Jorge Moreno and action for the climate: “Planting trees is not the only solution”

Jorge Moreno (Madrid, 1992) works at the Basque Centre for Climate Change, specifically in the European project H2020 Paris Reinforce for climate change. This aeronautical engineer, almost a doctor, is investigating the relationship between each of the Sustainable Development Goals.

A big fan of the mending and repairing of clothing or personal items, his applied intelligence can remove more than one preconceived idea and foster a more global way of thinking. Clearly, you can be one of our leaders of the future.

You say that one is not born knowing, why?

When you choose a university degree, you are 17 or 18 years old. You are exposed to many environments that may not allow you to know yourself or make such an important decision well. Even if you like the subject.

Jorge Moreno: “Planting trees is not the solution.”

Quique Falcon

When did you come into contact with the problem of climate change?

I soon felt that the exits that the aeronautical career offered me were not for me. And that he wasn’t going to be motivated enough to get them. When I was done, exploring a bit, I studied a series of courses. In the end, I got a scholarship to study in London for a master’s degree in Environmental Engineering, and that was what helped me to redirect my professional career.

Did this master’s degree open your eyes?

Yes, it was very transdisciplinary. I studied with people who came from careers other than mine, such as Philology. However, I liked that we all had the perspective of understanding climate change as something very transversal. It gave me an overview of what the main challenges were and allowed me to access other places. Science has the complex of contributing more to these issues than the humanities.

Historically, scientists have been in their ivory tower, researching things that only mattered to them. To move forward, it is necessary that the science being investigated is relevant to society, and at the same time there is a process that allows citizens to approach it.

What does your personal research consist of?

In analyzing the impacts that greenhouse gas mitigation and reduction strategies would have on the SDGs and what are the connections with them. It is a bit to study the relationship between SDG 13 (climate action) with the rest of the objectives.

Are you seeing that we tend to common places on the issue of climate change?

Yes, recently climate change has been simplified to greenhouse gases. Adopting a strategy to reduce these gases may not be compatible with other areas and have negative consequences. That is, a manager, a politician or a businessman, despite having every good intention, could be doing it frankly wrong.

For instance?

Many natural solutions have been proposed, such as planting lots of trees. Also technological solutions that it is not known if on a large scale they will be feasible. There are a number of consequences that are important to consider in order to choose the correct strategy.

A strategy based on society being more responsible in consumption manages to greatly reduce environmental impacts

How can you study the impact of a strategy beforehand?

I work with models that simulate the implementation of certain environmental policies. These foresee what will be the course of the next few years, and whether they will allow us to comply with the Paris Agreement, reduce the increase in temperature and analyze the consequences on the other SDGs.

Is everything related then?

A recent report warned that the climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis are two sides of the same coin. Strategies cannot be directed towards one without the other having consequences.

It is important to analyze the role of biodiversity, access to water, food … many solutions go through biofuels, and that puts more pressure on the soil, which makes it more difficult. The problem is of such magnitude that a single simple solution will not solve it, many different solutions are needed on a small scale.

So it’s not always okay to plant trees.

There is a vision that a tree is the solution to everything, but there are many ecosystems for which it is detrimental to have them. There is biodiversity that grows as a result of having a light, and that there are trees prevents it from reaching, or increases the chances of fires.

What is undesirable is altering ecosystems. If there have never been trees in a region, putting them in now does not automatically create an ecosystem rich in biodiversity. As in other forest systems that have been there for years.

What does it conflict with?

With soils that are used for agriculture, for example. If we remove fields to put trees in, we are making less space available for food. There are a number of connections that I find very interesting to analyze from a climate change perspective.

Does the quantitative win here then?

The area that I handle is more quantitative for the impact that certain policies have over time. There are others that are more social or understand what dynamics can lead certain population groups to accept greenhouse gas mitigation strategies.

Governments have to incentivize behaviors to reduce consumption levels

Do you believe in the SDGs?

The SDGs are a continuation of the Millennium Goals. When in 2030 there are still challenges, surely a similar or improved agenda will be created, which will mark the lines of sustainable development for us.

Could one of those lines be how to address the challenges precipitated by climate refugees?

The term climate refugee is not correct. On the one hand, the word refugee implies that there is a legal cover that in reality there is not. At the moment, the Geneva Convention does not contemplate displacement caused by climate causes. Also, the word climate refers exclusively to changes in the weather.

