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Ambassador Shahid Kamal, French expert Dr Alain Gioda and MNA Malik Uzair, Photo by the writer
Ambassador Shahid Kamal, French expert Dr Alain Gioda and MNA Malik Uzair, Photo by the writer

At the 2009 UN climate summit held in Copenhagen, a scandal called “Climategate” engulfed the scientists when unknown hackers stole emails from the server at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia and made them public.

Climate change critics used the emails, parts of which were quoted out of context, to deny the significance of human-caused climate change and argued that the emails showed that global warming was a scientific conspiracy. The accusations were rejected by the CRU and many scientists and civil society members felt it was part of a smear campaign intended to undermine the Copenhagen summit (the summit itself concluded without any serious commitments).

Today, six years later, there is more of a consensus on the human cause of climate change, with scientists now saying that there is 95 per cent probability of climate change being generated by human activities and some important decisions are expected at the upcoming climate change conference in Paris.

Last week, a French climate expert who was working for the CRU at the time and whose personal data was also stolen by the hackers, visited Islamabad. Dr Alain Gioda’s visit was part of the French Embassy’s year-long efforts to sensitise the public and policy makers in Pakistan about the climate summit to be held in Paris in December. Dr Gioda met several policy makers in Pakistan and visited COMSATS University to deliver a lecture as part of the preparations for the Paris conference.

Come December, the COP21 is expected to create dialogue, enable collaboration and showcase game-changing solutions to climate challenges

Also known as COP21, the conference will, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on curbing carbon emissions. As the host, France will play a leading international role and the conference is expected to attract close to 25,000 official delegates from government, intergovernmental organisations, UN agencies, NGOs and civil society.

Malik Muhammad Uzair Khan, MNA, who was the chief guest at the lecture pointed out that it was now time to “start looking at climate change as a developmental issue and even a national security issue in Pakistan”.

Dr Alain Gioda, whose expertise lies in “action research”, has worked in many countries of the world; Italy, United Kingdom, Bolivia, Peru and the Ivory Coast to name a few. He said of his time at CRU, “it was one of the two laboratories of excellence in the world; it was part of a national university and that made it easy for the hackers to attack; the CRU has since been able to restore its reputation”. A positive result of “Climategate” was that it taught scientists “how to discuss with the media” and it made their research “more open.”

According to Dr Gioda, “The challenge at the global level is to have good governance; we must work with politicians and scientists. It is tricky but we must solve it (the climate crisis).” The first COP took place in Berlin in 1995 and since then there have been 20 other COPs so that shows that the climate change negotiations have not been very successful so far — but he hopes that COP21 will be the last and that a final decision will be made in Paris. He pointed out that the fossil fuel era is dying and a new world is coming in which we will have green / blue development. The climate crisis, he said, gives us a chance to change. Europe, which is a low emitting region, will be leading the COP with France as the project leader. “Things are moving but very slowly,” he pointed out. “Things might seem impossible, but all is possible.”

His own research is based on “action rese­arch” which means observe, reflect on problem, plan and act. “The past is the compass for the future”; hence, he studies the history of each country he works in to see what people are sensitive towards when it comes to climate compatible development. For example, he studies indigenous root plants and tubers in different countries which he says were important in historical times and could reduce our current dependence on rice, corn and wheat (which have been globalised and are susceptible to climate change). He explained that it is important to restore the value of traditional crops at the global level. Pakistan is rich in terms of biodiversity given that it has deserts, seashore, mountains and plains.

In the water and energy sector, the storage of water is the biggest challenge. However, he described big dams “as dangerous because of the possibility of earthquakes” so tanks and reservoirs would be better options. He explained the new technology of Pumper Storage Hydroelectricity (PSH) which pumps water up from the seashore using wind energy and into a tank, and the water can then generate electricity. Such systems have been set up in the Canary Islands and in Okinawa in Japan. He described this as “green energy” while “red energy” is produced by fuel oil in thermal power plants.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, May 31st, 2015

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