Climate Summit in Durban – A Paradigm Change hasn’t yet Prevailed
Mr Harmeling, no one talks any more about climate protection and the limits of growth. They were last on the agenda in Berlin at the beginning of July, when Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a follow-up agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, but Environment Minister Röttgen already seems to anticipate difficulties and has voiced doubts about a major breakthrough at Durban. What place does the climate summit now have on government agenda, and what are its goals?
It’s already obvious that at present the short-term crisis – that is, the financial and debt crisis – has drawn a large part of political attention to itself. We must guard against this leading us to run with open eyes deeper into the climate and energy crisis. Let’s not forget that in Germany, despite the financial crisis, a serious and irreversible change in energy policy has been initiated, for whose success politics, economics and society must actively cooperate if it isn’t to go down in history as a failed experiment. That would be fatal for international climate protection.
The Durban conference is about making concrete the resolutions of last year’s climate summit in Cancún – for example, the Green Climate Fund and other institutions in areas touching on the adjustment to climate change and on technology. But the bigger construction site is working on putting the climate regime on a broader basis, which better reflects today’s realities. A second period of commitment to Kyoto – here the EU plays a key role – is a central element, but would have a real effect on the climate only with concomitant improvements of the Protocol and a more extensive obligation of the United States and emerging economies. At the same time, the foundation must be laid for higher ambitions in climate protection, because time is getting shorter and shorter.
Climate policy paradigm change in Europe
In the meantime the election primary battles have begun in the USA and clean energy “has become a dirty word”, as we hear. The slogan is: No additional burdens on the economy in times of threatened recession. In view of polls in which over half of all Americans doubt the existence of global warming and even potential presidential candidates deny climate change, the EU Climate Commissioner Connie Heidegard thinks it looks rather bad for Durban. Rightly so?
The United States is in fact a big problem at present. Hopes for a change in climate policy under Obama haven’t been fulfilled; the general political polarization in the country is particularly extreme on the subject of climate. On the other hand, voices are becoming louder that see chances to stem economic and political decline only in ecological and economic renewal. In a certain sense, there is currently a climate policy culture war raging in America. Significant promises on the international stage, however, can be expected only when the emerging countries are prepared to take bigger steps. One question is therefore whether the progressive states form a coalition to strengthen their position and don’t wait for stragglers, but also don’t exclude them.
In view of the current financial constraints, what goals are realistic for the Europeans?
The paradigm change to the effect that climate protection can be an engine for an ecological-economic renewal of Europe has been initiated, but it hasn’t yet prevailed everywhere. That’s the only explanation for the repeatedly asked question whether Europe can afford a more ambitious climate policy. The question is rather whether it can afford the discouragement to let itself be checked by the possible losers in such a modernization and continue in its strong dependence on energy imports. It’s a question of the diversion of investments to dynamic energy efficient standards and the development of renewable energies rather than of governments having to pay out money.
The Federal Ministry of Research has recently presented an interdisciplinary report on the chances and risks of repairing climate change by climate engineering. Could this be an alternative?
It seems utterly bumptious to want to interfere with the already highly complex climate system instead of relying on technically relatively simple solutions for the climate problem such as the reform of the energy infra-structure. The science says very clearly that the consequences of such interventions can be hardly foreseen. Moreover, such technologies harbor the potential for large-scale military and political misuse. Unfortunately, there are still players who can think only in terms of big solutions. As we’ve seen with nuclear energy, these are usually neither the best nor the safest.
Conducted the interview. He is a freelance editor, journalist and writer based in Landshut and Munich.
Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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