From the Spanish Commission for Refugee Aid (CEAR), we are trying to carry out an awareness campaign that broadens the concept, since what they are is environmentally displaced, because they do not have legal coverage. But not only do they migrate for climatic causes, there are others that have to do with environmental degradation.

The vast majority of people move from a rural environment to cities, within their own country. There are cases in which these displacements are not produced by the increase in extreme weather conditions, but rather because extractive companies often carry out large projects and damage the livelihood of these populations. There are cases in Latin America and Africa. Many times this is done in the name of progress and even renewables.

As for responsibilities, what do you think?

It would be interesting, more than passing the hot potato to each other, to see what the connections are between the groups. The way we consume has a lot of impact on companies.

Consuming is a political act. How much we consume and who has a very big impact and companies know it. That is why they dedicate a large part of their resources to advertising.

Over the years, will this situation improve?

I think if. Years ago there was a lot of tobacco advertising. The companies knew that it was harmful to health, but the economic benefits prevailed. Over time it was regulated. Now with climate change something similar happens.

There are activities that are very harmful to the environment, but they are advertised freely. For decades, American extraction companies have had reports showing that gases are causing changes in the climate. However, they did nothing to them because that would detract from their benefits.

What can we do as consumers?

As consumers we have a lot of power. However, governments have to redirect a bit and encourage behaviors to reduce the levels of consumption that we are having. As well as slightly limiting the activity of companies whose priority is in profits.

The government has to accompany, so that we can assume that there are a series of behaviors that are more committed to the environment than others.

The climate problem is of such magnitude that a single simple solution will not solve it

According to your data, is our behavior a key part of the solution?

In the studies that I am doing for my thesis, I am seeing that a strategy based on society having a more responsible consumption manages to greatly reduce environmental impacts.

And what does society support and what does it not?

In France or Switzerland, it has recently been seen that measures aimed at reducing environmental impact and curbing climate change are not being carried out because society does not support them.

In France there is the example of the yellow vests and in Switzerland the referendum on the climate change law. Involving citizens in these processes is essential to increase the legitimacy of these types of policies.

What about the researchers? What responsibility do you think they do not assume?

Many times we complain about the precarious situation of the researchers. I think it is not our fault, but we must do our part to communicate better and make the topics more attractive, which also attract more funding.

You were working on a think tank associated with the UN.

Yes, it is like a research center but at the same time it has outreach and awareness tasks. In this specific case, we analyzed the progress of the countries towards the SDGs. We collected data on indicators and made reports, seeking a comprehensive and holistic vision of the challenges of the 2030 agenda.

Which countries were the most advanced in achieving the SDGs?

In the SDGs there are environmental, economic and social objectives. The socially and economically highly advanced countries had the greatest environmental impacts. The Nordic countries were above the ranking, but in some cases they have a large extractive industry or are worse in another respect.

The problem is that high environmental standards are required at the European level and then there are no obstacles to imports from countries where there are lower standards.

Do you think that the storm Filomena was a consequence of climate change?

Something had to do with it for sure, it is very daring to say that Filomena was caused by climate change, but that it has influenced it is clear. There are more than objective data, for example, that in recent years there have been higher temperatures on Earth.

I believe that the facts are undeniable. But it is not good to reduce the consequences of climate change to something so concrete.

Something or someone you admire?

I follow Yayo Herrero a lot, a technical agronomist and anthropologist with a tremendous communication work.

You say we have the scale of values ​​out of order, why?

Yes, the scale of values ​​is a bit messy and we realize it in situations like the pandemic. What did we miss when we were locked up? To the people, to see us, to touch us …

Jorge Moreno: Governments have to encourage behaviors to reduce consumption levels.

Jorge Moreno: “Governments have to encourage behaviors to reduce consumption levels.”

Quique Falcon

In the image that opens this interview, Jorge Moreno holds the poster corresponding to SDG 13 (action for climate). Define his biography in four nouns that would be: luck, motivation, diversity and enthusiasm. Although it would also add self-knowledge, as it is key to “try to get out of your comfort zone a little and see where you feel more comfortable,” he explains.

They often ask him if he does not have negative feelings, since they all row against it, making their fight more difficult. However, he responds that for his work “it is important not to fall into pessimism.”

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