This speech was written for Danish Minister for Climate, Energy and Building, Rasmus Helveg Petersen to be delivered at IPCC and WMO’s Workshop on Communicating Climate, Paris, France, April 2, 2014.
You can also read about the reception of the speech on social media afterwards here – Behind the Weather Talk.
Talking about the weather
Thank you for having me. It is truly a pleasure to be here, a pleasure I have been looking forward to for a long time. After all, it is not every day that you get to talk back to the weather reporter. This time you are the ones in the seat listening and I am the one talking. But we are here for a serious reason.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just released a report about the effects of climate change, climate adaptation and vulnerability. Soon they will release a report about mitigating climate change. That is worth remembering.
These reports constitute part of the IPCCs fifth assessment report – a thorough update on the state of knowledge on climate change and they will shape the factual foundation for future climate policies locally and globally. It takes place every six to seven years and we have waited in anticipation.
We do not yet know all that the last reports will contain. But we do know this: Once again the IPCC has made clear that it is a fact – a fact – that man-made greenhouse gasses are responsible for climate change.
- It is a fact of natural science, just as much as it is a fact that smoking causes cancer.
- It is a fact of life for people around the world – they see its symptoms every day.
- And it is a fact that will affect us more and more in the coming years.
Climate change can be hard to understand. After all, when is a weather event caused by climate change, when is it part of natural variation and when is it just a random coincidence?
I am the Danish Minister for Climate, Energy and Building. Greenland is a part of the Danish Kingdom and we get to see the changes in ice up-close.
Zachariae is one of three large glaciers draining 16 percent of the Greenland ice sheet. It is without comparison the largest ice stream in Greenland stretching around 400 miles inland. It is solid. Robust. Immovable. Not really. At least not any more.
We recently discovered that from 2006 it started moving faster and faster. Something none of our models predicted. This area of North-East Greenland now looses ice at about 15 gigatonnes a year.
But Zachariae is just one glacier. One small symptom of what is happening. 34 gigatonnes of the Greenland ice sheet melted away every year from 1992 to 2001. From 2002 to 2011 the amount was 215 gigatonnes – every year. That is six times the amount in just ten years!
The physical ground beneath Greenland is actually rising because of the weight that has been lifted.
And 215 gigatonnes of melted ice – what is that? If we were to melt it, bottle it and divide it between us each would get 3,4 liters or a little less than one gallon. That is for every human being in the world today! Every single hour. 24 hours a day
In the time you hear me speak the ice will have melted enough for each to get three glasses of water.
Climate change is the challenge of our generation. If we can’t solve it in our time, it won’t be solved at all. We need to know what we did and how we can do it better. We need to know how it will affect us and how we can adapt in our own lives. We need to know what can be done and how we can make it happen. That is why we need the IPCC reports.
But action takes political courage, long term planning and big investments. It can be hard, but it can be done – in fact, we are doing it. In Denmark we are on our way to become fossil fuel free by 2050. We have demonstrated that we can have economic growth and ambitious climate action at the same time. We have seen how investing in renewable energy can create local jobs and economic growth, it can provide energy independence and security of supply. In fact World Economic Forum ranks Denmark first in Europe on these two aspects.
You see, global challenges do have local answers. What we do – matters. But by now it must be done aggressively.
I think the biggest mistake when it comes to global warming is thinking that it is global. It has local effects and it has local answers. In fact, global warming is local, it is just local everywhere. The science of global warming tells us of averages, but we will experience the highest highs and the lowest lows. The IPCC report breaks it down regionally, but we will still experience it locally. Climate change will physically impact our bodies and the bodies of those we love.
People feel global warming: When the water source is contaminated by salt water because the sea level rise. When the fishermen’s nets are empty because the fish have migrated to colder waters. When the food is too expensive to buy because the drought destroyed the harvest. When the storms ravage their homes or water floods their roads to work. When their crops suffer from unknown disease and their children do as well. When malaria and dengue fever travel to places they did not used to be. When people will be driven from their homes by conflicts or they will come to house climate refugees in their own communities
Global warming creates local questions. Local people will come home from an unusual day. They will sit down by the radio or the television. They will turn it on and put up their feet on a stool with a sigh. They will have local questions on their mind
That is when you can tell them what is happening, what to expect and why. You can answer their local questions with global answers
And those answers will travel even further. If you can teach people about climate change as part of the weather report, then people will discuss climate change in their weather talk with neighbors and the knowledge will spread. If there is a truly global phenomenon it is “talking about the weather”. And that is a powerful tool in our tool box.
Like any lasting change this will come from the bottom up. That is how we show support for green energy. That is how we spur ambitious political action. And that is how we counter climate change.
You are perfectly suited to get the ball rolling. You are well-educated science and communication professionals. Together you reach billions of people every single day. You have their attention and they believe what you say
So please: Dig a little deeper!
Tell them the storm is coming. Tell them about the high pressure and low pressure systems. But also tell them why it comes so often and why it gets stronger every day- Tell them about climate change. And – don’t forget – tell them that we can do something about it. Remain hopeful.