Climate change is the definitive challenge of the 21st century

Climate change is the definitive challenge of the 21st century

We need tangible results from the climate change negotiations in Durban

Josef Beck

Saturday, December 10, 2011

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CLIMATE change is the definitive challenge of the 21st century. Changes in the climate destroy the basis on which human life subsists. For instance, drought leads to shortages in food and water. Rising sea levels are already threatening the territories of small island states and vast stretches of coastland. Nobody living on a beautiful island in the Caribbean like Jamaica will be blind to that danger.

However, the international community has to admit that it has not, as things stand, stepped up to the challenge posed by climate change. Global CO2 emissions went up again in 2010, global temperatures are already 0.8°C higher than before industrialisation, and sea levels rose twice as fast between 1993 and 2003 as they did in the preceding decade; icebergs and glaciers are melting at record speeds. We all need the climate change negotiations under way in Durban to come up with tangible results.

Germany is aware of the pressing nature of this problem. We are therefore doing what we can to mitigate it effectively. Thanks to our national reduction measures, we are within the targets which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommends for industrialised countries: we intend to reduce our emissions by 40 per cent by 2020 and by 80.95 per cent by 2050. We are also doing our bit to push for ambitious reduction targets within the EU.

At the highest level internationally, too, we want to create awareness that we have to act now to tackle climate change. It was under Germany's presidency that the United Nations Security Council, on July 20, unanimously acknowledged for the first time ever that climate change poses a threat to international security.

Germany is working both globally and domestically to combat climate change because we understand how serious the problem is and we are aware of our responsibility. At the same time, in-depth analysis shows that the structural transformation we have set in motion is one which will in future also serve us well economically. By switching to a low-carbon economy, we want to prove that tackling climate change is compatible with economic development. We want to support others as they pursue this path to success; going green can be an opportunity for everyone!

Nonetheless, even if these efforts bear fruit and the global economy starts producing significantly lower quantities of greenhouse gas, we know that many countries are already suffering the consequences of climate change. That is why the German Government has been assisting countries particularly affected by climate change for years. Our partners in developing countries and emerging economies receive support for projects to mitigate and adapt to climate change through German development cooperation under the auspices of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development as well as through the International Climate Initiative being run by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety. Between 2010 and 2012, our government is providing these countries with a total of 1.26 billion in additional funds for mitigation and adaptation, within the scope of the industrialised countries' fast-start finance initiative agreed in Copenhagen in 2009. Germany stands ready to play its part in financing such measures in developing countries in the long term as well. Germany has, for example, been financing two important projects on renewable energies and a small island low-carbon economy road map benefiting the Caribbean in general and Jamaica in particular. With German funds provided to the industrialised countries' fast-start initiative, the German Embassy plans a conference on renewable energies in May next year in Kingston. With this project we want to support the Jamaican Government in its ambitious energy policy calling for an accelerated exploration and exploitation of renewable energies.

Parallel to these specific measures, we also need to reach a comprehensive agreement in the international climate change negotiations which encompasses all the big emitters - including those which were classed as developing countries for the 1992 Framework Convention, but which have since become major economies. Only when we finally stop pointing the finger, and create the legal certainty that no country will be at a disadvantage or be able to opt out, can we combat climate change effectively.

This is an extremely ambitious enterprise, which requires us to take concrete steps urgently and to demonstrate stamina. Copenhagen saw the failure of the first attempt to establish such a comprehensive agreement and simultaneously resolve the details of everything from funding to legal status to rules for including forests in calculations. That is why we are playing it safe this time by addressing the various issues step by step. The countries have been negotiating the details since Cancún - where they made great progress - and will embed them in the necessary new framework once it is established.

We know that time is short; all the decisions reached need to take effect quickly, so that we don't lose any more time.

We are holding this stance in Durban too. As part of the EU, and shoulder to shoulder with many developing countries, small island states and LDCs, we are working for a robust, legally binding climate change agreement. That is the only way for us to achieve our common goal of capping global warming at 2ºC and so fulfil our obligation to future generations. I am convinced that we cannot afford, economically or otherwise, to hold off on combating climate change until its effects become even more drastic.

Josef Beck is ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany.

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