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Interview 12 from 15

:: Mojib Latif: Climate change has to have top political priority

Mojib Latif, 52, is a professor at the Leibniz-Institute for Marine Sciences in Kiel. Part of his research consists of developing climate models and studying man’s influence on climate. For his achievements, he received the “Sverdrup Gold Medal” from the American Meteorological Society and he is the author of several popular science books on climate change.
WINDBLATT: The title of your new book to appear soon is called “Are we disturbing climate cycles?” Does climate actually follow cycles?   
Mojib Latif: Well, there are phenomena which occur at regular intervals. These include short-term occurrences such as seasonal cycles and long-term cycles like glacial/ interglacial periods. Unfortunately, we are currently deviating from natural cyclical fluctuations due to unprecedented greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.   
WINDBLATT: Seen on a long term basis, is the ongoing global warming something exceptional?  
Latif: Yes. Of course fluctuations also occurred in the past, but evidence shows that since the last Ice Age 20,000 years ago, the average annual temperature has increased by approximately 5° C. However, if the current trend continues, the temperature could be 5 degrees warmer in 100 years. This would be an exceptional rate. Temperatures would also reach an absolute record high; reliable scenarios predict average annual temperatures of 20° C by the year 2100.   
WINDBLATT: When do you expect the current warming trend to reach a peak?  
Latif: That depends on our behaviour. If we continue to emit ever more greenhouse gases, the temperature will continue to rise. Eventually, there will be no more oil and coal and then we will be hitting the limit. This will probably be in 200 to 300 years. It will take another 1,000 years after that before the situation starts getting back to normal.   
WINDBLATT: You specialise in the influence of ocean currents on our climate. How do the results fit in with global warming?  
 Latif: Ocean currents are a decisive factor for regional climate change. There was a scenario which depicted that a Gulf Stream shutdown could compensate warming in Europe. However, this would not affect Central Europe: Even if the Stream shuts down by the year 2100, there would still be a huge increase in temperature. The lack of thermohaline circulation is likely to affect an overall temperature increase of 5 degrees by cooling off a maximum of 1 or 2 degrees.   
WINDBLATT: How do you counter critics who argue that forecasts down to a tenth of a degree are not possible with a complex phenomenon such as climate?  
 Latif: This is where there’s a misunderstanding. For climatologists it’s not a matter of providing actual forecasts, but rather typical weather. We’re not checking whether there’ll be snow at Christmas in 2100.We only calculate the probability of snow in that period. Complexity is not a valid argument: If this were the case, I wouldn’t be able to predict the seasons, for example.   
WINDBLATT: At present, German utilities want to prolong the service life of their nuclear power plants justifying this with, among other factors, climate protection.   
Latif: Germany wants to set an example. So, if we start saying that the only way we can get a grip on CO2 reduction is with nuclear power, this would be a disastrous message to the world. Thousands of nuclear power plants would start mushrooming all over the world. This is not in anyone’s interest. We don’t have to look at places like Iran and North Korea to realise how gullible it would be to believe that civil and military use of atomic energy could be disassociated.   
WINDBLATT: How can we curb climate change?   
Latif: We can’t stop atmospheric warming. However, we can attenuate it. If one assumes a maximum warming of 2 degrees by the year 2100 as opposed to the pre-industrial era, and this is the target the EU is aiming at, one has to cut current emissions by 50 % by the year 2050 and by 90 % till 2100. That’s a hell of a difficult task for politics. For one thing, there’s a huge potential which could be activated to save energy. Secondly, we have to continue developing renewable energies so that they can be widely used 20-30 years from now.   
WINDBLATT: Do you think the Climate Summit in Nairobi last fall was able to move things forward?  
 Latif: That was only a lot of hot air. With this type of event, we’re not going to make any progress. The climate problem has to become a G8-summit topic. Heads of government from major industrialized nations have to come to a consensus on reducing emissions, saving energy and renewable energy – and ensure that these decisions are put into practice at all levels, simultaneously!  
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