Interview with Teresa Ribera , director of IDDRI and speaker at Sustainable Brands Barcelona

Teresa, is there anyone out there who still denies climate change and its severity?

What a difficult question! Surely, but as it happened with many other issues in history: if the Earth was round or flat, if smoking affects health or not… I think the important thing is that the level of certainty about the significance and causes of what happens is so big, that it’s a huge irresponsibility not to act with the intensity that is required.

Some time ago in one of your articles we could read that climate change threatens the most basic human rights: the right to life, liberty and security of persons. However, we feel that this only happens in developing countries. Do we have a wrong perception? How is it already affecting us?

Difficulties always affect more those who are more vulnerable, so we feel that this is a problem mainly in developing countries. But the truth is that it affects us too directly and indirectly. Directly because of the extreme increase of the weather phenomena and thereby also the heat waves and the floods. Indirectly because major droughts can affect food production, generating humanitarian crises, mass migrations, increases in the prices of basic food. This neither are linear effects in time nor we still live with the intensity that are describing the models, but we are able to project the impact it would have on our lives and on those of our children. Who can look to his child’s face knowing it may have to live dramatic situations that are our fault?

What is the interest in making us believe that this is temporary and only affects the poor countries?

I think it is mainly ignorance and prejudice, as something theological. Along with that comes the shortsighted interest of those who can act, where savings and investments are placed and what political difficulties may be to explain the need to undertake a great revolution of energy and lifestyles… It’s not easy. Apparently, it is easier to park your problem and wait until its effects are imminent. But it is an irresponsible delusion because reactively glossing over its effects is much more expensive and on top we have to rely on the inertia of the climatic system that can make it impossible to maintain the climatic conditions necessary for human life as we know it today.

So far, business initiatives and relevant brands give the feeling of having a limited affect. Should these initiatives become a standard action, a legal obligation? Would they end up paying no taxes, as many do now, but rather environmental?

I think you have to guide the regulation and the tax system to make more attractive what we need and hinder what hurts us. Broadly, the challenge is to transform the “pilot case” that are representing some “good business practices” in new economic normality.

Did the climate summit give you the impression that we started thinking as “a species,” or that countries still keep on working for their shortsighted economic interests? Perhaps because those interests are also focusing the wrong way and the climatic solution is also a business opportunity…

I think there are two messages of importance: talking about the climate is talking about the environment and about the different conditions in developing a business. It is important to understand that talking about the climate is talking about my and your wellbeing, about how to guarantee access to the rights and benefits of a healthy environment and about how we manage to choose the costs associated with their destruction.

What would you say has been the most positive impact of this summit? Can something of the agreement change the current course of things?

Sometimes I think it is underestimated how difficult it is to agree on how to transform our development model from very different situations and the value of preserving a platform where everyone is represented. The Lima Summit has confirmed that all countries will contribute to the collective effort. Doesn’t anyone remember when this seemed as an impossible task and limited to just a few?

Of all the obstacles that must be removed to reach a solution to the climate change, what are the easiest to overcome, and what are the most difficult ones?

As paradoxical as it may be the simplest are knowledge and technology and the most difficult are the ones of human behavior, the shortsighted mentality and inertia. It costs a lot to think positive, trusting in our ability and willingness to act collectively.

Is the information about the summit effectively reaching citizens, those who are able to change governments, buy products and save energy? And is it reaching those who execute policies, of companies, institutions and governments?

The truth is that you’re right with that. We are doing something wrong so that the climate summits continues giving us the impression of a connivance of officials wasting time and nobody understands what they do or what it serves for. We have to think of how to explain things so that they are understandable and in a way that everyone can ask more questions and seek for the answers responsibly. The position of governments and businesses is also important: a manager of a business that is not planing how climate change will affect his company and how he can adapt it to this development should be fired for being irresponsible. Politicians who are not even bothered to consider it or even make little jokes of questionable taste are shameful and should be sentenced by their voters for their irresponsibility.

Much is said, for example, about the aid for renewable energies, but a recent report notes that there are subsidized nonrenewable energies, in particular, coal, gas and oil. Why does these data not reach the general public?

Because we live in a time in which the system protects the innovator, the one who intends to participate in the system, who accepts all risks and overruns, with the added burden of having regrettable and smear campaigns whilst advancing. There may be errors in managing the transition because there does not exist an instruction manual that explains how to get rid of fossil fuels and achieve a 100% effective renewable system, but what we are experiencing is a real battle for the positions of a sector very important in the economy. A complex sector technically and financially, in the hands of a few large companies that suddenly face a future with a very different business model, in which the consumer is the producer and where there are no longer only a few who are able to engage in business. There may also be social tensions that need attention. I believe that we are facing a very profound transformation in which we must not only think on how to manage the entry of the new model but also how to manage the output of what is not worthy for us, without neglecting the most vulnerable social groups in this step of change.

We would like you to offer us a sentence or data that affected you lately and that helps us to understand in what situation we really are.

Many of the most influential world’s climatologists are convinced that the 2°C target is out of reach. All experts in climate, in emissions models all over the world agree that in whatever scenario there is no time to lose, neither a risk of overreacting. The sense of urgency that is transmitted impacts exceedingly. I would say it is overwhelming. It is dramatic.

Why do you think events such as Sustainable Brands are important?

Because only if we understand that it is our collective behavior as consumers and voters who have the strength to change things, we can achieve the mobilization we need.

What would you like to happen in Sustainable Brands?

That all participants publicly assume a concrete commitment and accept external monitoring of compliance. I think we need to generate “positive envy” differentiate ourselves by doing more and better and help collectively win the confidence we need to accelerate the change that is inevitable. Will we manage it responsibly or react in any way and at any price when there is no other choice?