The heat wave that has been hitting France since Thursday reached its peak on Monday, but the heat wave is moving east of the country on Tuesday and 73 departments remain on orange alert. In Gironde, two gigantic fires, which are still not under control, have already burned 19,000 hectares of vegetation.

The United Kingdom is also experiencing an unprecedented heat wave, with temperatures likely to exceed 40°C on Tuesday. This heat wave also affects all of Western Europe, also causing forest fires in Spain or Portugal.

The proliferation of extreme weather events is a direct consequence of climate change, according to scientists, with greenhouse gas emissions increasing in intensity, duration and frequency.

Geographer Magali Reghezza-Zitt, member of the High Council for Climate (HCC), answered questions from readers of Le Monde on how to adapt to climate change.

Magali Reghezza-Zitt: There are many adaptation solutions, depending on the city. Actions may first concern buildings and infrastructure. In the future, we will either build using new materials, inventing new forms, new techniques, or renovate what already exists. For buildings, for example, we will insulate to guarantee the summer comfort of housing. I insist on the infrastructures, because they undergo the effects of the heat: the roads, rails, various networks serve us in our daily life.

Beyond the specific action, we will rework the shape of the cities, the allocation of spaces to this or that activity. Nature-based solutions are to be preferred for their co-benefits and for their reversible nature: we talk a lot about revegetation, for example. The idea is to start from one-off actions, which will be based on technical innovations, but also changes in individual and collective practices, to develop a global development project that addresses several risks at the same time, avoids maladapations (roughly, when the solutions are bad in the long or medium term) and which allows to have co-benefits.

Thus, revegetation has positive consequences on health, including mental health, biodiversity, etc. Action on housing makes it possible to fight against fuel poverty, improve general comfort and fight against poor housing.

There is therefore not one solution, but several solutions, which will depend on the territories, the risks to which they are exposed, their resources, the needs and wishes of the inhabitants, the balance between the local powers, the relations between the public and private, the history of urban space, existing inequalities, etc.

Air conditioning is the typical example of a maladaptation. We must first remember that in some cases, at least for the moment, it is impossible to do without it. I am thinking of hospitals and nursing homes. On the other hand, the longer we delay in starting the renovation aimed at summer comfort, the more we condemn ourselves to air conditioning.

Then, the question of the balance between incentive and constraint does indeed arise. The increase in the cost of energy will possibly weigh on the use of air conditioning. We can also think of consumer pressure and the risks to the image of certain companies. My sociologist colleagues would explain to you that individual actions, which are necessary, must also be underpinned by collective dimensions: information, incentives, sometimes coercion. I refer you to the excellent podcast of Le Monde, “Human Heat”, ideal for learning in these hot weather!

The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 is now well defined in France by the national low carbon strategy (SNBC). We’re on number two, and number three is coming. This strategy includes five sectors with targets at the national level. It is also the mission of the High Council for the Climate to assess compliance with the trajectories announced to meet France’s international commitments.

At the same time, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published the third part of its sixth assessment report at the start of the year. In this report, the different solutions are evaluated on the basis of the scientific literature for the different greenhouse gases (not only CO2) of anthropogenic origin. The issue of carbon sequestration, capture, geo-engineering is also assessed. And the co-benefits are mentioned.

You will find many articles, blogs, Twitter feeds that popularize this report. And I refer you again to the Le Monde podcast, in particular the intervention of Céline Guivarch, who is also a member of the HCC, who reminds us that we can meet the climate objectives (1.5°C at the end of the century) by implementing place these solutions, which also offer co-benefits (health, employment, quality of life, training, etc.) without compromising human development in territories and social groups that are currently underdeveloped.

Several things can be said about this. First of all, the battle is not lost, it is even quite the opposite. The IPCC report demonstrates, on the basis of scientifically established facts, that it is possible to contain global warming within the limit of 1.5°C. This is attenuation. The solutions exist, they are applicable, they also make it possible to have co-benefits. I insist, because it is often forgotten.

