2015 Climate Summit in Paris “A global reduction target would be important”

Signs of climate change;
Signs of climate change; | © fotolia

Jochen Harnisch is Coordinator Climate Change Policy at the KfW Development Bank and a lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He has been observing climate negotiations for more than two decades.

Mr. Harnisch, ahead of the climate summit in Paris participants are spreading cautious optimism. Do you share this confidence?

The positions of the groups of states are far apart. Still, I hope they will formulate a global reduction target.

What exactly do you mean by that?

Ever since the summit in Copenhagen in 2009 we’ve known that there’s not going to be a follow up to the Kyoto Protocol, a so-called Kyoto Plus. At the time the international community had set specific CO2 reduction targets for industrialized countries, country for country. Such a legally binding international agreement won’t come again so soon. A global reduction target for all, however, can be reached and would be important as a guide for investors.

What would have to be in the final document so that you could call it a success?

That the international community commits itself to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent compared with 2010 by mid-century. Then the summit will have communalized the international two degree target in a global CO2 reduction target. That in my eyes would be a success, even if the dangers of climate change wouldn’t yet be banished. A reduction of 40 percent, in the view of the IPCC, is the least that needs to happen. Seventy percent would be safer, but it would necessitate considerable redistribution among states and sectors and therefore is unrealistic.

“No one has to do what he doesn’t really want to do”

Let’s suppose that it comes to a global target. How could this be realized if individual states don’t simultaneously comply with specific obligations?

Part of the preparatory process for Paris was that the states set national targets for CO2 emissions and register them at the United Nations. Many states in recent months have submitted such “Intended National Determined Contributions“ (INDCs). They’re not binding under international law, but in my view they still are very useful. The targets are no longer laid down in a multinational negotiation process, no longer, so to say, from above. They come from the states themselves, which makes their compliance more likely. No one has to do what he doesn’t really want to do.

Are these voluntary commitments enough to curb climate change?

According to calculations of relevant think tanks, the previous INDCs would limit the temperature increase to about 2.7 degrees. In other words, they’re a good start to avoid the worst. We probably won’t actually reach two degrees, but it also won’t be four or five, as feared some time ago. Later we can resharpen the targets. The alternative would be the complete failure of the negotiations or a vague formulation accompanied by pious wishes.

Is failure in Paris completely excluded?

No, but I think it unlikely. In addition to the package with the INDCs, there’ll be an agreement. The only question is how substantial it will be. If it includes the formulation “minus 40 percent by 2050” and at the same time clear statements on funding for developing countries, this would be a major step forward.

“With a view to the feasible”

So 2015 won’t be the year of the big turnaround in climate change, as some people euphorically predicted?

No, I don’t think so. For me plenty will have been done if, with a view to the feasible, we could go a step farther on the long and arduous path of decarbonization and Paris doesn’t turn out to be a setback.

There’s also regularly a big controversy about money. Who pays for climate protection, especially in the poorest countries?

Even today the industrialized countries make more money available for climate protection and adaptation to climate change in developing countries than is often thought. According to the figures of the OECD, the sum in 2014 alone was more than 50 billion euros from very different sources, including the KfW. In addition there is now a so-called Green Climate Fund, whose work has just begun. How much money it will receive in the end depends mainly on its performance. At present it’s been promised around ten billion dollars. But that’s far from enough.

Assuming the international community adopts in Paris a reasonably meaty agreement, where do the talks go from there?

We have to formulate reporting obligations and mechanisms for review. Providing funds also remains a major concern. But above all I hope that the delegates in Paris will create a reliable framework so that the excitement of the summit will be followed by actual implementation.