Cutting emissions Troubled Talks on Climate Change

There’s growing agreement on the need to address man-made climate change. Yet even within nations committed to lowering carbon dioxide and other pollutants such as Germany, progress is slow and ambitious goals seem likely to go unmet.
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Concern about the consequences of climate change is growing more and more urgent.

“The results of climate change will be uncontrollable if we don’t limit global warming to two degrees,” said German Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks, a member of the center-left Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), at the opening of the Petersberg Climate Dialogue VI in Berlin.

Her warning was echoed by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. “Climate change is accelerating. What we need is a more climate-friendly economy. We must now deliver results,” he said.

A binding worldwide climate agreement will be signed in December in Paris to take effect in 2020.

The annual Petersberg Climate Dialogue, launched in 2010 by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, of the center-right Christian Democratic Party (CDU), is one effort to address the crisis by better preparing for the official summits.

This year, one of the most important questions is how emerging and developing nations can play a part in climate protection so that it doesn’t fall solely to industrialized nations.

The price of inaction is constantly increasing, not only in economic terms. Joachim Gauck,, President, Germany

“We are the last generation that can still do something,” Mr. Fabius said.

“The price of inaction is constantly increasing, not only in economic terms,” added Germany’s president, Joachim Gauck.

Clearly, neither Germany nor France believes this message has been widely understood. It is quite possible that the individual changes planned will be enough to make measurable progress, Ms. Hendricks and Mr. Fabius agreed.

The more than 190 member countries of the United Nations have agreed to present their individual climate protection contributions over the course of the year with most focusing on lowering carbon dioxide gases that are harmful to the climate.

So far, however, only 40 countries have met their obligations, Mr. Fabius said.

A breakthrough is highly unlikely in Paris, yet at this stage, people are reluctant to declare the talks a failure.

“Paris won’t be the endpoint, but rather the starting point,” Mr. Fabius said, diplomatically.

The obligations of individual countries to lower CO2 emissions, Ms. Hendricks noted, were made with a view to 2030. After that, there will be more cuts that will be regularly monitored. The long-term goal is for economic activity to be climate neutral by the second half of the century. Climate protection is like a marathon run, Ms. Hendricks said, noting not everyone starts at the same speed. “Some don’t pick up speed until later,” she said.

While Germany has set itself ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions, the country is far from meeting these goals.

In December, the cabinet reaffirmed the plan that carbon dioxide emissions be reduced in Germany by 40 percent in 2020 compared to 1990 levels, and at least 80 percent by 2050. Without additional efforts, however, those goals cannot be met. The coalition is only making baby steps forward while, in many areas, there are problems with implementation.

In the energy sector, for example, industry produces about 40 percent of all carbon emissions in Germany. According to the coalition's original plans, industry was to cut an additional 22 million tons of CO2 by paying a climate change levy on older power plants, but this proposal led to violent protest from politicians concerned about jobs, and companies concerned about profits.

The plan had been proposed by Sigmar Gabriel, minister of the economy from the social democratic party and he has now relented. Coal-fired power plants are to cut 16 million tons with remaining six million achieved through stronger promotion of environmentally friendly co-generation. The proposal isn’t yet signed and sealed.

When it comes to making buildings more energy efficient, the debate over whether to offer additional funding programs or higher tax deductions to achieve greater efficiency remains on the table. Without clarity on the issue, owners will continue to postpone upgrading their properties. This is what really drives Ms. Hendricks up the wall. Without improving the efficiency of existing buildings, the 2020 goal can’t be achieved.

The transportation sector is supposed to slash an additional ten million tons of CO2, but at the moment, it’s going in the other direction. “The still increasing greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture and, above all, in transportation, clearly indicate existing deficits,” said Maria Krautzberger, president of the German Federal Environment Agency.

To achieve its goal, the coalition is committed to having a million electric cars on German roadways by 2020, but data shows fewer than 20,000 pure electric vehicles and about 100,000 hybrids are being driven.

Ms. Hendrick’s appeal is directed not only toward other heads of state, but also to the German government.


Silke Kersting reports for Handelsblatt from Berlin, focusing on consumer protection, construction and environmental policy. To contact the author: [email protected]