Climate policy: Progress is a snail

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Climate policy: Progress is a snail
Climate policy: Progress is a snail

Progress is a snail

The knowledge is there and so are the declarations of intent from the global community. But behind the noble words against global warming there are rather few actions. The new World Assembly of Climate Protection was no exception.


At the beginning of November, the World Weather Organization in Geneva reported that since measurements of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere began in 2005, a new record value had been reached. Its concentration was now officially 379.1 ppm (parts per million) - more than a third higher than it was in 1750 before industrialization and a superlative for the last 650,000 years. The world community is now blowing more than 25 billion tons of CO2 into the air. Trend: still rising.

This rapid increase in values and the everyday signs of global warming are frightening scientists, environmentalists and increasingly politicians alike. The former call for measures that the latter sometimes take up and sometimes pass, but more often put off or even completely deny. On the active side of the spectrum are many countries in the European Union, which feel committed to curbing emissions under the Kyoto Protocol and in individual cases such as Great Britain or Germany are already seeing initial savings. The United States - at least their federal government in Washington - and Australia take a completely opposite position, which do not want to do anything that is supposedly damaging to the economy and prefer to rely on technical solutions for the disposal of carbon dioxide. All the others cavort in between, including emission giants like China or tiny ones like Tuvalu, Kiribati and Somalia, whose emissions are almost immeasurable. On the one hand, they feel threatened by the consequences of climate change, but they also fear for their economic growth.

Kyoto II is in the stars

It is very difficult to reconcile them all, to say the least. And yet this was the aim of this year's world climate summit in Nairobi, which nominally came to an end this Friday. Committees and ministers met late into the night; as is so often the case, the clock is stopped shortly before the end in order to obtain a result within the given time frame. The top priority of the round of negotiations was the search for a follow-up agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012, and the involvement of economically aspiring emerging countries, whose share of global CO2 emissions is growing disproportionately. Concrete specifications of who would have to save how much and by when were not up for debate.

For a post-Kyoto agreement to come into force in 2013, negotiations would have to start soon – by 2008 at the latest. However, this would require a corresponding mandate from the international community, which, after tough discussion rounds, did not look as though it went to press: an adjournment seems likely. Time is of the essence, after all ten years passed between the so-called "Berlin Mandate" of 1995 and the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol. Environmentalists also fear that without a direct follow-up procedure, European emissions trading could collapse. It would then be very difficult to meet the reduction targets of the European Union. As a compromise, Germany's emissaries therefore suggested starting the talks next year and concluding them by 2009.

Apart from the United States and Australia, there is resistance this time mainly from many developing countries. They see any reduction targets as a stumbling block for their economic growth and are therefore reluctant to have to make a stronger contribution to curbing CO2 emissions in the future. Instead, they advocate at best for smaller steps and a minimal revision of the previous standards. Russia is also pushing for climate protection measures to be carried out on a voluntary basis and for states to only be able to join parts of a Kyoto II agreement. Both would weaken the treaty.

Rather small progress

The Europeans and their allies, on the other hand, insist on more extensive savings and a broader group of states committed to this goal. Among other things, the focus of their efforts is an increased transfer of technology and money to poorer countries in order to enable them to develop "cleanly". At the same time, the industries in the north could thus meet part of their reduction targets. According to the latest agreement, however, projects that do not aim to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but rather to store them temporarily or permanently in storage facilities of whatever kind, may not be funded with this money - the methods used are considered by many to be immature.

Another minor success is the so-called Adaptation Fund. It is intended to help developing countries to repair damage caused by climate change more quickly or to adapt to the changes. The pot of money is fed, among other things, from emissions trading taxes and is expected to contain around 300 million dollars by 2012. In view of the several trillions of dollars in climate-related losses postulated in a recent report for the British government, this is likely to be more of a symbolic amount, which Federal Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel apparently agrees: "My concern is that we are creating an illusion about the funds that stuck in this pot," the politician told the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

On the fringes of the conference, Irish MEP Avril Doyle also revealed plans by the Europeans to impose a kind of climate tariff on imports from certain countries in order to defuse distortions of competition for European entrepreneurs. This would affect states that have not ratified the Kyoto Protocol and are therefore not subject to any international obligations in this regard. The surcharge is aimed primarily at the United States and Australia. As Spiegel-Online further reported, citing Doyle, there are considerations within the EU to allow at least some US states to enter the Kyoto Protocol. Finally, California and various states on the east coast would consider setting up their own emissions trading system, which could be linked to that of Europe or the rest of the world on the basis of the Kyoto agreement.

Below the state level, there is also progress, because some regions such as Scotland, Québec, South Australia or California have joined forces in voluntary alliances to take more intensive action against greenhouse gases, at least at local and regional level. The 15 partners so far are coordinated by The Climate Group, an independent British organization that aims to promote the exchange of climate-related experiences and measures between governments, business and environmental organizations."Often the governments of these states have a great deal of legal influence over reducing emissions, but they are not involved in negotiations at the international level," spokesman Steve Howard told the BBC. California, for example, has already enacted correspondingly strict regulations - contrary to official policy in Washington and thus at least a small step forward.

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