, so you should be held responsible, or you contributed to this, so you should be responsible, was deemed–became highly controversial, and therefore cuts had to be made and compromises had to be reached. So this kind of information is less visible.

Unfortunately, I would think it makes progress more difficult. But there are some negotiation going on, and these are affecting this process.

PERIES: And do you think that there’s been enough urgency created in terms of getting the world leaders and those responsible for the negotiations to a more binding agreement than we have had before? You know, we had Kyoto, which was not binding. Now, 25 years later, we’re looking at another potential agreement. But how good is that agreement if there’s no hard, binding, measurable ties to it?

BAIOCCHI: Well, I would say that the science is pretty strong now, especially if you put everything together. If you put anything together, there is no doubt that change is happening, it increases the risk of further damage and irreversible damage to the environment, to our social economic systems.

There are complex issues. For example, you mentioned China and the United States. Now, one important component I am setting is, for example, your trade relationships between countries. And sometimes some countries appear to be reducing emissions, but actually they are importing more and more from other countries like China. So in a certain sense, if we don’t take into account–this is another aspect we try to bring in, the consumption-based emissions. So there is emissions you are responsible for because of what you consume and emissions you are responsible for because of what your produce. What you had in mind was China’s production emissions, so territorial emissions. But what’s even more important is our responsibility, by demanding goods from China, may be stopping production in our own countries that become more focused on services and less polluting activity. So here we are saying we are decreasing emissions, while at same time we are deindustrializing and importing more goods from countries that are not bound by any agreement. So even the Kyoto Protocol had two tier–it’s a two-tier system. Some countries are bound to do something and other countries were not.

So in a certain sense we need to look at all these aspects. And in that sense, these developing countries have a more limited responsibility. We are also responsible in what they do. And that’s why we need to come together and together make sure that the best technology is adopted, that we reduce our demand. There has to be something like that happening as well. And together we improve the situation and reduce emissions so that we cannot reach this dangerous 2 degrees.

PERIES: Dr. Baiocchi, thank you so much for joining us today.

BAIOCCHI: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Dr. Giovanni Baiocchi is an applied environmental economist. Giovanni's main research looks at the global and local impact of economic activity, including trade, urbanization, and lifestyles. He has published a wide range of interdisciplinary research in international multidisciplinary journals such as Environmental Science & Technology, Ecological Economics, Journal of Industrial Ecology, Nature Climate Change, and Computational Economics. Giovanni is a lead author for the IPCC 5th Assessment for Working Group III, focusing on the drivers, trends, and mitigation of climate change. He was also selected as a qualified independent expert for environmental themes by the European Commission.