Research & Innovation 2015-16 - Page 98

solar power, is currently not
“Wind and PV are now
cheaper than new coal.
That’s an amazing
turnaround. When
I came to UCT in
2000, coal was
considered the
cheapest fuel for
electricity – even
in the world. That
was partly because
we weren’t paying
the carbon cost.
Now we’ve passed a
tipping point where
the cleaner solutions
are cheaper. And that’s
before the carbon tax
has been implemented by
treasury – that still needs to
Was the 2°C goal a compromise
That number has been floating around for a
decade or so, explains Winkler. There’s been
debate backwards and forwards between
scientists and policymakers.
“The IPCC – the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change – has done a lot of work on the
impacts of a given temperature increase, carefully
assessing the probabilities and uncertainties over
decades. What is very clear is firstly that climate
change is ‘unequivocally’ due to human activity; and
secondly that generally, the higher the temperature,
the more negative impacts there are. For example,
with 4°C, you’ll get more sea-level rise than with 2°C.
“But then the scientists say, ‘We can’t decide. There’s
no such thing as a safe limit.’ Science punts us back
to the United Nations Framework Convention on
Climate Change, which aimed (back in 1992) ‘to
prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with
the climate system’.
“What is ‘dangerous’ is a value judgment. What is
risk? How many more people who get malaria are you
willing to accept? Do you accept five? Do you accept
500 000? 500 million?
“So, responding to climate change is a prime example
of the science-policy interface. You need both the
best available scientific information and the value
judgements made by political systems. ‘Well below
2°C’ is our best effort at putting a number to what is
not too dangerous.”
Since the Paris Agreement, countries must report back
on how they have been implementing their INDCs every
two years, and they must develop new INDCs every five
years, says Winkler.
“Up until Paris, it wasn’t a requirement. Now it’s
Unfortunately, says Winkler, people may only start
acting against climate change once things are tangibly
much worse.
“If there was more extensive drought and more floods,
if it becomes increasingly clear that the climate is
changing, then I think people will say, ‘Actually, this
problem is real’.”
By Yusuf Omar. Image by Tony Webster via Wikimedia

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