Roberta Boscolo has strong leadership in advising governments and businesses on setting science-based targets for transition to resilient and sustainable clean energy systems in line with the goals of Global Agreements. With more than 20 years of experience in developing knowledge platforms and good practices to support climate-related risk management, better decision-making for adaptation and mitigation and strategic planning she has developed solid partnerships with United Nations agencies, public and private sectors, academia, civil society, media groups and associations through the organization of global conferences and awareness-raising events to facilitate cross-sector, transformative partnerships at the interface of climate science and industry. She has formulated and leads multi-million projects in Africa, South America, the Pacific and South East Asia (total portfolio USD 30 million).
How did you venture into climate science?
I have a background in theoretical physics. From that technical base, it was quite a journey. I had an opportunity to work for a research institute in Venice, Italy, investigating the general circulation of the lagoon, including the flooding events, and I found it really interesting. After that, I did a Master's and a PhD in oceanography. Subsequently, I got in contact with the World Climate Research Programme studying the world’s oceans role in climate change. You can say that I was in the game long before climate change became such a pressing challenge. I became closely connected with UN-led climate change research mainly exploring the drivers and the impacts of climate change. But I must say that over the years, the same climate issues are still there, only worsen, and there’s not enough action to deal with the crisis we’re seeing today. Yet, we’re here with another IPCC report talking about what our future is going to be like if we don’t change course. I feel that it’s been quite a journey, and along the way, climate change has become crucial.
Are you just seeing people taking pledges and not acting towards it?
Well, I don’t want to point fingers at anyone, but I think the fact that we’re organizing the 26th COP is a sign. We’re still debating the rules of the Paris Agreement. Every year over the last decade, the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) publishes the Emissions Gap Report and this year, again, the gap between the estimated future global GHG emissions based on the climate mitigation pledges and the global emission levels from least-cost pathways aligned with the Paris Agreement is widening. I know we’re trying to solve the problem, but it’s not enough. Many countries aren’t doing what it takes to contrast climate change.
As a climate science and energy expert, what challenges do you see for the public and private sectors especially while trying to adopt new, sustainable business strategies?
I see the private sector trying to move in the right direction. Not all companies, of course, but many have understood the challenge and are taking appropriate steps. Some of the net-zero plans have real potential, but there aren’t any metrics for us to measure the real impact. Because, if we could measure impact, we’d probably realize that we’re not doing enough, or that we may need to raise our ambitions. I think we need to have a better interaction with businesses, the private sector and climate science to develop better metrics for measuring impacts.
Do you see organizations adopting science-based targets for measuring impact?
The science-based targets only set the ambitions but do not include the verification or evaluation tool. Let’s take a look at the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. The values are increasing every year, actually, they are accelerating. That’s what the direct observation is telling us. Temperature rises and extreme climate events are also a concern. So, everyone can see that the actions so far are not enough; they’re not “bending the curve” as we needed to halt global warming. We need to come to terms with that and ask ourselves if our efforts are in the right direction. That’s a question scientists can help answer by measuring the impact of climate change actions.
Do we have the right metrics for measuring impact or are we still figuring it out?
We can actually put in place an observing system to directly measure GHGs emissions globally. There are innovative techniques being developed towards this end goal. Right now, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is depending on countries and companies to self-assess and verify emissions data. Sometimes this data tells a story that is different from what we see in the atmosphere and what really matters for driving climate change. So, we need to be more scientific in our approach and develop methods that can tell us of what we’re doing has an impact. Companies should adopt this methodology and be more serious about measuring the impact of their actions. Countries should ‘walk the talk’. They shouldn’t just depend on pledging but also follow up with action. I think the scientific community, by coining terms like Net-Zero 2050 and carbon sequestration has been delaying climate action.
What is the statistical projection you see in terms of climate change for the next ten years? Do you see current targets as being relevant 10 years from now?
This is a good question. According to the Paris Agreement, the temperature target is to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees C compared to the pre-industrial level. But our models tell us that within the next five years, the average temperature already reach that level. This means our models are predicting a temperatures rise to the limit set by the international community very soon. It’s good, however, to keep temperature and emission targets and reports like the ones from IPCC, but if we don’t bring a drastic change to the way we develop economically, the dangerous global warming will start to happen much sooner than we realize. The IPCC’s latest report is really clear on this— How warm the world gets depends on the decisions we take today.
So, what you’re saying is that if the policies aren’t set, it’ll be difficult for the actors to follow. And there would just be confusion and no action. Correct?
