Fundació Catalunya Europa RE-CITY

Alistair Woodward

"Climate change is a very dangerous disruptive change because it is moving very rapidly and on a large scale"


"How would you explain in two minutes to President Donald Trump that climate change exists?" This is the question that Professor Alistair Woodward asked his students at the University of Auckland, in New Zealand. And most of them chose an image more convincing than any other explanation. A graphic from this professor of epidemiology and biostatistics that explains the evolution of temperatures since 1861 and shows how global warming has occurred. Specifically, we observe the progressive increase of temperatures in the lower part of the atmosphere and how they cool down in the upper part, as a result of the greenhouse effect. "Climate change is real, there is no doubt, just as we know that gravity exists, climate change exists," said the environmental health expert invited by the Catalunya Europa Foundation. Alistair Woodward participated on November 22nd in the "Facing climate change" cycle of the Re-City platform organized with the collaboration of BBVA and the support of the Barcelona City Council, the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona and the Department of "Territori i Sostenibilitat" of Generalitat de Catalunya. The expert did not leave anyone indifferent and answered many questions from the audience attending the conference held at the Antoni Tàpies Foundation.

The conference was moderated by Xavier Rodó, ICREA researcher, head of the Climate and Health research program of ISGlobal and scientific advisor from Re-City, who presented the speaker as "one of the world leaders in the field of health and climate change ".

Alistair Woodward said that "climate change is a very dangerous disruptive change because it is happening at a great speed and, in addition, it is happening on a large scale. We are already suffering its effects in a clear way". Some examples are the increase in coronary or respiratory diseases due to poor air quality; the increase in floods, now six times more likely than at the end of the 20th century; or diseases caused by mosquitoes that are expanding as a result of heat, as shown by the first case of autochthonous dengue detected recently in Barcelona, the sixth produced in Spain in a short time.

The expert was convinving: "If we want to face climate change, it will not be enough to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, we have to introduce changes in our lifestyles and be radical. Otherwise, we will not achieve the objective of the Paris Agreements by limiting global warming to 2°C ", a limit cut to 1.5°C by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Therefore, Woodward raised some controversial measures such as the introduction of a tax on meat or food to curb the emission of greenhouse gases. He also proposed to equip the houses better so that the heat is not lost and less is spent on heating; going by bicycle instead of the car or the motorcycle, or limiting the private transport in the center of the cities. "Electric cars are a good solution to avoid causing carbon dioxide emissions," Woodward explained, "but they are not the solution to the congestion of cities, whether they are electric vehicles or not. The problem of mobility is that there are too many cars, which is why we need help with public transport and electric bicycles, so we can reduce 60% of carbon emissions." "Currently, added the expert, "air pollution is the main challenge of climate change, caused by the combustion of carbon fossils.The combination of poor air quality with the increase in temperature produces an impact on health even more harmful".

Given this, Alistair Woodward, affirmed climate change "is a challenge at all levels but it is possible and it makes sense to try it." However, it requires political measures and consensus to guarantee its application," said the person who is also a member of the Intergovernmental Panel of Experts Climate Change (IPCC) of the UN. In this regard, he explained that New Zealand is drafting a law to achieve zero carbon dioxide emission before 2050 and spoke of a newly created figure, the liquidator of environmental grievances to ensure that action is taken with the least impact possible for the environment.

The speaker also appealed for the role of cities as driving force for change. "Cities can respond in a creative way, since climate change can be a stimulus for the regeneration of cities. Climate change can make cities safer, healthier, more sustainable and more cheerful, because people smile more when they walk through the closed areas." "Cities", Woodward added, "must establish collaborative networks and make cross-cutting environmental policies in areas such as mobility and transport, bicycle use, waste management, pollution and air quality, or building renovations in order to make them more efficient".

The expert ended his lecture with an optimistic message and added a quote from the former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, from his book A climate of hope: "we must change the way we think about climate change, go down to up, from cost to benefits and from tomorrow to today." He concluded, to show that we are facing a challenge that can not be postponed and that at the same time is an opportunity to move towards a better society.