Then, the climate has already changed since 1900: 1.7°C for France. Faced with a changing environment, with intensifying impacts, it is necessary to put in place responses to minimize the negative impacts. It’s adaptation. I would point out that we must also adapt to the erosion of biodiversity, to pollution, to the various and varied crises that we are going through. In the past, humans were able to adapt. It didn’t come without breakages (deaths, financial and environmental costs, etc.).

The problem today is that the pace is very fast, too much sometimes. For example, ecosystems are under severe strain. We can support their adaptation, but at some point they are pushed to their limit. That’s why we have to do both: fight to contain climate change within limits that do not jeopardize biodiversity, which is for us humans a vital resource (regardless of the other values ​​we can grant it) and develop responses to limit the impacts as much as possible, by protecting the weakest, who are already victims.

The IPCC is an intergovernmental organization, which therefore brings together States. States appoint scientists recognized in their field, who are volunteers, and who will assess the state of knowledge on the basis of everything that has been published according to the standards of scientific production. The IPCC thus relies on several tens of thousands of peer-reviewed articles and publications.

The IPCC doesn’t recommend anything, it doesn’t advocate anything, and it doesn’t do research (it’s not a mega-lab, if you will). Once the report is written, the summary for decision makers is then validated verbatim (yes, yes) by each government. In this summary, the governments cannot write what is not written in the report (which is thousands of pages). On the other hand, certain points of the report may not appear there.

HCC is different. It is an independent body (I want it) with thirteen experts (exercise scientists, engineers, etc.) who rely on a secretariat composed of analysts. The HCC independently assesses (I still want to) the achievement of France’s climate objectives in terms of mitigation and adaptation (a little more complicated, because there are not really such clear objectives than for the SNBC).

We accompany the evaluation with recommendations. Each year, we submit an annual report to which the government must respond within six months. We can also seize subjects and be seized by the assemblies. Our reports are public and our webinars are great (I’m advertising). And if you have Twitter, follow our members, they make some really great extension threads…

The question of water is absolutely central. Human-caused climate change adds to natural variability for wet and dry extremes and combines with pollution and the biodiversity crisis. When we talk about water resources, we must consider all these dimensions. In the territories, it has always been necessary to manage quantity (in relation to demand and, therefore, to needs and uses) and quality. You also have to look at access to the resource: not everyone has access to the same water everywhere. Water is a resource for which we must pay, for example.

Schematically, human-caused climate change is increasing pressure on territories where water resources were already under pressure. At the same time, there may be degradation of this resource (in quantity or quality) where it previously existed satisfactorily in relation to needs. Added to this are the developments specific to the territories: demography, economy, individual and collective values, etc.

The challenge is therefore to guarantee access to water in sufficient quantity and quality, in a more constrained context, which implies arbitrating and prioritizing needs, and with the same options as for the rest: gaining efficiency while developing a sobriety of uses (and avoiding waste), fairly distributing the effort, protecting the vulnerable, etc. It is also a question of paying attention to maladaptations, which lock in emissions and destroy biodiversity or the soil.

In concrete terms, the question of water is an old problem, with already multiple instruments: whether it concerns risk prevention, management of aquatic environments, the great water cycle, we have regulatory instruments, legal, normative, governance bodies (role of basin agencies, role of local water committees, SAGE, SDAGE, etc.), technical solutions (including nature-based solutions), etc., but there is a lack of coherence and more regular evaluation, which fully integrates the changing climate.

I ask myself the question every day. I hear the anguish of students, young people, now toddlers. I step out of my role as a scientist to share an opinion based solely on my experience. I don’t have the miracle solution, but I have the impression that speaking, putting words on what is happening, proposing appropriate popularization materials that show the state of knowledge and the solutions, also showing that we, adults, we don’t give up, that we each try to act at our microscopic level, without opposing but by showing that what brings us together is greater than what separates us, not to lie, to say that this does not It is not won, that it is not and will not be easy, but that thousands of people are mobilizing and taking action, well that helps. I hope so, anyway.