Climate conference in Poland
“Warsaw affects all of us”

The Climate Change Conference took place in a stadium in Warsaw.
The Climate Change Conference took place in a stadium in Warsaw. | Photo (detail): © Nicole Scharfschwerdt

The start of the 2013 climate conference in Warsaw was straightaway turbulent: Japan tipped its previous CO2 reduction targets, the Philippine delegate Naderev Saño announced a hunger strike to force a result and the Polish coal industry organized a counter-summit. For the first time in history members of Non-governmental organizations left the conference early. Have we come even one step closer to a global climate agreement? An interview with Karsten Sach, Undersecretary in the Federal Ministry for the Environment, who headed the German delegation at the conference.

Mr. Sach, with what expectations did the German delegation go to Warsaw?

We wanted a clear timetable for the further negotiations about a global climate agreement that will be adopted in 2015 at the conference in Paris. We got it. The discussions also showed that the ideas of the states aren’t so far apart in terms of the design of the agreement. Only when it comes to who has to comply with which concrete requirements and what counts as a just and appropriate contribution of the individual states are there differences. After all, the weights of the countries have shifted significantly in the last 20 years: Germany's share of the gross world product is becoming smaller and that of the emerging countries greater. China, for example, is doing much to protect the climate, but it isn’t yet ready to question its status as a developing country and enter into a legally valid agreement.

Germany`s role in Warsaw

Nevertheless, Germany remains a major backer ...

Germany is still the second largest climate financier in the world. This year we provided 1.8 billion dollars for projects that will be implemented by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, the development bank KfW (Reconstruction Credit Institute), the World Bank and the United Nations Environment Programme. One of the most innovative projects is the adjustment fund, which provides funding for states that are particularly affected by climate change. These states are to use these funds to develop strategies for how they can better protect themselves against extreme conditions. The fund is supplied mainly from the charge on the emission allowances of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), for which, however, the market has collapsed. To ensure achieving the funding target, 100 million dollars were needed; 40 million of it came from Germany.

At the climate conference there was a side event to which you contributed on the German energy transition. How great is international interest in this subject?

At the events that took place around the main conference we saw that there’s a great interest in concrete strategies and emission projects – it’s not just about money. Much more important is to learn from one another and to take one another seriously. The projects are intended to make the contents of the negotiations “tangible” and repeatable. At our presentation on the energy transition the room was packed. It wasn’t just about the political dimensions. The CEO of the transmission system operator Firma 50Hertz, Boris Schucht, also presented the business side and the conflicts. We felt considerable appreciation for our having shared the search process of the energy transition with others. The hope is that, if it works for us, then others will follow – with courage, confidence and economic wisdom.

Hope instead of displeasure

Your impressions of the conference sound more hopeful than anything we’ve heard in the media. Why is that?

Warsaw was a preparatory conference for Paris and took place in difficult surroundings. The impact of this conference is especially visible in the small things; for example, it got going the domestic political debate in Poland about coal dependence. I’ve been working in this field for fifteen years and see there is still a long way to go. But we all know that only a climate compatible future is possible and that therefore it’s worth the effort. Both in terms of technology and social learning, we’ve already seen immense changes.

The consumer can’t do much with results such as abstract documents, numbers and resolutions. So this year’s climate conference wasn’t spared criticism. Why do we nevertheless need climate conferences, even if at first glance they have no direct influence on us?

Any form of global agreement, whether on human rights, disarmament or climate, has various levels. On the one hand, it needs a committee that lays down what basic principles apply internationally. For example, the target that global temperature should not increase beyond a maximum of two degree Celsius. We stir up media attention and make international laws, which have then to be implemented in individual states. International law binds only states, not you or me as persons. But its implementation concerns the obligations of individual citizens – through price signals or the prohibition of specific products. And then Warsaw affects all of us.