In June, Germany will host a global conference on renewable energies. The country's environmental minister traveled to the U.S. this week to push needed emissions cuts and alternative energies.
Experts believe global warming is increasing the scope of natural disasters.
The Renewables 2000 conference, announced by German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in 2002 at the U.N. Environment Summit in Johannesburg, is intended to demonstrate that renewable energies -- like wind and solar power -- have developed into fast growing industries that are not only environmentally friendly, but also economically viable solutions.
But renewable energies have played a marginal role in the U.S. market, and during a number of stops on his transatlantic trip this week, Jürgen Trittin has sought to draw attention to the upside potential of green energy. Trittin also urged the United States to shift its environmental policy by adopting the Kyoto Protocol.
Among the projects Trittin has promoted on his trip is a major solar power plant in California that's being used for research. The German government has subsidized the project to the tune of €6 million ($7 million), and the plan is to build a second version of the plant in Grenada, Spain, making it the first commercial solar power plant of that scale.
A growing business
For some time now, renewable energies have no longer been a niche business -- they're used by the mainstream, they're creating jobs, and they're a growth industry. In Washington, Trittin pointed out that in Germany, 20 percent of all energy is expected to come from renewable energy sources by the year 2020 -- a goal the United States is very far from meeting. Per capita energy consumption in the U.S. is double that of Europe, and most energy there comes from fossil fuels, coal and nuclear power.
Even so, the U.S. government has decided to send its own delegation to the renewable energies conference in Bonn next month.
During a visit to the eminent Brookings Institution, Trittin presented a speech on the global dimensions of environmental policy, at times pointedly criticizing Washington for its own environmental record.
He underscored the connection between high levels of carbon dioxide gases in industrial nations and global warming. Each year, the U.S. produces 6.6 billion tons of these green house gases, considerably more than Europe's 4.1 billion tons despite having a similar population. Nor has the U.S. signed on to the Kyoto Protocol, which makes emissions reductions mandatory. Instead, it has overseen a 13 percent increase in emissions of carbon dioxide gases between 1990 and 2000. Those gases, Trittin said, all contribute to global climate catastrophes including hurricanes, floods and droughts.
"I have to underline that the U.S. also must play its part against global warming, " Trittin said. "It could use the Kyoto Protocol as the basis for action. Under this, the U.S. has to reduce its emissions by 7 percent compared to 1990. We must acknowledge that the country rejects Kyoto. The climate framework convention should nonetheless be respected under this. The U.S. must stabilize its emissions at the 1990 levels, and the U.S. voluntarily accepted this commitment."
Trittin: We want to save the U.S.
If the U.S. does not take action to reduce its emissions, Trittin warned, parts of the East Coast and nature reserves like the Everglades in Florida could be covered with water in several decades due to the melting of glaciers, which threaten to the sea level worldwide.
"We, from the other side, want to save these areas of the U.S.," Trittin said. "We love the Everglades, for example. And this is the reason why we think the Kyoto Protocol must enter into force."
Trittin read out a laundry list of celluloid nightmares of global warming, from Kevin Costner's "Waterworld" to Roland Emmerich's latest movie, which depicts the Earth falling into an overnight ice age as a result of global warming.
"We have a challenge," he said. "The challenge is that the reality of 'The Day After Tomorrow' should not become reality, the picture should not become reality. Therefore, the next 15 years are key for preventing polar ice caps from melting. And this is the reason why we think the Kyoto Protocol must enter into force."