Van Ypersele on BBC Radio 5 Live

IPCC vice chair Jean-Pascal van Ypersele was on BBC Radio 5 live this morning on the Victoria Derbyshire programme. The recording of the programme is available for the next week; wind forward to 40 minutes.

The first part is about the Kyoto agreement, signed in 1997, aiming to cut emissions by 5%. There are quotes from Clinton, Bush and Blair. 13 countries, including  Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland and Italy have failed to hit reduction targets.   Eight have actually increased emissions –  the US by 8%. Canada had 20% higher emissions and pulled out in 2011. There’s a clip of a Canadian spokesman saying it would be impossible to meet the Kyoto targets.  There is a lengthy clip of Yeb Sano talking about the typhoon and  his hunger strike at the recent Warsaw COP19 meeting.

The interview with JPvY starts at about 46 minutes. Victoria Derbyshire keeps asking, in different ways,  the question of how can there be any real prospect of a significant follow-up agreement to Kyoto, given the number of major countries who have not ratified it or dropped out. He never really answers this, presenting a rather naive optimism throughout.

The most misleading  part was  when he said that we were looking at a rise of up to 5 degrees from present temperatures by the end of the century.  To get this number he has to take the highest of the four RCPs from AR5, and then go to the very top of the band, see SPM fig 7a.

Here’s a transcript:

Q: How do you assess the impact of the Kyoto treaty?

A: Well, it is a small step in a long journey, because as the last IPCC report has shown at the end of September, if humanity really wants to stay under its agreed ultimate objective, that is to stay under a warming of 2 degrees centigrade above the pre-industrial temperature, basically greenhouse gas emissions would need to be reduced to approximately zero on a net basis before  the end of the century, so the Kyoto protocol which only concerns a limited number of countries and for a limited time period is only the first very small step on that long journey.

Q: What do you make of the countries who either pulled out of it when it was clear they weren’t going to meet their targets or those who signed it but then decided not to ratify it, how much does that matter?

A: Well as IPCC vice chair I represent the IPCC and it’s not the mandate of the IPCC to give good marks or bad marks to countries, so I prefer not to comment on  the political aspect of it…

Q: But it’s hugely disappointing is it not?

A: Well, you know, for climate scientists in general, the speed at which climate negotiations attempting to reduce global emissions progress is extraordinarily frustrating, but I wouldn’t like to blame any particular country as the source of that frustration.

Q: No, and nor do you need to, because I read out the list of those who’d either not met their targets or pulled out at the last moment, but doesn’t it undermine the credibility of the Kyoto protocol?

A: Well, in any case, the Kyoto protocol has basically lived its useful life, I mean the first commitment period between 2008 and 2012 was the first period in the history of humanity for which a number of developed countries had decided that they would change their course in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and it was not an easy step, so it’s very important but at the same time its only symbolic because much more would be needed for the climate and this is actually the challenge of the coming two years, the challenge is to design a new agreement that will be much more comprehensive than the Kyoto protocol, which would deal with all aspects of the climate issue, not only the mitigation aspect but also the adaptation aspects, and that is due, if everything goes well, to be agreed in Paris in 2015.

Q: But but but because you have the experience with what happened with the Kyoto protocol, how can you approach the next lot of talks, the next protocol, with any sense of confidence, because you have the record of what happens when a country either doesn’t want to meet it, doesn’t want to ratify it or pulls out because they’r going to miss their targets hugely?

A: Well, you know, I’m an optimistic person and I hope that at some point  a sufficiently large number of countries and citizens in the world and business leaders and policy leaders will understand that we are on a single boat, we don’t  have another one, and that the boat might be in deep trouble if we don’t change the way the energy is used and produced in the world, because the climate has been stable for the last 10,000 years
basically, plus or minus one degree if you look at the global average temperature, and during that 10,000 years agriculture and civilisations have developed now we are talking about gaining before the end of the century up to 5 degrees above the present temperature, even almost 6 above the pre-industrial temperature,  three times the agreed target of Copenhagen and this will change radically the habitability of our only planet.

Q: Only if people follow it though, only if countries stick to it?

A:  Well, it’s the contrary (?), it’s only if countries don’t agree that we really have to protect our climate and reduce emissions in a very significant way, much more significant than Kyoto, I mean if you stand back Kyoto is an average reduction for the developed countries which committed to it of only  5% over a 20 year period, we are talking now about much more significant reductions that will be needed to protect climate in the future.

Q: I understand that, but you have told me that what was achieved by Kyoto was only symbolic, yet if a symbolic reduction can’t even be achieved by all those countries, you must feel incredibly weary if nothing else?

A: Well, on the other hand, let’s look at the half full part of the glass. The Kyoto protocol agreement has also served to put in place a huge institutional machinery which was hard to put in place, to monitor the emissions, to verify them, to have countries and economic
sectors report them in a proper way, in a standardised way, all of that, which took a lot of time to put in place is now ready to be recycled, if I may use that word, for a more ambitious agreement which is the agreement being prepared in the run-up to the Paris conference in 2015, so its true that a lot of time has been spent around limited objectives, but the machinery built around and the culture of emission reductions and the  carbon markets which have been implemented, they can serve an agreement that will be more ambitious.


Q: Good luck. Thank you very much for talking to us.

2 thoughts on “Van Ypersele on BBC Radio 5 Live

  1. Sorry.. he said something about 5C rise in 87 years years
    and surely she said “what have you been smoking ?”
    as her actual reply makes it look like she is totally clueless about the subject

    “now we are talking about gaining before the end of the century up to 5 degrees above the present temperature, even almost 6 above the pre-industrial temperature”
    Q: “Only if people follow it though, only if countries stick to it (Copenhagen target)?”

    It’s a 5 Live style for it’s interviewers just barge into a complex topic with no proper briefing on the subject… the public deserve better.

  2. In his second answer he says “it’s not the mandate of the IPCC to give good marks or bad marks to countries, so I prefer not to comment…”, then in his third answer he says “for climate scientists in general, the speed at which climate negotiations attempting to reduce global emissions progress is extraordinarily frustrating”.
    So, as a UN functionary, he can’t comment on the politics, but as a scientist he can?
    While Stewgreen is no doubt right about the quality of radio interviewers, it would take a good barrister to sort through this kind of muddled thinking.

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