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UN Climate Conference

Interview: Torsten Schäfer (kjb)December 1, 2007

As the UN Climate Conference gets underway on Bali, energy expert Hermann Scheer told DW-WORLD.DE not to get hopes up. The Alternative Nobel Prize winner suggested a few other ways of protecting the earth.

The Bavarian Forest
Reforestation is a cheap way to help save the earth, said ScheerImage: Nationalpark Bayerischer Wald

Hermann Scheer is a Social Democratic member of the German parliament. He is president of the EUROSOLAR organization for renewable energy and general chairman of the World Council for Renewable Energy.

DW-WORLD.DE: What do you expect to come out of the negotiations on Bali?

Hermann Scheer: That a decision will be made to hold another conference. There are lots of good intentions and appeals, but nothing concrete. Too many expectations have been projected on this conference, which makes the disappointment afterward even bigger.

For many governments, these meetings take the place of doing something, according to the unwritten motto: "Speak globally, delay nationally." Everything is put off until the conference, even though they know that no real break-through decisions will happen there. The question has to be asked: Is this the right level to be solving these problems at?

Why are you so skeptical? There's a lot of pressure for the participating countries to reach an agreement.

Hermann Scheer
Scheer is General Chairman of the World Council for Renewable EnergyImage: presse/Hermann Scheer

All of these conferences depend on reaching a consensus. But the principle of consensus contradicts the necessity of speeding things us. And we desperately need to speed up the fight against climate change. It's time to think about not making these conferences a standard for everything that further decisions are based on.

Do UN climate conferences have any value at all?

These conferences do have significance, which is why they should be held -- that is, raising awareness of the problem and creating public pressure on the countries to act. Their value is in keeping the topic up high on the political agenda. But you can't expect the necessary, practical solutions here. Action has to happen later, in the individual countries themselves.

What topics should be discussed on Bali?

An initiative for increased dismantling of nuclear power plants will be on the table on Bali. But you can't fall into the trap of thinking that nuclear power is the solution to the climate problem. Let's just think about the problematic effects of nuclear energy, the costs associated with it, and the risks that result. It needs to be critically discussed that the allegedly CO2-free power plants lead to a dead end. This approach isn't so much in the foreground because there's supposed to be a guarantee of survival for the large power plants.

Why does CO2 refinement lead to a dead end?

The concept of refining and storing CO2 can't be successful. It can't be released from the earth ever again. It's comparable to the atomic waste problem. And it will be incredibly expensive. Everything will be swept to the side.

It would be much better to get away from the big power plant structure and replace them with decentralized energy supplies. And, internationally, we finally have to come to the realization that fighting climate change won't bring economic damage. In fact, the opposite is true: Increasing energy efficiency and switching to renewable energy sources means a huge economic benefit and is an investment in the future.

What should the central points be in the successor treaty to Kyoto?

The power plant in Biblis
Scheer sees little future for nuclear powerImage: AP

The cheapest method of relieving the climate situation should be put in the foreground -- that is, a worldwide reforestation program that would considerably reduce the excess CO2 in the atmosphere. It would also be groundbreaking to organize a transfer of technology to developing and emerging nations.

One proposal is to set up an international agency for renewable energy, but there's too much resistant to it on Bali. I've been following this idea for 17 years and since then it's even been approved by the German government. With the UN consensus process, it probably wouldn't be possible. The agency would have to be founded by the countries that want to participate as a government organization.

Are there other ways to include the developing and emerging nations?

We'd have to talk about how we can give existing institutions more capacity and financial power to assist the countries. That would be a topic that should be focused on at these kinds of conferences. That's true for UNESCO, when it's a matter of training specialists. It's also true for UNIDO, the UN organization for industrial development that is there to support renewable energies in emerging nations. And it applies to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which helps countries establish bio-energy structures in order to get away from energy imports.