Kevin Anderson

Interview with Professor Kevin Anderson is the Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. He is an adviser to the British Government (as of 2009) on climate change. (The interview was done on January 16th, 2013)

By Tom Heinemann

“Mr. Anderson. 2011 was the year with most release of carbon to the atmosphere. I have read that it is around 35 billion tons?”

“Well 2011 – and indeed, I’m sure 2012 is the years where we emitted most carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and it will go up every single year. It will be higher this year and it will be higher in 2014 than in this year. So – and despite that we have been talking about the climate issue since the earth summit in Rio in 92 – our emissions has just continued to rise.

We have spoken about it – and there has been a lot of rhetoric around the climate change. But the reality is that we have totally failed abjectly to get any control on our emissions. No nation have had any success and certainly internationally – despite the fact that we have put a lot of efforts into it – we have completely failed to any control on our emissions”, says Kevin Anderson.

“But it doesn’t seems that the politicians is aware of this and all they could agree upon is the 2 degrees. And you are saying that that figure is long gone?”

“Many politicians are not fully aware of what the scientist are saying and I think that the scientific community has underplayed their message – that they now are delivering. Our numbers are very clear on were we are heading – particular in relation to the emissions but also to the temperatures and the impacts. But those numbers are really very uncomfortable. They are talking about a very dire and chaotic future.”

Scientists that play with words

“We feel that we cannot tell that to our policy makers – to civil society, because it is a very uncomfortable thing to hear. So we play with the words. We massage the languages and say: Oh, it’s challenging but we can do this within the current framework – so we come up with all sorts mechanisms like carbon trading, carbon taxes and so fourth to try and overcome this problem.

But the scale of the challenge is completely different to these very small solutions that we are trying to put into this. I don’t blame the politicians alone for this. I blame all of us – the scientist, the politicians, the journalists, the civil society – and in all sectors in all countries. We are all underplaying the message.

No one is prepared to acknowledge the scale of the problem – and when we do acknowledge the problem we say: It’s not our problem – some one else must act first. And what’s happening? The emissions go up every single year”

“Does that mean that the global warming will rise much more than the politicians has agreed upon?”

“If we continue as we are – we are going to see a rise in temperature to 4-6 degrees in this century. Now when that exactly will occur is difficult to tell. There is a lot of scientific uncertainty on this. And we are not really aware of what is going to happen to the emissions. I’m not saying that it is a guarantee that we are heading in that direction, but unless me make dramatic, rapid, urgent changes to our emissions now – and when I say now I mean today and over the next three, four or five years – certainly up to 2020.

Beyond that point we will be far to late. If we carry on as we go at the moment – and there is no suggestions that that’s going to change then we are heading to a temperature rise between 4 to 6 degrees in this century. We will have 9 billion people with very rapid temperature change. With a very high level of impact’s. And it looks very unlikely that we in any civilized form will be able to cope with that rate of change.”

“What about the BRIC-countries. (Brazil, Russia, India and China) Can’t you understand if they say: Now it’s our turn. You didn’t bother – so why should we?”

“There is a major concern about – let’s call it equity – that we – or some of us – recognise the scale of the challenges we must face. And then we say: What can we do about it. Certainly there are a lot of BRIC-countries or shall we say – middle income countries -that are now emitting a lot of carbon dioxide – and certainly say that we need to get development and progress as to were you are. We think this is fair by burning off more fossil fuels” – and we are saying we really don’t want you to do that.

We still live in our comfortable life – still burn large amount of fossil fuels – and our fossil fuel consumption is still going up. Maybe not within our own boundaries, but we are buying even more gods from China and that part of the world, and then we are blaming them for these emissions.”

The do-good feeling

“We just finished a carbon neutral Olympics in London. And you can drive a carbon neutral car – even if it is a diesel car. And you can buy credits in far away countries so you can call yourself carbon neutral. Isn’t that good?”

“Some people have spoken about that we can have this carbon neutrality at the Olympics here in London, and there are many other events that are like that. And you can buy a four-wheel drive Landrover that is carbon neutral. At least that is the claim. Surprisingly the emissions keeps on going up – that with all this carbon neutrality activities – we still see the emissions are rising. So in view there is no link between these two.

Carbon Neutral is probably worse than doing nothing again. And until we actually acknowledge that what we need to do is to dramatically reduce our energy consumption now”, says Kevin Anderson.

“The only thing we can do – which we can do right now – is to reduce our energy consumption. Now that is very challenging – and because we don’t want to do that – we come up with all sorts of schemes – whether it is trading – prices or carbon neutrality. All of these schemes have nothing to do with climate change. My argument is that they are worse than doing nothing. They make us feel good that we try to do something about this problem, but they are un-related to it.”

“In 2011 they traded carbon emissions for something like 150 billion Pounds. Are you saying that that doesn’t have any impact?”

“There is now a lot of carbon trading – billions – possible hundreds of billions are being traded – but it has nothing to do directly to the climate change. Indirectly I think it makes things worse. So carbon trading is worse than doing nothing. What we need to do is to acknowledge the scale of the challenge. If you think about that in the wealthy parts of the world and just put some numbers on this – we really need to give is an outside chance to avoid dangerous climate changes – the two degrees magic number – even two or three – but outside such temperatures would require us to use 10 % less energy every single year – from now – preferably some years ago.”

The no-fly zone

“You said before – as a scientist – that you and your colleagues should take a much stronger lead in this? Why is that?”

“A major concern that I’ve had as a scientist who works in this area – that we scientists not have shown any leadership – I mean collectively – There might be exceptions, but we expect that others will make the changes. We are fully informed. We have the information in front of us. We know were we are heading – and across the board we say: This is not a world that we can live in – were we are going. Are we making changes to our own lifestyle? No, not at all. Most scientists emissions are just going up and up year by year. We fly to more and more international jamborees – otherwise also known as conferences.We have to have these things because they are good for our career. Well our careers and our children’s careers won’t be there if we don’t reconcile our lifestyles”, says Kevin Anderson who has taken a firm stand of his own.

“My emissions are far, far to high in order to avoid the 2 degrees C. Having said that I would say that my emissions have been reduced by 70 % over the last seven years.

I do not fly to conferences. I haven’t been flying for the last 8 years – either for work or privately.”