'We must change the way we live'
By Francesca Colombo*
Climate change is going to worsen and the only sensible thing we can do is learn to adapt to new conditions, scientist Vicenzo Ferrara said in dialogue with Tierramérica. A prolific author on the topic, Ferrara is the Italian representative of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
ROME - "It is necessary to adapt to climate change, which is rapid due to non-natural causes, and to reorganize everything from production to the way we live," says Vincenzo Ferrara, director in Italy for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The ninth convention of parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is to take place in December in the Italian city of Milan. There, delegates will seek alternatives to the imminent failure of the ratification process of the Kyoto Protocol, approved in 1997 for curbing emissions of greenhouse gases.
"There is a big international debate about how to overcome climate change and in what time period. But it has not produced results. What we need are long-term solutions with the participation of citizens," said the expert.
Ferrera, a prolific author on the subject of climate change, is also director of the Italian Institute for New Technologies, Energy and Environment (ENEA).
-- Some scientists continue to doubt that climate change is caused by human activities.
-- There is evidence that climate change has occurred in the past 150 years, and especially in the last 25 -- changes caused by human activities. The planet's mean temperature rose 0.6 degrees centigrade since 1860, while glaciers have shrunk, precipitation increased and droughts intensified. At the same time, there was a 32-percent increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, one of the main greenhouse gases. Every year, 6.6 billion tons of carbon are released into the atmosphere. Half is absorbed by the seas and by plants, but the rest remains in the air and accumulates. The life of carbon can last 200 years.
-- During the last northern hemisphere summer, a heat wave killed thousands of France and Italy. Was it predicted?
-- Yes, a decade ago. What happened is perfectly coherent with what the IPCC has forecast.
-- What will be the impacts of changes in climate?
-- Some will be beneficial, and others will be negative and irreversible. The harmful impacts will be felt most in ecological, social and economic systems of developing countries, which lack the technology, preparation and organization to confront them. In the North, a disaster can cause economic losses; in the South it causes death.
In the next 20 to 40 years, vegetation growth could slow, particularly in the lower latitudes. Winters will be shortened, minimum temperatures will rise and summers will be very dry. More floods are predicted for Central and South America, devastating temperatures in Southeast Asia and more prolonged droughts in part of Africa. The rising sea levels and greater frequency of strong tides will threaten coastal populations.
-- Will the geography of countries be altered?
-- In Italy, for example, some 4,500 square km could be under water in 2050 if, as is predicted, sea level rises 25 to 30 cm.
-- How can we confront climate change?
-- The only sensible thing to do is reduce environmental and territorial vulnerability to this change. The priority is to learn to adapt to new conditions, and that includes predicting or minimizing damages caused by floods, drought, rising sea levels and erosion. We must better administer our water resources and change agriculture. For example, in northern Italy, we should stop growing rice and corn, and in the south, stop planting tropical fruit trees. We must also create new technologies that are an incentive against using fossil fuels, which are the major culprits in production of greenhouse gases.
-- Are cultural changes also needed?
-- Yes, radical change is indispensable in order to protect people's lives. Given the pace of climate change, it is urgent to plan the use of resources, development, and care for health and the environment, based on the existence of climate change that will worsen in the future. And it is essential to include citizen participation in finding the solutions.
* Francesca Colombo is a Tierramérica contributor.