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Barbara Hendricks
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/F. Bensch

'Climate summit is going to succeed'

Interview: Ruth Krause / sst
July 9, 2015

Saving the world's climate in 12 days: That's what the Paris climate summit has been tasked with. It's an ambitious goal - but Germany's Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks believes it's possible to reach this target.


At the end of this year, Paris will host the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21). It's going to be the most important environmental conference in years, where 194 countries will meet to finalize a new binding climate contract to replace the Kyoto Protocol. In advance of a special media project around a low-carbon road trip, DW asked Hendricks about Germany's plans for the climate conference in Paris.

Deutsche Welle: What are your expectations with regard to the climate summit?

Barbara Hendricks: I am very confident the summit will succeed and the countries will contribute, based on their means. The Kyoto Protocol that we now set out to replace was solely addressed to industrialized countries, and it hasn't been as successful as it should have been, because some countries dropped out and other countries didn't even bother joining.

Now the motto is: Everyone in the world should participate as they see fit. It's very good that China recently came forward publicly to announce its contribution. The first condition for [the climate summit's] success is that China and the United States be on board.

Paris is not the first attempt at drawing up a new binding framework. We still remember the climate summit in Copenhagen, which has been widely described as a failure. What's going to be different in Paris - and why?

The world's largest [greenhouse gas] emitters - China and the US - are now on board. And in contrast to Copenhagen, I believe that we can now convince the countries of the Global South that their development won't be hindered by climate protection. Instead, they should be able to keep energy from renewables at competitive prices, which will allow for a decentralized power supply and provide them with opportunities for development.

Eiffel tower in smog (Photo: EPA/YOAN VALAT/dpa)
A great deal is riding on the Paris climate summitImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Former UN climate chief Yvo de Boer said in 2013: "The only way that a 2015 agreement can achieve a 2-degree Celsius goal [3.6 degrees Fahrenheit] is to shut down the whole global economy …"

No, of course that's incorrect. We don't want to have [a global rise in temperature of more than] 2 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. Right now, we already have global warming of 0.85 degrees Celsius. That's why it's so crucial that China has stated its CO2 emissions would peak by 2030 at the latest. This means they have the ambition to reach that goal sooner.

And if China succeeds in what industrialized countries have already managed to do now - and which is also possible for the US - then we can meet the target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

What's crucial here is energy efficiency. In Germany, we have long ago decoupled economic growth from energy consumption. We have fairly good economic growth rates - of course, not as high as in emerging countries - but we also have decreasing energy use. We don't have to stop doing business.

In the past, Germany was regarded as a climate pioneer. But other countries have pushed ahead, for instance Scandinavian countries when it comes to renewables or e-cars. Can Germany keep its role model position when it comes to climate protection?

I think that we are still seen in that role, globally speaking. Also because of the ample technological means we have - especially when it comes to renewable energy. That's the crucial point.

Of course, we also have electrically driven mobility here - but in Germany there are few e-cars compared to Norway or the Netherlands. That's closely linked to policies on subsidies. But technologically speaking, we are definitely still at the forefront.

A man charging his e-car (Photo: Gero Rueter)
E-cars aren't as popular as they could be due to a lack of incentives, Hendricks saidImage: DW/G.Rueter

Especially the element of transportation is interesting to us since we are trying to travel to Paris in an environmentally friendly way as part of our low-carbon road trip. We've encountered a number of logistical problems when it comes to e-cars. In the first quarter of 2015, only 0.6 percent of all cars sold in Germany were e-cars. What can be done to make transportation more climate-friendly?

For one, we need to continue investing more into railway transportation. Some cities in France are setting a good example for reintroducing trams. German cities could do more in that regard - especially since we notice that young people living in cities often do without cars. But in order to do that, you need to have good public transportation.

It's more difficult when it comes to rural areas, because public transportation can't be provided to the same extent. Still, it needs to get better, especially keeping in mind the aging population. A disproportionally high number of older people will live in rural areas. There's still a lot to tackle.

What are your plans relating to e-cars?

I could imagine that we - the German government - are going to agree on more incentives. There are ongoing discussions about tax deductions for company cars, if they have a plug-in hybrid engine [cars that run on fuel, but can also run on electricity]. That would of course set a market incentive. But that hasn't been decided yet.

Last question: How are you going to get to Paris?

German railway operator Deutsche Bahn plans to run an extra train called "Train to Paris." And I plan to take that train.

Barbara Hendricks (Social Democratic Party) took office as Germany's environment minister in 2013.

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