Cancún 2010

Climate Change: “after Cancún the chances are better”

Logo der Weltklimakonferenz 2010Logo of the World Conference on Climate Change 2010Surprisingly, the international community finally did agree at the World Climate Protection Conference in Cancún on steps for a new convention and for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. An interview with the Political Director of the NGO Germanwatch, Christoph Bals, who was an on-the-scene observer.

Mr Bals, the breakthrough in Mexico came literally at the last minute, when most delegates had already mentally adjusted themselves to the failure of another UN climate conference. How was that?

Well, climate conferences are designed so that the decision comes only on the last night. I could see the compromise coming since early in the morning. Still, I was glad of the breakthrough, even if it’s clear that much more is needed.

The signatory countries of the Kyoto Protocol have now agreed to intensify negotiations so that after its expiration in 2010 it can be smoothly continued and sights can be set on a limitation of the rise of global temperature to two degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Can we be satisfied with this result, especially as concrete resolutions on emissions reduction are lacking and the voluntary commitments made by the industrialised countries last year in Copenhagen were only “taken notice of” in the Cancún Agreement?

Christoph Bals; Foto: German WatchThe results go very much beyond Copenhagen. First, no one still knows what was actually promised in detail in the voluntary commitments at Copenhagen – the statements about this have been too unspecific. That should be clarified within the next few months in a formal process. Second, we also said jointly that these minimal targets aren’t enough. The industrialised countries should amend their targets so that their emissions are reduced by 2020 not by 12 to 16 per cent, but rather by 25 to 40 per cent. Between 2013 and 2015, moreover, there will be an international review process pertaining to what gaps still exist for the two degrees limit and how they can be closed. This paves the way for a dual strategy: on the one hand, in consensus (also with the United States), to resolve upon minimum targets, but then to go further with pioneer coalitions. The change in strategy is urgently needed.

The EU has already agreed to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 by 20 to 30 per cent compared to 1990. But apart from the fact that this commitment isn’t legally binding, in order to achieve the two degrees goal all industrialised countries must, according to experts, reduce their CO2 emissions by 40 per cent, and by 2050 even by over 80 per cent. Isn’t that illusory?

The EU target of reducing its emissions by 2020 by 20 per cent has long been legally established. Next year there will be a struggle to amend the target to 30 per cent. After Cancún, the chances for this are better. It would be desirable that on top of that we saddle a financing of rain forest conservation, so that we can approach the 40 per cent goal.

Practically all studies of the last two years show that more is possible than we thought was a few years ago. An 80 to 95 per cent CO2 reduction by 2050 helps not only the climate: in times of increasing oil scarcity, energy efficiency and renewable energy guarantee energy security. And they will become a job motor of ever greater extent. The pioneer cities and districts are already looking forward to the regional value creation.

The Scientific Advisory Council of the German Federal Government estimated in its budget expenditure a world-wide reduction of the yearly CO2 emissions to a maximum of 750 billion tons by 2050. That would come to three tons annually per capita. Developed countries emit today 20 tons per person and so live at the expense of the developing countries. What has to be done for a fair balance?

The 750 billion tons are on that estimate the total amount of CO2 which may be emitted by 2050 if we don’t want to break the two degrees limit set for the first time in Cancún and take potentially unmanageable risks. By 2050 accordingly, emissions per capita a year should approach one tone of CO2 – in developed as well as in emerging countries. The challenge is a big one, but affordable. The challenges are much bigger if we don’t act decisively.

How would you rate Germany’s role at Cancún? Despite criticism of the energy concept of the federal government, Germany still sees itself as a pioneer in climate protection. The German experts negotiated well. The Environment Minister said nothing wrong, but he didn’t provide the strategic direction to the degree needed.

Christoph Bals, born in 1960, studied theology, economics and philosophy. He is a co-initiator of numerous climate and development policy initiatives, including being a founding member of Germanwatch, a non-governmental organisation which has been committed since 1991 to North-South equity and the preservation of natural resources.

Roland Detsch
conducted the interview. He is a freelance editor, journalist and writer based in Landshut and Munich.

Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
January 2011

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