Innovation and the Climate

Le climatologue Jean Jouzel est vice-président du GIEC (groupement international d’experts sur l’évolution du climat), qui vient de publier les trois volets de son 5ème rapport sur le réchauffement de la planète et ses conséquences. Il parrainera la cérémonie des diplômes des docteurs de Sorbonne Universités, le 14 juin prochain.

Innovation and the Climate


What are the key conclusions of the latest IPCC Report?

Global warming is now definitive and without precedent. This is the main conclusion of the most recent reports of the working parties* that comprise the IPCC. Compared with previous editions, the figures contained in these versions show that the greenhouse gas emissions have continued to grow despite the economic crisis, that they have never been as high as they are today and that the global warming is due to increased GHG effects. Since the 1960s, the Erath’s mean temperature has risen by 2/3 degree and we shall reach a CO2 level of 400 ppm next year (cf. insert below Did you know this). The increased greenhouse effect is due (for 80%) to combustion of fossil fuels. IPCC proposes several scenarios: if the emission are maximum in the near future, the mean global temperature will rise between 4 to 5° by year 2100, with sizeable impacts on biodiversity, health, agricultural crops, etc., and the oceans’ surfaces will rise by 1m. This scenario should be avoided at all costs because it will be very difficult to adapt to the situation. We must try to contain the global warming to +2°C by 2100 and this requires that we divide by a factor 3 our GHG emissions by 2050, so as to retain a degree of autonomy in terms of our adaptation. It is technically possible, provided that we move rapidly to using carbon-free energies.


What innovations would be needed to combat global warming?

What we need are solutions in terms of energy efficiency: dividing by a factor 4 the French emissions of CO2, as written in law, implies that we divide by a factor 2 our national energy consumption, without sacrificing the national economy. To make renewable energy sources more efficient and competitive, we must innovate in energy storage techniques and capacity. Renewables could assure 50% of our energy requirements by year 2050. The nuclear sector –b with its well-documents limits – is also mentioned by the IPCC, as are capture and storage of carbon (CCS). Current research in this area must move rapidly from laboratory to industrial phases, and this is not among the policy options we see today. As a Member of the Governing Board of the European Institute of Technology (EIT) for climate questions ‘Climate KIOK), I am especially interested by the innovation aspects. The EU devotes 70 Meuros to innovative projects in the form of call to project proposals for Climate KIK 2014. The objective of this European initiative is to favour innovation and creation of associate enterprises. Projects relate to cities, agriculture and emission of GHGs. For example, one of the difficulties in our field is to measure precisely emission levels in urban areas or for a given Region. Climate KIK supports research projects that addresses such a challenge.


What role can science play?

I am among those who defend basic science – which is falling apart in France. Today if you wish to ask for a grant for a climate related innovation, it will be far simpler than asking for a budget to obtain polar ice glacier borehole sample. It is becoming difficult to financially launch a basic research project – but I see this as a policy mistake. It is this basic work that underpins the innovation in a decade from now. We must find a balance even if I clearly understand the accusations that in France we are very slow to move research from the lab to enterprise.


You were Godfather to the PhD awards ceremony at Sorbonne Universités (Cluster) – how did you feel?

In France, for as long as the Ph is not really recognized in enterprises and to a lesser extent even in public service, then Universities will remain less attractive than the graduates from France’s engineering schools. This ceremony contributes to PhD notoriety. One of the work ahead for the Universities, if they wish to be successful is to make the PhD attractive, as is the case today in Germany and elsewhere. I am a French docteur ès sciences myself, obtaining my PhD at the age of 21 on the topic of how hail stones are formed and at the time, getting job offers was no problem; today it is a much more difficult afire for our young PhDs.

* IPCC Group 1 looks at scientific data in regard to climate change; Group 2 analyzes “the consequences, areas of vulnerability and adaptation”; Group 3 prospects for mitigation measures.


Did you know this?

In May 2013 - for the first time since Man appeared on Earth - the threshold value of 400 ppm (parts per million) of CO2 in the atmosphere was exceeded, compared with the value at the end of the 19th Century when it did not exceed 300 ppm. It is this concentration that increases the greenhouse effect and leads to global warming.