“It is not too late to avoid disaster and build a livable future for all” (Magali Reghezza-Zitt)
You are a member of the Supreme Council for Climate. Your work focuses on the concepts of sustainability and adaptation, two topics that are still young. Can you define scope and provide specific applications?
Magali Reghezza-Zitt I work on disaster risk reduction related to natural phenomena, mainly floods. I have also worked on cyclones, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. I study not physical processes, but how they affect societies and territories, and how to deploy responses that are more or less effective at the time and more or less adapted in the medium and long term. This leads me to understand both the use of available resources and the way various stakeholders seize the technical, legal and financial tools at their disposal to create risk adaptation strategies. Being a geographer, I am very interested in planning, that is, how societies organize their living space, locating people, activities, infrastructure, and building relationships between different places. A climate that is rapidly changing as a result of human activity has already felt consequences on the intensity, frequency, earliness, and duration of the physical processes whose effects I study. I try to look at how societies are responding to these impacts of the climate crisis. It is because of this experience that I was appointed to the Supreme Council for Climate.
You advocate green planning. What do you expect from the state strategist in this field?
MR-Z. We always pit the national against the local. But we need both. It is the responsibility of the state to determine the main directions by setting priorities, goals, time steps, directing investments, human and financial resources, checking the compatibility between laws and regulatory texts. This strategic management must be based on scientific knowledge, which makes possible a sound diagnosis of the problem to be solved today and a clear assessment of the costs as well as the benefits of the various responses that already exist. Only strong, cross-departmental management, with regular evaluation, focusing on basic fairness in the distribution of effort, support and benefits from action, can enable us to stay on course and have the necessary cross-cutting vision. This is planning: which activates all the levers (technical, legal, fiscal, economic, social, environmental) and different sectors (energy, buildings, transport, agriculture, industry, but also water, tourism, risk prevention, crisis management), different issues (health, procurement, housing, education and training, employment, security, welfare, democracy), different levels of territorial authorities, when to arbitrate. Then the movement is necessarily territorialized, that is, it is carried out, negotiated, carried out in territories and adapted to local characteristics.
The city of Le Mans knows the climate of Bordeaux today, Strasbourg the climate of Lyon yesterday. Our weather maps are changing faster than we can imagine. Faced with this, the population adapts: for their holidays, the French now prefer the coolness of Brittany to the dryness of the Var. Do you think this movement will accelerate in the future?
MR-Z. There will be great transformations, recompositions, the degree of which we have not sufficiently measured. Certain areas will become more difficult to develop and inhabit with rising sea levels, reduced snow cover, drying, and increased extremes of heat, dryness, or humidity. A question of affordability, that is, the costs we are willing to pay collectively and individually to maintain the status quo and even just to ensure their security, will emerge. By “cost” I mean social, financial, legal and environmental costs. This is not only a technical or scientific problem, but a political one. There will be choices, shifts, shifts. The longer we delay, the more urgent these choices will be made and the narrower the range of possible options.
More broadly, has the tourism sector really got the measure of the upheaval?
MR-Z. Not enough, especially not to mention the costs of the transition, that is, the effects of the transition itself. For example, tourism is based on mobility. Declining emissions, while the energy crisis is driving up travel costs. Tourism is also based on values and perceptions. These values change quickly. Activities that are considered polluting, emit high levels of greenhouse gases (GHG), and destroy biodiversity can quickly lose their appeal. It’s not just about the weather. We have seen acts of tourist rejection in many areas. A changing climate is putting additional pressure on a system already greatly destabilized by the Covid-19 crisis and structural weaknesses.
Another important field of activity: agriculture. In this case, French farmers are finding it difficult to come to terms with these shocks. The sector is suffering. Fed up with episodes of frost, flooding and drought, many close. How exactly can they be helped?
MR-Z. By stopping agrobashing and political manipulation. By making a diagnosis of weakness on a case-by-case basis. Standing to maintain the myth that we can systematically bifurcate the economy in terms of production and consumption. Our agricultural model is not sustainable. We didn’t wait until the climate crisis to see that the agricultural world is in bad shape, that the current system is unprofitable for many farmers, and that the health consequences are costly not only for natural environments or animals, but also for people. There is know-how, skills, will. Far from caricature, there are many examples of farmers, elected officials, consumers, agronomists, engineers, associations, public services building new models with benefits such as health, biodiversity, water, climate, but also purchasing power, food. quality, local development is demonstrated. Helping farmers means supporting the agricultural world with diverse, case-by-case solutions. Directs investment. It is fair value for the services agroecology (but not limited to organic) provides to society. This means making farmers the solution to global warming through mitigation (through direct emissions reductions and capture) and their central role in adaptation.
This summer, water scarcity was felt throughout the country. To deal with this, FNSEA is now advocating for the proliferation of catchments for quick and easy access to the resource. But some rebel and condemn the “simplistic” solution. Do you think the idea is that good?
MR-Z. Basins, like any form of artificial storage, can be a local, precise, answer. But under conditions. First, systematic impact studies. Above all, these basins should be protected for replacement irrigation in severe drought and crisis situations or in summer. Since they are very expensive, there is a high risk of being used to increase irrigation. If their water is systematically used outside the summer season, it will be of no use during the drought. Moreover, they are unfit for future multi-year droughts. They can be used for the first year, but if there is a shortage of filling layers, we will not be able to fill them anymore. It is absolutely necessary to work on the storage of water in the basements and the preservation of the underground water, which is already in a very poor condition. If basins remain water-dependent, leading to prolonged irrigation rushes, imprisoning agriculture in the status quo, then there will be a mismatch.
Champagne producers are now looking to the south of England to grow their grapes. Sweden, Norway and Canada are becoming agricultural countries where wheat grows like never before. In this rapidly changing agrarian geography, to which we dedicate the article (p. 60), is France necessarily the loser?
MR-Z. Nothing is written. But the longer the adaptation takes, the more we blame our farmers. Either we tackle the root causes of agriculture’s vulnerability to a changing climate, a changing economic and geopolitical context, the evolution of consumer practices and values, the necessary exit from fossil fuels, and the destruction of biodiversity; or we decide to fix things and condemn ourselves to chasing crises that will weaken the agricultural world more and more.
Faced with the dangers ahead and the scale of the turmoil already underway, some are giving up, saying “it will be too late.” Contrary to popular belief, would you say that optimism is needed to combat global warming?
MR-Z. Of course! Solutions are known, effective, applicable, evaluated, available. Globally, capital is available and sufficient, as long as the investments are directed in a direction that works. It is scientifically proven that inaction costs more than action, and a fair and therefore tested and fairly accompanied transition will benefit purchasing power, health, employment, housing, education, quality of life. Each fraction of an additional degree of warming increases the risks exponentially. Each tenth of a degree counts. It is not too late to avoid disaster and build a livable future for all today. And we are not talking about the end of the century, but the next two decades.
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