Interview of Prof. Julian Hunt

Professor Julian Hunt is Chairman and Director of Cambridge Environmental Research Consultants Ltd. He has been a Fellow of the Royal Society since 1989, Visiting Fellow of the Malaysian Commonwealth Studies Centre in the University of Cambridge, Fellow of Trinity College Cambridge, Honorary Professor in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge, a J M Burgers Visiting Professor at Delft University of Technology and Visiting Professor at Arizona State University and Hong Kong University. He is also Emeritus Professor of Climate Modelling in the Department of Earth Sciences. Currently a Sir Gilbert Walker MoES Chair Professor at Centre for Atmospheric Sciences, IIT Delhi Prof Hunt talks to Vanita Srivastava on the problems relating to climate change, the importance of education on environment and more.

  • Climate change is a global threat. How serious is the problem and how can it be mitigated?

    It has now become apparent that significant changes in patterns are already developing, and that these changes vary across the world. These patterns are associated with more extreme climatic events leading to increasing damage caused by storms, floods and droughts over large parts of the world. It is a considerable challenge for science to predict these unprecedented changes. . Computer modelling shows how as megacities become ever larger , the greater the rise in urban temperatures as the air flow moves across these areas reaching its maximum value downwind of the urban centre . As water supplies become more scarce – with lowering water tables, as in Bangalore – it will become impractical to ameliorate the urban ‘heat islands’ with green spaces, which have been shown to reduce mortality in surrounding areas . Although policies for reducing the growth of cities are being attempted in order to control transport pollution and energy, they are proving politically, economically and socially difficult to implement.

    The government of different countries have to be aware of different aspects and connect together. We must think about the various energy solutions. Nuclear Fusion is something we can look at in the future.

  • How important is environment education in the current times? What should be the focus on the education?

    A broad education about the environment should include learning and debating about the uncertainties affecting important environmental issues including both the scientific and practical aspects. There are many ways in which education about the environment should guide and assist societies to plan sustainable futures. Only environmental education will bring about knowledge , pleasure and social behavior that will encourage everyone to make their contributions to preserving the richness of the earth’s natural and also artificial environments Over the past 50 years certain general principles have dominated public decision -making , for example about natural conservation , renewable energy installations, reducing impacts of natural disasters and expansion of agriculture .Decisions have to begin with environmental data and the underlying science before considering the cost- benefits of different policies . Then to guide the subsequent decision-making and public debates, the overarching ‘precautionary ‘ principle is applied , which means that society has to consider whether significant projects they should be modified or even stopped so as to optimize or reduce their environmental impacts. After extensive scientific and political discussion at the UN environmental conference at Rio in 1992, this principle was accepted by all the governments of the UN. However, its application varies considerably across the world,depending on countries’ different views about the environment. For example nuclear power is regarded in some countries as an environmental benefit in reducing carbon emissions, while in other countries it is regarded as an unacceptable environmental risk. Some scientists and educators take a personal as well as a professional role.

  • How are the societies dealing with environmental change?

    How societies are dealing with environmental change around the world relates partly to the historical aspects of their particular social and economic development. For example, in most countries with sparse populations, communities did not have to consider how they might affect the environment, especially over years and centuries. Their main concerns were the environmental dangers affecting their settler or migratory communities, as in Africa and America. This view that the environment does not need special protection has tended to continue even as populations increase .However in areas of the world where there are high concentrations of population, societies have had to use land efficiently for agriculture and for protection against natural disasters. They have to modify and control their natural and artificial environments to ensure that their populations are healthy, prosperous and safe .Where these societies have developed successfully, their social behaviour has been a vital aspect of their relationship with nature , as Asian rural societies have shown with their practice of intensive rice-based agricultural collaboration . The question for the future is whether equally stable forms of social and environmental behaviour are also developing in thehigh-risk artificial environments of mega cities.

  • Can you brief about the Asian Network for Climate Science and Technology?

    There has been a need to have a modelling that caters specifically to the Asian region. The Asian Network on Climate Science and Technology (ANCST) is hosted by UniversitiKebangsaan Malaysia’s Southeast Asia Disaster Prevention Research Initiative (SEADPRI-UKM) which also serves as the coordination centre, with support from the Cambridge Malaysian Education and Development Trust (CMEDT) in Association with the Malaysian Commonwealth Studies Centre (MCSC) of Trinity College, University of Cambridge. There are several networks on climate change and disaster risk reduction operating in Asia. ANCST aims to bridge these networks and link policy and decision makers, practitioners, non-government organisations as well as researchers. The setup of ANCST includes an International Scientific Advisory Committee and an International Steering Committee. The scope of ANCST encompasses the broad areas of climate science and technology with particular emphasis on disaster resilience, extreme climate events, urban climate change and related topics.