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The Global Energy Prize annually honors outstanding achievements in energy research and technology from around the world that are helping address the world’s various and pressing energy challenges.

It’s only the beginning of climate crisis – Rae Kwon Chung interview for SophieCo

With more violent hurricanes and scorching heat waves advancing, can we really get our act together and do something about climate change? We talked to Rae Kwon Chung, Nobel Peace Prize winner as a member of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change and a Global Energy Prize International Award Committee member.

Sophie Shevardnadze: Mr. Chung, thank you very much for being with us today. It’s a great pleasure. Lots to talk about. I want to start with climate change. It’s such a huge topic and people are divided on it. For instance, this summer, the world went through another breaking heatwave records. And each summer in Europe it seems to get worse and worse. Is this climate change in action? Is this what it looks like?

Rae Kwon Chung: I have been following the climate change issues for more than twenty years. And we have been giving the warning from 1990s that the climate change will be coming. But now I say that it has already arrived. This year in Seoul it was about 40 degrees. We never experienced this kind of heatwave. But it’s not only in Korea. Even Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, but also Greece, Portugal and even the United States are suffering from terrible draught as well as wildfires. Now I think, the Earth is really showing its anger and fury to the world that they are really getting serious climate change. So it is only the beginning of the new risk of the climate crisis.  

SS: I’ve heard the UN Secretary General saying for the millionth time that we have to do something about it right now. So why can’t the UN do something about it - or can they?

R-KC: Many people think UN can do something about it, right? But in fact the UN is just a platform for countries to come and unite to take a joint action. So UN alone cannot take any action. UN has been facilitating the countries to take actions. That’s been the role the UN has been playing.  

SS: That’s a scientific point of view. Scientists say that the whole world has to come together and we should all be together in this process. But is it a little naive to think that each nation is going to jump head forward into this process of saving planet? It doesn’t seem to be No.1 priority on many nations’ agendas. Is it naive to think that people will just come together?

R-KC: It is a very puzzling question for me because if you think your life is in danger many people will take an immediate action to save their own life. But if the danger is coming in a slow fashion, people are not aware about the danger which is coming sooner or later. For example, I’d like to tell you just one data, many people still have doubts, many people still deny climate change. But it’s a geological fact that eight millions years ago when the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere was about 400 ppm, at that time there was no ice in the North Pole. And 40 millions years ago CO2 was 700 ppm, and at that time there was no ice in the South Pole. Now we’re already over 400 ppm. So sooner or later we will have no more ice in the north. Maybe some people will say that it’s good news for Russia. But sooner or later the sea level will go up. And if we go over 700 ppm (and many people project we will go over 1000 ppm by the end of the century), if it’s 1000 ppm then it will get 6-7 degrees hotter. The sea level 40 million years ago was 100 meter higher. So this is a geological fact. And if this kind of thing is really happening with no ice on north and south and the sea level is going up this is a matter of our survival. But still people don’t take it…

SS: That’s what I’m saying - these facts aren’t secret, it’s an open information. People keep saying and stating them  - scientists and well-respected people like you. And then people somehow aren’t convinced. For instance, Mr. Trump - he doesn’t seem to think that climate change is real, and half of Americans do not. I just don’t understand, how come smart and educated people - and I do think Trump is smart and educated - still have doubts about something so obvious?

R-KC: My comment is that we live in the world where we’re so obsessed with short-term profit, the short-term interest and making fast money. Last year typhoon hurricane Irma was hitting Miami, and that day they were telecasting it online in real time. The telecasting of climate crisis was like as if it was just a game. But it’s not a game, it’s really happening. The stronger hurricanes and wildfires are coming.  

SS: Do you feel like the PR things like Nobel Peace Prize or Al Gore doing the documentary on environmental change shame people into doing something? Is it a good approach to, for instance, shame Trump or shame governments into taking action? 

R-KC: I’m taking a different approach. Just arguing that climate crisis is coming is not enough. The basic reason why these people are not taking any action for climate change is because, for example, the reduction of CO2 emissions is going to damage the economic growth and jobs and my money. That’s why they are not taking real actions. I’m trying to say that in reality if we take action for CO2 reduction like energy efficiency, the renewal energy, it will actually generate more money, more jobs and even higher economic growth. So I want to change the storyline that climate action is not bad for economic growth or your money, but climate change will be beneficial, good, positive, making money for you. That’s the kind of story. 


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