Johannes Müller SJ
Setting the Course of Climate Policy
The global financial and economic crisis has been dominating the public media for months and has pushed the climate change into the background. This is understandable, but very short-sighted, because by the effects of climate change the human race will be burdened far longer and heavier. There is therefore an urgent need for action, because the time window for long-term effective measures remains open only for a few years yet.
A great opportunity in this respect is the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) about the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted in Rio in 1992. It is also the 5th Conference of the Parties about the Kyoto Protocol (MOP-5). The meeting will take place from 7 to 18 December 2009 in Copenhagen and has to set the course for the future climate policy, which will have far-reaching consequences for both the development prospects of poor countries and people. The goal is a comprehensive climate change agreement for the period after 2012, which the international community has agreed on at the Bali Climate Change Conference in 2007 (COP-13). Of course, the success of the conference is anything but certain, because there are many hurdles that seem to be almost insurmountable.
The urgency of a quick and decisive action is shown by almost all recent studies on climate change. Recent data on disappearing Arctic ice or on temperature records in the oceans show that climate change turns out to be far more dramatic than previously assumed. Today many climate researchers regard the guide-line of the European Union as inadequate. At the recent G-8 meeting in L'Aquila it was agreed that an increase in the global mean temperature by more than maximally two degrees Celsius had to be prevented. But even this goal would require to halve the global greenhouse gases until 2050, referred to the base year 1990. The industrialized countries had to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions even by 80 per cent, up to 2020 alone by 30 to 40 percent. On the other hand, according to some economists and politicians a target of three degrees Celsius is for very various reasons at best realistic. Of course, climate change and its devastating effects proceed according to physical laws that take no account of economic arguments.
A success in Copenhagen requires close cooperation of many and diverse players. Besides the industrial countries as the main polluters emerging economies like China and India play a key role. These countries have admittedly still relatively low carbon dioxide emissions per head of population, but their total greenhouse gas emissions are very high and rapidly rising, especially - as in the case of Indonesia and Brazil - because of the destruction of the tropical forests that store carbon.
A key issue of negotiation will be the development interests of poorer countries, which must not be neglected. They are rightly unwilling to refrain from economic growth and rising prosperity. For this they need sufficient energy, but with the current priority of fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal) this would unavoidably accelerate climate change. In this respect, access to alternative forms of energy is of strategic importance, especially as in the coming years substantial investments in this sector will be made. However, for a long time it will hardly be possible to reverse the chosen energy paths.
As guideline for the negotiations can serve the principle "joint, but differentiated responsibility", which is treated in the 1992 Rio Declaration. It points out that developed countries bear a much greater responsibility: First, because they have been living at least in practice for a long time at the expense of the climate; secondly, because only they have the technological and financial capacity for an effective climate policy; and thirdly, because only they - and the rich in the developing world - can change their living standard without having to abandon prosperity.
Target is a "Global Deal" that is trying to balance all these viewpoints and different interests. This deal must include the following elements: Effective tools for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and there are good arguments for an emissions trading; promotion of climate-friendly technologies (especially for better energy efficiency) and of the technology transfer to developing countries; an agreement on the protection above all of tropical forests; measures to adapt to the effects of climate change; more resources for development policy and poverty reduction, even independently of climate change. Ultimately, it is always also about financial transfers to the countries of the South.
All these negotiations at the global level must not cause that we forget, the main victims are the poor. They have hardly any means at their disposal in order to adjust to the effects that are already today no longer avoidable. That's why the strengthening of the poor's capability to act should be the central issue. It's a good thing that the aid organisation Misereor takes up this topic in its Lenten actions. In this context, it promotes the participation of local people, as e.g. with dialogue forums that have taken place in recent months on all continents.
Climate change and its effects are also a huge challenge for all religions, not least the Christian churches, because it has serious ethical implications, which are referred to in the German bishops' paper "Der Klimawandel: Brennpunkt globaler, intergenerationeller und ökologischer Gerechtigkeit" [Climate Change: Focus of Global, Intergenerational and Environmental Justice] (2006). One would have wished that in the new social encyclical (CiV 48-51) this climate crisis, which has especially impacts on the poor, had found a little more attention than general observations about the responsibility for creation.