No consensus yet on climate change: Hulme

“It is cool to be talking warming,” says Mike Hulme, professor of climate change in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK, and the founding director of the UK-based Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. Speaking to Financial Chronicle ahead of his ‘talking climate’ lecture series at the British Council in Mumbai, Hulme said there is a very high expectation around the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in December. This is the end result of long process seeking to get a new agreement between nations on how to tackle climate change.
According to him, climate change has certainly become one of the iconic geopolitical issues of the day. “In early 1980s when I started as a professional scientist on climate change, it was relatively a minor aspect of scientific research. It certainly did not make political headlines then,” said Hume. He is now leading the EU Integrated Project ADAM (Adaptation and Mitigation Strategies) during the period 2006-2009, which comprises a 26-member European research consortium contributing research to the development of EU climate policy.
The idea of climate change has become so powerful and visible that, according to Hulme, it has really penetrated to all aspects of culture, politics and society. “There is something about this idea that makes it very powerful for lots of different interest groups, to latch on to whether for political reasons, for commercial interests, social interests in the case of NGOs, and a whole lot of new social movements looking for counter culture trends.”
At the Copenhagen meeting Hulme expects to see lots of different interest groups, but the end result could be disappointing. “Pretty much anyone who is anyone is going to be at Copenhagen, lobbying for their particular favourite solution with climate change. This is the thing that actually worries me. These expectations, the burden of hope people are placing on the Copenhagen talks can never possible be met. We are not going to get a global deal that satisfies all of these different interest groups.”
Hulme argues that the idea of climate change is so elastic that one can shape it, change it and mould it to suit one’s particular interest. “The reality is that there is little convergence among different interest groups,” he said. What everyone agrees is the existence of this problem, how humans are altering climate and how bad it is for the human society. But their preferred solutions are diametrically in the opposite directions.
Hulme and like-minded scientists are concerned about the commercialisation of various aspects of climate change. “Within a capitalist world order, climate change is actually a convenient phenomenon to come along. It provides a new way in which commodification happens. The idea of carbon market is one of the examples; the idea that how this commodity has to be priced. By doing so we actually create a new vehicle for capitalists. We see the same thing happening in the case of REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries) proposal, a new plan for private companies and wealthy nations to pay poorer nations to keep their tropical forest intact.” According to him carbon offsetting is a big business, and a very attractive one. Ahead of the Copenhagen negotiations, Hulme thinks it is vital for everyone to understand the valid reasons for why there is disagreement about climate change.