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Europe loses climate lead

Interview: Irene QuaileJune 4, 2014

International negotiators are expected to gather for fresh climate change negotiations in Bonn. However, Christoph Bals of NGO Germanwatch warns the issue of climate change has dropped on Europe's political agenda.

Christoph Bals Germanwatch
Image: DW/H. Jeppesen

DW: What do you expect from this year's working meeting at the UN climate headquarters in Bonn (04.-15.06.2014)?

Christoph Bals: There will be a high-level segment with ministers from industrialized, emerging and developing states. The industrialized countries will be expected to announce how they are going to up the inadequate climate targets they announced in Copenhagen in 2009, and how they are going to fulfill the funding pledges they made then.

At the moment things look very bleak, because hardly any of the industrialized countries are able to report any progress. The emerging countries have been more active, but they will be unwilling to announce that as long as the industrialized countries haven't done their homework.

Are you confident some progress will be made?

At the moment I will be happy if there are no setbacks. There is a kind of bizarre discrepancy: In the real world, we see progress, with US President Barack Obama announcing tight restrictions on the use of coal for power stations. Just a week ago, China announced it was doubling its renewable energy goals for 2017. In Mexico and the Philippines we've seen renewable energy targets massively corrected upwards over the last few weeks. We're seeing that renewable energy has become really competitive. At the same time, negotiations seem to have got stuck.

Steam rises from the US Capitol coal-fired power plant, which powers government offices in Washington, DC (photo: EPA/MATTHEW CAVANAUGH)
The Obama administration has announced to cut 30 percent of its carbon emissions from power plantsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Germanwatch published an analysis of the most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Where do we stand?

The consensus is that if there are no new political measures, we are heading for a temperature rise of 3.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius (6.3 to 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of this century. This would have enormous risks on our food and water security, for fish and other marine life because of ocean acidification, and for global sea level. At the same time, the IPCC tell us it is possible to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees or even 1.5 degrees Celsius, but only if we take massive action on energy efficiency and renewable energies, change our transport system, and take action against coal and tar sands.

How do you see Germany's position?

German Environment Minister [Barbara] Hendricks will be making her first appearance on the international climate stage, and it will be interesting to see whether she announces that by 2020 Germany - against its current trend of rising emissions - will actually reach its reduction targets. It will also be interesting to see if she will increase pressure on the EU to set really ambitious goals. And it will be interesting to see whether she will announce if Germany will be making an initial large deposit into the Green Climate Fund for developing countries by November. That would be a very positive debut.

Will the new measures announced by US President Obama motivate others to follow suit?

It's certainly interesting to see that the issue has dropped from the top of the political agenda in Europe. It's the opposite in the US or China, where the topic is higher on the list of priorities than ever before. Here in Europe we'll have to get used to the idea that we are losing our position as leaders in the international climate debate. We can only hope that others will provide the momentum, and force the EU to regain a leading position.

Christoph Bals is Policy Director at Germanwatch, a NGO dealing with environment and development issues.