Yes. I am looking forward to COP 26. Let’s see what we achieve. It seems to me that we’ll probably be setting more ambitious targets, make more pledges. But let’s also consider the European Union while we say this. The EU has been trying really hard to push for climate policy, especially on the back of the Green Deal. The policies are taking a shot at bringing the EU on track for a net-zero goal by 2050. Yet, these policies have to be ratified by the countries. And not all of the countries are on board. Many years ago, the EU had launched a 20-20-20 policy, which was a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions, a 20% increase in energy efficiency and reaches 20% of renewables in total energy consumption in the EU by 2020. This goal has not been reached in full. But now, we have the Green Deal. It’s another fresh start — which needs to be reached. The way politics and democracy works is, that you have a new set of politicians in power every four years — and everything changes every four years. We have seen leaders ignoring climate change after coming to power. In fact, recently, we saw leaders of state reverse climate change policies set by the outgoing administration.
It all boils down to leadership and policymaking and understanding how important it is. Right?
Yes, and I also believe that policy needs to recognize the solidarity among generations. We are the generation that should be taking care of the next one, and we’re not doing that. I actually agree with Greta Thunberg on this. Usually, the adults build a better world for their children; in this case Generation Z. The current generation isn’t doing that. Our generation is selfish and thinks only for itself. We’re only investing in the present without caring for the future.
What challenges do you see in developing countries when it comes to adopting renewable energy? Is it economically feasible? What skill gap and tech gap do you see?
We must help developing countries to realize and/or upgrade their energy systems and support their clean energy initiatives. This is why finance is really important. We cannot just let developing nations do it on their own. They will need help and we must back them. Developed countries can do a lot of good work here by supporting and leading low-carbon economic initiatives in poorer nations. Renewable energy is actually cheaper than fossil fuel right now. Also, off-grid renewable energy can reach more people. Just consider that 770 million people in the world have no access to electricity. Solar panels, for example, in African regions can really help villagers left out of the national electricity grid. Developed countries have a lot of renewable resources and can generate a lot of energy from solar, wind and hydro so it makes a lot of sense for them to invest in developing nations. Developing nations need financial support to build renewable energy grids. Being independent of fossil fuels will go a long way in reducing the financial burden of developing nations because they can control their energy needs and expenses their own way.
What is the WMO’s exact role when it comes to the energy sector in developing countries?
We have several projects and we work with countries to develop climate services to include the climate information for identifying solutions. We also work in health, disaster management, hydrology and provide them with the data and support necessary to make them more resilient to climate change. Climate change is actually an opportunity for several countries and we provide them with the information that would help them maximize the benefit of their actions.
Over the past ten years, are you seeing an increase in investment in the renewable energy sector in developed and developing countries? Is it more now than before?
Yes, I think in the energy sector, we’re seeing new developments. In the renewable energy world, there’s so much happening. In fact, the real-world renewable energy is always expanding more than predicted by by the International Energy Agency. We see a lot of movement and increase in the deployment of renewable energy. Although, it’s not at the pace we’d like in terms of climate targets set by the Paris Agreement. Yes. We’re moving, but not as fast as we should be.
What societal disparities would you expect to see if we’re not taking the right steps for reducing energy poverty?
Climate change is cascading in every aspect of the socio-economic fabric. What we see is that energy poverty exacerbates inequalities. Energy poverty will affect health services. Even vaccination will be affected. Vaccine ampoules need to be cooled, and that uses up a lot of energy. In schools, and in all forms of educations the inequalities will become apparent. Likewise for food production and security. I see energy touching all the sustainable development goals. If not provided adequately, it can lead to inequality and this will continue until we arrive at a solution. Even the gender gap will be affected. Women who cook using dirty fuels are exposed to bad air quality and this is really damaging in the long term. Most societal inequalities are driven by energy poverty.
How do you see climate science tackling climate denial?
Honestly, we’re not doing very well. People are still denying climate change. But we have expanded the body of evidence thanks to the IPCC reports. We’re seeing that climate denial isn’t such a big challenge now as it would have been, say, 10 years ago. But there are other factors that pose a hurdle to climate action. Today, there’s a feeling that we can delay our climate action because we think we have time. People are waiting for technology to catch up, and that is bad. I think denial has been transformed into another attitude. I would think it’s leaning towards procrastination or dismissal, or waiting for someone to take initiative. Everyone needs to contribute; not just individuals, but governments too. Climate science hasn’t reached the point where people will take urgent action. People aren’t acting despite the evidence that’s out there.