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Environment

Opinion: Expectations low - and still disappointed

NGOs walked out on the Warsaw climate conference in protest at the lack of action. Understandable, says DW climate correspondent Irene Quaile. These mega-events are not going to save the world's climate.

At the start of the Warsaw gathering, typhoon Haiyan and its devastating effects on the Philippines was a fine warning of what the world could be facing if we are not able to put the brakes on climate change. The newest IPCC report provides impressive evidence of the need for swift and effective action. Otherwise, the world will have to cope with more frequent and severe extreme weather events, rising seas, floods and droughts. The World Bank and the UN have set the alarm bells ringing. We have to reduce emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050 to keep global temperature rise to the 2-degree Celsius limit. The International Energy Agency says that would mean leaving 80 percent of our remaining fossil fuels in the ground.

Irene Quaile Foto DW/Per Henriksen

DW Climate Correspondent Irene Quaile

Climate sinners hosting talks

But the track laid out for the conference in Poland was heading in another direction from the start. Fossil fuel providers and huge energy consumers like the steel and car industries were sponsoring the event. The host country, Poland, is and plans to remain powered by coal. So far, Warsaw has blocked more ambitious emissions targets in the EU. The fact that a coal summit was demonstratively held in Poland during the climate negotiations verges on cynical. The sacking of the Polish environment minister - who was chairing the talks - showed a lack of respect for the meeting and the issues at stake.

Climate politics: no leadership in sight

But the failure of the conference was not just Poland's fault. CO2 emissions are continuing to rise globally, and the conference delegates did not have much in their luggage to do anything about it. They brought far too little in the way of commitment to emissions reductions or to creating a binding and well-funded compensation mechanism for developing countries. The poorest countries, which are already struggling to cope with unpredictable climate patterns, droughts and flooding, went home disappointed and frustrated - once again.

The European Union was unable to agree on tighter emissions targets ahead of the conference. Germany, long considered a leader in the field, is currently putting the brakes on its own renewable energy revolution by shifting financial incentives. Japan, Canada and Australia, all took a step backwards. And in spite of some progress at home, the major emitters China and the USA were unlikely to make any substantial announcements in Warsaw.

Shaky foundations for a new climate agreement

The Warsaw conference was supposed to come up with an effective timetable to lead to a new international climate agreement, to be set up in 2015 and implemented in 2020. Instead, it seems countries are playing for time and putting off any binding commitments. The vague document agreed at the very last minute contains no firm deadline for emissions pledges - and they will not be binding.

The window of opportunity for confronting climate change is rapidly closing. Decades of negotiations have produced little in the way of results. Every year without a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions reduces the prospect of keeping to the "2 degree" target. Existing pledges fall way short of what is required. The "business as usual" trajectory is heading for a temperature rise of at least 4 degrees Celsius.

Once more, the UN climate conference has shown its inability to protect the world from the dangers of rapidly progressing climate change. Aside from the annual mega-meetings, there are still signs of hope. China, for instance, is making considerable progress on energy issues, although the country refuses to accept internationally binding targets. Climate protection has to become part of daily politics and business in industrialized and emerging countries.

Politicians must be prepared to abandon short-term advantages in favor of a long-term perspective, which would guarantee the future for coming generations through a sustainable low-carbon economy. The means turning away from oil and coal, developing renewable energies, ensuring a high price for carbon and providing adequate finance to protect developing nations from climate change caused by past emissions of the industrialized word.

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