3 questions to Philippe Drobinski

Published on 26 February 2020

Graduated with an engineer degree from Ecole Centrale de Lille and with a PhD from Ecole Polytechnique, Philippe Drobinski is a CNRS Research Director and Professor at the Ecole Polytechnique. Since 2016, he heads the Dynamic Meteorology Laboratory (CNRS, Ecole Polytechnique Ecole Normale Supérieure, Sorbonne University). His research focuses on climate change and energy transition in the Mediterranean. He has coordinated numerous national and international programs on climate variability and change in the Mediterranean and their impacts on water and energy. In 2019, he created the Energy4Climate Interdisciplinary Centre at Institut Polytechnique de Paris, which objective is to respond with an interdisciplinary approach to the systemic challenges of climate mitigation in the energy sector. He is the author of more than 160 book chapters and articles in international peer-reviewed journals. At Ecole Polytechnique, he teaches courses on climate change and energy transition both in the Polytechnicien cycle and at Master’s level. He is also responsible for an executive training course on energy transition.

What are your research topics?

My research topics focus on the variability and evolution of the Mediterranean climate. Indeed, the Mediterranean region is a “hot spot” of global warming with a regional evolution of warming 20% faster than at the global level. It is a region that is also becoming drier with a downward trend in average annual rainfall, while at the same time extreme rainfall is increasing in intensity, causing flash floods. Understanding the mechanisms which make the Mediterranean the region of all extremes (droughts, heat waves, fires, extreme rainfall and floods) is a key issue to improve their forecast, to anticipate their impacts and quantify their evolution in a context of climate change. All this requires the development of ad-hoc modelling tools and the analysis of very large quantities of measures collected either during measurement campaigns or routinely by meteorological services and satellites. It is in this context that I coordinated for more than 10 years with Véronique Ducrocq, a researcher at Météo-France, the international HyMeX programme on the water cycle in the Mediterranean.

The nature and extent of the current and future impacts of climate change on the Mediterranean region force us to accelerate the energy transition in the countries of this region to ensure a sustainable and inclusive development trajectory. This imperative has led me to reinvest my work in terms of predictability, variability and evolution of energy production and consumption in the region, but also to develop decision-support tools in terms of forecasting and integrated climate-energy modelling for forecasting purposes. Climate change analysis and the development of energy transition scenarios must be approached in an integrated and systemic manner. It is with this conviction that I created the Energy4Climate Interdisciplinary Centre, which brings together 26 laboratories from the Institut Polytechnique de Paris and the Ecole des Ponts.

What can a multidisciplinary vision bring to the fight against climate change?

The issue of climate change is systemic. Proof lies in the organization of IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) into 3 working groups. Group 1 studies the physical principles of climate change, group 2 studies the impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change, and group 3 studies ways to mitigate climate change. It is important that the disciplines making up these working groups collaborate in a cross-cutting manner. Change management, including analysis of socio-technical feasibility, the strong interweaving of key economic sectors of climate change, and the development of scenarios integrating both adaptation and mitigation measures, require a systemic and interdisciplinary approach. The Chair in Economy-Climate provides a framework for multidisciplinary exchanges in the direction of systemic thinking.

What opportunity do you see for future exchanges with the members of the Chair’s Steering Committee?

The fight against climate change is based on inclusive action because we are all, individuals and organizations, causes of the problem and sources of solutions. The Orientation Committee is composed of representatives from the key sectors of climate change: the financial, energy and agricultural sectors. They have a major role to play in accelerating the transformation towards a carbon-free society. This committee is an excellent forum for interaction to discuss solutions in a systemic way. As my illustrious predecessor and friend Jean Jouzel did, I will provide the committee with the necessary insights regarding the evolution of climate change and its causes. By putting a climatologist in the chair of this committee, we will ensure that the focus of attention will be our common good, which is the Earth. I am therefore looking forward to the work of this committee and to providing the Chair’s scientists with support to conduct their excellent research on the basis of sound advice from interdisciplinary and multisectoral thinking.