Changemakers for the future

Bill Hare, Climate Analytics

The IKEA Foundation helps many organisations accelerate their efforts in combatting climate change. Facts and figures speak for themselves, but who exactly are the people behind this extraordinary work? In this storytelling series we spotlight brave individuals who move mountains in their climate action strategies and solutions. Today: Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics.

‘Leaders need to find the will and the courage to push back’

My first real interaction with environmental concerns was as a teenager in Western Australia. I was very concerned about the loss of our unique forests in Southwest Australia. I had a long-standing interest in physics and became very interested in environmental science.

Around 1986, I was asked to prepare a review paper on climate impacts in Australia for the first-ever global conference on climate change. It was organised by the CSIRO, the Australian government’s research body. That was real eye-opener for me. That long ago, it was already clear that there was going to be a lot of trouble for native ecosystems – be they oceans, in mountains or forests – as well as for human systems, including agriculture. That really started me thinking about what to do about climate change. I was already engaged with the emergence of the Antarctic ozone hole, and I was encouraged by senior scientists at CSIRO to maintain my interest both from the science and the policy side.

I got involved in the very early stages of global discussions towards what ultimately became the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). We looked into the models and saw heat waves, droughts and extreme fires coming. At that point, in 1987,  the climate impacts could not be seen first-hand, but stratospheric ozone depletion was beginning to be seen. The real shock for me was seeing that humanity could affect a globally important physical system: the stratospheric ozone layer. And that was a shock to many; talking about CFCs and aerosol cans was no joke. If we didn’t get our act together, we could all be in very serious trouble.

It became clear to me by the end of the 1980s, that the climate problem could not be solved without action by everyone. No single country alone could bring it under control. Quite unlike the limited countries that made a difference in causing ozone depletion, we needed everyone on board. It was clear that we had no time to waste. Unfortunately, a lot of time was wasted – and lost forever – in the last decades. But here we are now, on the edge of what I hope is a big step forward, in 2021.

A much bigger problem
Climate Analytics’ mission is to advance scientific knowledge towards helping limit global warming – and ultimately prevent dangerous climate change. We started out supporting small-island and developing states and least-developed countries. We’re very much motivated around the threats that these vulnerable regions face from climate change, sea-level rise and associated problems.

Since starting out from a little basement at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, we’ve done many things over the years that have made us proud. I’m most proud of our team’s impact on the Paris Agreement negotiations. A lot of our scientific analytical work focused on issues of concern to the large group of vulnerable countries, for example, the question of the global temperature goal – whether 1.5 degrees needed to be on the table.

I remember when everyone was aligning around the two-degree goal. We were getting asked more and more questions about that. I remember one very difficult meeting in Singapore at the end of 2008 where my colleague and I found ourselves talking with the smaller states. They asked some hard questions, like: “Is this going to be okay for us? Two degrees? It doesn’t look good.” And they were right. It didn’t look good. Two degrees, which was then considered safe by many, would see millions more lives lost and huge damage done in these vulnerable countries.

So we went away and worked with colleagues to unpack: just what were the risks at lower levels of warming? We realised it was a much bigger problem than we thought. We published important papers, analyses and cogent briefing notes for these governments that had a big impact on the whole scientific framing of the Paris Agreement. Of course we were not alone in that; there was definitely a movement in the broader community to really understand these impacts at lower levels of warming than two degrees and the feasibility of lower levels.

Hopes for the future
If I had 10 minutes at the 26th UN Climate Change ConferenceCO26, I would say to world leaders: I would be saying that the science is in; the longer we delay, the worse it’s going to be for you, your children and their grandchildren. We know how to solve the problem. We know costs have gotten cheaper. The major obstacle now is political will and courage. You, as leaders, need to find the will and the courage to push back. Find clever ways of moving incumbent industries into a positive direction by showing them the benefits of transformation for themselves and helping, if appropriate. Provide the support to get poorer countries moving in the right direction.

I speak a lot with students. At meetings with Fridays For the Future, they’re asking these very hard questions. Will we make it? Is action going to happen fast enough? Will we make enough progress in Glasgow? We know from history that these things can be made possible by movements of people. Empowering organisations and people all over the world is really about changing the way in which we define what’s possible. It’s really important to keep up that sense of optimism that we can really do it. I’m convinced we can.

ABOUT

Bill Hare has been CEO of Climate Analytics since 2008. He is a Climate Scientist with thirty years’ experience in the science, impacts and policy responses to climate change. He was a Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007

Climate Analytics is a climate science and policy institute bringing together interdisciplinary expertise in the science and policy of climate change. It is headquartered in Berlin with offices around the world.