"I believe we are very close to a cliff" – The Economic Journal

"I believe we are very close to a cliff" - The Economic Journal


Mohan Munasinghe was the vice president of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change when it shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former US Vice President Al Gore. The Sri Lankan professor was in Lisbon this week to attend the first round of the Economic, Bel Group and Planetiers "The World After Climate Change" meetings.

"Think global, act local" is still the right approach to promote sustainability?

I think that for many things it is important to think global and local action in the sense that what is done locally has a global impact. Carbon emissions are very important, for example. However, in other things we have to think local and act global. A politician who wants to be elected first has to think local, right? But when we think globally we have to think about the implications. That is, it depends. I do not believe the answer is one or the other. And when we speak of global action, it applies not only to leaders, but also to ordinary people. Through the internet, for example, they can develop global networking.

To what extent can the democratic game represent a constraint to implement some of the sustainability goals?

It can, because the democratic system is focused every four or five years in the elections. But the answer to this must be the correct information. What [a comunicação social] is doing an important job in explaining to people the long-term consequences of issues such as climate change. If you think only of the now, the next year, or the next month … This applies not only to politicians but to people who are currently making choices based only on the short term. As in "global thinking, local acting", there is sometimes thinking in the short term but also in the long run.

Has there been an evolution in the awareness of the importance of this need?

I think many leaders, to be elected, have to be reasonably intelligent, right? They are aware of the long-term consequences, or should be aware. But they do not act due to the short-term pressure they face. The people who give them financing [para as campanhas] or their political associates tell them something different. They may even understand, but there is not enough pressure from the long-term lobby to counter the short-term.

The key is then greater pressure from this lobby?

Yes, and this lobby has a lot of young people to come. It is the young people who in the long run have life. Older people may be thinking about the past few years, the coming years because they do not live that long [quanto os jovens]. The younger ones should have the energy to say: this is our world, it is our planet, and so on.

Should richer countries play an increased role in combating climate change?

Not just about climate change. If we look at the pattern of consumption, 85% of consumption is made by the richest 20% of the world's population. The eight richest people in the world in 2016 controlled more assets than half the world's population. This talk is not just about carbon emissions and climate change, but about the kind of faster and faster consumption. The behavior of the rich is critical. If they are able to consume more sustainably, there will be more resources for the poorest. This is also a good example.

But in general, does the whole society need to change the way it consumes?

Yes, in a general way. His previous question was whether the rich have greater responsibility. It is true that everyone has, except the poorest. We can not tell someone who is dying of hunger who needs to consume more sustainably, because they consume nothing. To the poor, we need to get them out of poverty. The richest and richest countries have been extremely responsible for the way they consume resources. The wealthiest can maintain a good lifestyle, but they can do so with far less pressure on the environment. There can be more efficient production, with less packaging, with other options. Being sustainable does not mean being poor does not mean giving up a good lifestyle.

Does sustainability have an impact on the redistribution of wealth?

It will have, as follows: we are currently consuming 70% more of the resources of the planet than we should consume in a sustainable way. Keeping this pace, by 2030 we need two planets. The distribution [da riqueza] is the key. If the rich puts less pressure on food and energy consumption, there will also be more resources available to the poorest. For it to happen automatically we will have to have economic and social policies for this redistribution to happen. But first of all we have to free resources.

And what is the role of companies in this change?

Basically produce in a sustainable way. There are many techniques nowadays, by which we can reduce by half the amount of energy we are using, the amount of water we use. This is what is called a win-win solution. If companies reduce the energy they use, the resources they use, costs will go down, so profits will also increase. At the same time it has a good environmental impact. Many companies have technology and methods that allow it. There is no reason why production should not be done efficiently. And this extends to consumption. We can not use so many resources.

Are some companies already in a phase of transition from the traditional management model, centered on the generation of profits, to a sustainable model?

Some. I have worked with some of the world's largest multinationals of energy, food, biochemistry and various industries. Some are very serious and are making a difference. They are reporting not only profits, but also social and environmental impact. But it is not enough, of course. I believe we are very close to a precipice and that we can fall on the precipice or we can save ourselves. The business sector has an important role here and can do more.

Article published in the 1981 edition of March 22, Jornal Econômico



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