Imperial College London

"The next 10 years are critical" - Dr Rogelj, IPCC 1.5°C Special Report author

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Dr Joeri Rogelj on Mount Baker in Rwenzori

Dr Joeri Rogelj on Mount Baker pointing towards Mount Margherita in Rwenzori

Ten minutes of climate change and climbing with Dr Joeri Rogelj, new lecturer at the Grantham Institute.

Dr Joeri Rogelj, who is currently helping to prepare the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on 1.5°C of Warming and is a lead author on the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report, has joined the Grantham Institute as a Lecturer in Climate Change.

Dr Rogelj specialises in global transformations – improving the world’s understanding of what it takes to accelerate the transition to a sustainable, prosperous, low-carbon world. He was formerly Senior Research Scholar at the Energy Program of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria. 

The next 10 years are critical. The world must embark on a path to reduce its carbon emissions to zero. Dr Joeri Rogelj

Over his career, he has worked as a project engineer in Rwanda, advised developing countries and small island states on climate science, and held positions at the renowned ETH Zurich and the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research (PIK).

At the Grantham Institute, which has just celebrated its tenth anniversary, Dr Rogelj will develop his research activities and continue to inform the international climate policy debate. We caught up with Dr Rogelj to find out more about his career so far and his hopes for the coming years.

Did you always want to pursue an academic career in climate change-related issues?

It was coincidence that I ended up working in climate change. I spent three years as a project engineer in Rwanda, working on rural electrification and drinking water systems. Working there, it quickly became obvious to me that there was a lack of data about how much water was available, and that climate change could exacerbate the problems vulnerable communities face. This got me interested in understanding the synergies between mitigating the impact of climate change, and sustainable development. Achieving either in isolation doesn’t make sense. 

What do you think has been the biggest change related to climate change over the past few years?

I think the biggest change has been going from the debacle of the Copenhagen climate change summit (COP15) in 2009, to the success of the Paris climate summit (COP21) in 2015. With the Paris Agreement, the international community has a clear vision of where it wants to go in terms of climate policy, and a clear architecture of how it wants to achieve it. It doesn’t mean the job is done, but having this international vision has been one of the key changes in this field.

What would you like to see happen in the next few years? 

Headshot of Joeri RogeljThe next 10 years are critical. The world must embark on a path to reduce its carbon emissions to zero, which is, ultimately, the only way we can stop global warming progressing further. I feel positive about all of the exciting science that’s happening now – and I would like to see it have a big impact on the future. For example, I want to see new technologies like electric vehicles and renewables disrupt the market, be scaled up globally and contribute both to significant emissions reductions and to improved living conditions for people around the globe.

Are you optimistic the world can meet the challenge of climate change?

We have a wide range of options available to us to limit climate change, but they are not all desirable and some have important trade-offs. Dr Joeri Rogelj

I would like to believe that the world can meet the challenge of climate change. I don’t see any unsurmountable technical stumbling blocks here. However, climate change issues don’t necessarily resonate with the general public yet, which means that big and important decisions – decisions that might seem to hurt in the near term – simply won’t be taken. Society will manage, but when and how remains an open question. Choices made today will have a very big impact on what our future looks like.

We have a wide range of options available to us to limit climate change, but they are not all desirable and some have important trade-offs. For example, large-scale, unchecked bioenergy production requires both land and water, and can thus compete with food production and drinking water. Ensuring that we address climate change in a way that keeps other objectives – such as eliminating poverty – intact, is both a challenge and a requirement. The earlier one starts, the better. In an ideal world, we would have started 20 years ago. 

What drew you to the Grantham Institute and why do you think our work is important?

As a scientist, my ambition is that my work is both useful and used. The Grantham Institute is an amplifier for different voices and connects different parts of society – industry, the public sector, academics and students. This encourages the exchange of ideas, both disseminating research and absorbing and understanding concerns from the world and how they impact solutions. I’m eager to become an active part of this microcosm, here at Imperial and beyond.

What do you think is the most effective way to engage people with climate change?

There is no single way to communicate climate science. It depends on the audience. For me, one of the keys to effective engagement is to listen first, and then try to engage people on issues and topics in ways that resonate with what they care about.

What do you do to relax and take you away from your work?

My holiday of choice usually involves mountains. I started climbing a while ago and have had some great adventures. My most memorable trip so far was an expedition in the equatorial Rwenzori massif, the mythical “mountains of the moon” on the Ugandan-Congolese border. The combination of remote wilderness and evidence of the impacts of global warming on glaciers and plant life made a strong impression on me.

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Miss Lottie Butler

Miss Lottie Butler
The Grantham Institute for Climate Change

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Strategy-decision-makers, Climate-change, Environment
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