Celeste Saulo (Buenos Aires, 59 years old) was appointed this week as the new Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). This graduate in Meteorological Sciences who has spent decades developing her research and teaching facets, directs since 2014 the National Meteorological Service of Argentina. She will be the first woman to reach the position of WMO Secretary-General in history, a position she will officially hold from 1 January 2024. His appointment at the head of this key entity in the knowledge and action against climate change has occurred during the congress held in Geneva this week and in which the 193 countries present in this body linked to the UN have participated. And from the Swiss city he attended EL PAÍS on Friday, by phone, between sessions.
Question. What is your goal for your next four years at the helm of WMO?
Answer. This organization has a fundamental mandate that is to provide all the advice in relation to climate and water issues through the strengthening of meteorological and hydrological services of all countries. From this general perspective, these services clearly need to be underpinned to fulfil their mission. This presents challenges in a highly diverse world traversed by the problem of the climate crisis that overlaps with steadily increasing inequality.
Q. Which term do you think is the most correct: climate change, climate crisis or climate emergency?
A. One could, in Spanish at least, concatenate all three. Because climate change is the concept that explains what is happening to us at the level of the physical system of a climate that is changing. But that generates a crisis that has to do with how it impacts us; And we know that this crisis is not the same for all countries, that is, it implies different vulnerabilities; And then situations of greater emergency than others appear. I couldn't take off the three ideas because I think they complement each other.
Q. Is there any scientific doubt right now about the responsibility of human beings in climate change?
A. No, there is no doubt. The latest report from the IPCC [the panel of international scientists that radiography climate change] has been clear and continues to provide more and more robust data that explains what scientists have been saying for a long time: that climate change is mainly driven by anthropogenic activity due to the emission of greenhouse gases. So this is beyond doubt and that is why it is also beyond doubt that action must be taken. Nature is not going to recover in isolation. We also have to act so that the climate system stops accelerating changes and we manage to maintain what the IPCC has recommended to us, which is to try not to pass the threshold of 1.5 degrees of warming compared to the pre-industrial period.
Q. Do you think policymakers are acting quickly enough in this emergency?
A. Nope. If there is something that the IPCC has clearly marked, it is that another speed of action is necessary, another speed of response. And, of course, one hopes that in the most developed countries, with greater potential, they will be the ones that can carry out that leadership. Of course we all have a place in this climate action, which in one way or another impacts us and touches us all. But we have varying degrees of responsibility.
Q. Do you think climate denial is increasing in the world?
A. I don't have the feeling that denialism is increasing. But I think this sense of urgency can sometimes result in paralysis. And the last thing we can do as a global, regional and local society is to paralyze ourselves in the face of climate change, because there is no turning back.
Q. Perhaps the succession of warnings about climate change can lead to a certain paralysis?
A. Not that they can lead to paralysis exactly. That is, now all possible alerts are on and not all possible answers are on. It would be necessary to understand from the sociological and political point of view what it is that leads us to the fact that with all the alarms on not all the actions are deployed. I'm not the person who has the answer to that, but I do have the concern.
Q. Are equity issues gaining more and more weight on the international climate agenda?
A. Of course, and in this organization it is perceived very clearly. Because we have the small island and coastal states where sea level rise impacts much more strongly. The question we have to solve as an organization is how we are going to help those countries with the instruments they need to address the problems that affect them, which are different and more pressing because they are developing or low-developed countries. It is clear that we must go out as a global society to assist them, but not only incorporating resources, but working with them on solutions so that there is also empowerment on their part.
Celeste Saulo, after being elected secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization.FABRICE COFFRINI (AFP)
Q. Is climate change accelerating?
A. That is what scientists are marking us with indicators such as melting glaciers or rising sea levels. That added to the fact that, for example, greenhouse gas emissions continue and continue... There is no prospect that after several years since the Paris Agreement was signed, we have made absolutely no real achievements in terms of reducing greenhouse gases. All indicators, unfortunately, are negative about what is going on. And the climate system doesn't react linearly, because it's not linear. That is, if you add one plus one that will not be two. Causes and effects can be fed back in a way that can be accelerated. That's the concern of scientists now.
Q. The turning points, right?
A. Turning points are now at the center of the scientific debate and I believe that those of us who have a role in bridging science and the provision of services have to transform it into actions. The aim is to protect our populations so that they can adapt and that their lives, property and livelihoods are not at risk.
Q. Of those turning points, which one worries you the most?
A. I think, for example, everything that is the impacts of the ice sheet due to its melting and the impacts associated with that that we still do not finish understanding as scientists. It's not just melting, but rising sea levels and other things that are helping to accelerate change. Scientists face the challenge of better understanding the physical processes behind it and in the meantime trying to transfer as quickly as possible what we know so that society acts.
Q. Of all the extreme events that science says will increase, which one worries you the most?
A. The increased frequency and combination of several extremes at the same time coupled with natural hazards. We have observed situations of volcanic eruptions in conjunction with tropical storms and eventually typhoons. When many events and natural hazards happen at the same time, that is really something that is very difficult to manage. I believe that at this point the WMO can do a lot with what are called multi-hazard early warning systems.
Q. Have we run out of time to meet the 1.5 degree goal set by the Paris Agreement?
A. No, scientists don't tell us that. The IPCC tells us that we have to act and I prefer to echo that message, because otherwise it seems that we have to expect the worst. That would never be my message. My message is: let us act now from our place where we are. Everyone has a chance, has a role and can do something; And it must.
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