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Climate change time for a revolution
The greenhouse effect is not just an environmental problem. It affects the future of the entire world economy. Those who do not act now can expect the costs to rise much higher later. Rich nations bear the chief responsibility, for they are the ones that have caused this global crisis.
[ By Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul ]
Just over eight years ago, I became Germanys Development Minister. Back then, I started pointing out to World Bank committees just how important renewable energy is in developing countries and some only stared at me in disbelief or confusion. Nonetheless, we kept pushing for the urgent change in global energy policy, gradually taking step by step on a long road that eventually led to some important milestones in terms of sustainable energy and global-climate protection at the World Summit for Sustainable Development 2002 in Johannesburg and the Renewables 2004 Conference in Bonn.
In the past few years, one salient feature of climate debate has been the doubt voiced by a dwindling, but vociferous group of skeptics. They question whether climate change is human-made, arguing that any such claims are utter nonsense and only harm the economy. But such criticism is probably over for good. The skeptics views on global warming were disproved at the very latest last month, when the UNs International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the worlds most important body for assessing the phenomenon, published its fourth reports. As the Panel put it, it is five minutes to midnight. Klaus Töpfer, the former director of the United Nations Environment Programme, rightly stated: We have to ask those still sleeping what will have to happen for them to realise how serious the situation is.
Any skeptics who still want to clarify some issues and spread doubt about us having to act fast will have to start explaining why they are not assuming responsibility if not for themselves, then for the fate of future generations and for the people already affected by climate change in developing countries. Even though their forecast of devastating consequences in developing countries was not really new, the resoluteness with which the IPCC researchers argued their case leaves us no alternative: we have to act now with resolution.
Climate change poses a fundamental threat to sustainable development at the global level. It is far more than a mere environmental issue. In his study of the economic consequences of climate change, Sir Nicholas Stern, the World Banks former chief economist, showed that global warming may cost us as much as 20 % of global gross domestic product. On the other hand, he reckons that just one percent of global domestic product would suffice for preventing such catastrophic events. Thanks to Sterns analysis, ministers of commerce and economics, chief executives and investment bankers are finally becoming interested in climate issues.
But while the latter focus on discussing portfolio analyses, the consequences of climate change are already dramatic for a number of developing countries; and lets not forget that the rich nations have caused global warming. Floods, droughts, a lack of drinking water, the spread of contagious diseases such as malaria, the destruction of ecosystems as well as the loss of biodiversity endanger the main goals of development cooperation, the battle against poverty and the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals. Moreover, we can only guess what impact migration caused by climate change will have on the stability of various world regions. Entire states, such as the small island nations in the Pacific and Caribbean, are in danger of disappearing completely if the sea level rises.
Climate change is also an issue of doing fundamental justice to developing countries and future generations. 200 million people live in vulnerable coastal areas, 60 million of them in South Asia. If temperatures increase by only two degrees Celsius, some 700 million to 4 billion people will suffer from thirst and hunger. An additional 250 to 550 million people, more than half of them in Africa, will be affected that way if the planet warms up by 3 degrees. So while the advanced nations have caused climate change, people in developing countries suffer most from the consequences. At the same time, they have the least wherewithal to cope with the detrimental effects.
Moreover, our behaviour today will directly affect future generations. This is especially true of climate change because the Earths climate reacts with great inertia and that is one more reason to act now.
I believe that we need a two-pronged approach in industrial and developing countries. Fighting the causes of climate change and adapting to the consequences already felt today have to go hand in hand. Both approaches complement each other.
International climate policy faces the immediate challenge of significantly reducing emissions of greenhouse gases at the global level. Industrial nations have to act first, sending clear signals of reducing their own emissions to developing and industrialising countries. The European Union will have to play a leading role if we want to see real progress. Therefore, I believe the EU is right in striving for a 30 % reduction by 2020. But other industrialised nations, especially the USA, will also have to reduce their emissions. The goals will only be reached with well designed, long-term energy policies that bank on efficiency, renewable energy and the development of new environmental technologies.
Developing countries can and must benefit from such policies; after all, access to sustainable, affordable energy is crucial in the battle against poverty. Sustainable economic development has to be the goal for fast-growing industrialising countries, such as China, India and Brazil. In such countries, the potential for saving energy is enormous, and accordingly the transfer and use of low-carbon technologies plays a central role in development cooperation. Such technologies will allow us to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in industrialising and developing countries, and that is one reason why we have to continue cooperation with China and India.
However, it is just as important to help developing countries to cope with the consequences of climate change already felt. Better project planning and policy-making must reduce the vulnerability of developing countries. When infrastructure programmes, rural development or macroeconomic policy are designed, changes to the climate whether already evident or only forecast must be taken into account, and that is also the case for all bilateral and multilateral cooperation. The much used term mainstreaming is of particular relevance in this context. We have to consider whether an expensive hydropower plant may become a failed investment because of decreasing rainfalls or whether a new road along the coast may be washed away when the sea level rises.
According to international estimates, changes in land use, especially deforestation, make up some 25 % of the carbon emissions that affect the climate. Nonetheless, schemes to prevent deforestation are not yet included as carbon-reduction efforts in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). German development cooperation is working hard on solutions to improve forest protection and make it financially attractive for developing countries through climate-policy incentives. We are engaging bilateral donors, the World Bank, and non-governmental organisations to see how forest protection can be integrated into the international climate regime in a way that would benefit developing countries.
Developing countries are vehemently calling for support to help them adapt to climate change, and rightly so. Again and again, the question is where to get funding. During Germanys presidency of the EU Council, I will strive to get the Kyoto Protocols Adaptation Fund, which has already been drawn up but has not yet gone into effect, passed at the next Global-Climate Conference in Bali. In addition, we will promote earmarking more official development assistance (ODA) for adaptation among our G8 partners. But such funding alone will not solve the problem. We also have to involve the private sector and our partner countries in innovative solutions for the financing of climate protection and adaptation.
Global carbon-emissions trading is a good starting point. In the past two years, such markets have skyrocketed, reaching a volume of billions today. Developing countries take part in these markets via the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which gives them access to up-to-date technologies. It is therefore crucial that the EU emissions trading scheme be expanded and linked to other trading schemes, such as those in the USA and Canada. For many years, German development cooperation has been working on capacity-building in partner countries to manage CDM projects. I am personally engaged in having more Clean Development Mechanism projects launched in Africa.
Germany holds the presidency of the EU and the G8 at a time when issues concerning developing countries are at the top of the agenda in the international climate debate. Climate policy will only succeed if we understand it to be a development task and handle it that way. If the differing interests of the North and the South are not balanced fairly, if the Souths legitimate interest in development is not recognised, and if the South does not receive tangible support to meet the challenges, then we will not have any realistic chance of solving the climate problem, nor of developing successful climate policies after Kyoto expires in 2012. Germany will be placing adequate emphasis on these challenges during our presidency of the EU and the G8.
is Germanys minister of economic cooperation and