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On the fence

November 4, 2009

As a key climate conference in Copenhagen nears, some nations are still showing little willingness to reach an agreement to protect the Earth. The USA, in particular, needs to change its tune, a German expert told DW.

A Chinese shipyard worker takes a break near a crude oil vessel
Some countries are reluctant to sacrifice industrial growth for the sake of the climateImage: AP

Professor Mojib Latif is a climate expert at the Leibniz-Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of Kiel. He told Deutsche Welle about his expectations and doubts regarding the upcoming climate conference in the Danish capital.

Deutsche Welle: How do you rate climate change as a challenge to humankind at this point in time?

Mojib Latif: At the moment, we're at the beginning of climate development. We can already prove there is human influence on the climate, but the warming is around 0.7 degrees Celsius over the last 100 years. That's very little by comparison with what could be ahead of us - possibly up to 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century if we don't turn around and just keep on the way we are going.

What action needs to be taken?

Smoking industrial chimneys
CO2 emissions are a worldwide problem

It's important that all over the world we halve emissions of greenhouse gases - especially CO2 - by the middle of the century, and then reduce them by around 80 percent by the end of the century. Of course the industrialized countries have to make a bigger effort than the developing countries.

The Barcelona talks are the last preparatory round for the UN climate conference in Copenhagen. What role do these international conferences play when it comes to reaching international agreement?

I think international conferences are important with regard to gaining public attention. Ultimately that's where the leaders of this world will presumably come together to reach some final agreement on the climate. I hope Copenhagen will mark the start of a long-term strategy to protect the climate.

How optimistic are you?

At the moment, all the signs indicate that a lot of countries are still blocking, but I hope that the political skill of some of the actors will help to bring about a sensible result.

How do you rate the willingness of Germany and the willingness of key countries like India and China to sign a far-reaching, binding agreement?

So far the leading industrial countries have not been credible. They are the ones who bear the most responsibility for the problem. But they are not willing to adopt really bold targets, especially the USA. Against that background, it's understandable that emerging countries like China and India are still holding back with climate protection measures. But that will change instantly if the USA really gives a clear signal and agrees to some courageous emissions targets in Copenhagen.

At the moment, there is a lot of pessimism to be heard. You could almost get the impression that some countries and lobby groups are preparing us for the conference's failure. How serious would the situation be if there's no binding agreement after the Copenhagen talks?

An multi-lane highway in the USA, filled with cars
Where people have more money, there's more pollutionImage: AP

I would consider it absolutely disastrous if there were to be no final protocol in Copenhagen, because we have already waited too long. The Kyoto Protocol wasn't even kept to - the USA in particular didn't even ratify it. We only have a very small timeframe to act and any further delay is unacceptable.

What can ordinary consumers do?

Ordinary consumers here also have no credibility abroad. For instance, a German emits between 10 and 11 tons of CO2 per year on average, an Indian only 1. So we have to try to reduce our per-capita emissions in Germany and in other industrialized countries considerably. That's the only way we can attain credibility. The long-term goal has to be something like "carbon justice." Every human being in the world should have the same right to emit CO2.

You can do a lot of things yourself. Ultimately, sustainable climate protection means restructuring the world's economy in the direction of renewable energies. Every individual can make his or her own contribution today, whether it's driving a smaller car, insulating their home or putting solar cells on their roof. Or you can cut down on overseas travel.

A lot of people see climate change as something that won't affect them directly. How is climate change affecting Germany and what dangers are still coming?

Climate change will have a lasting negative effect on the very basis of our lives. We're talking about extremely dry summers, yet at the same time torrential rainfall that will repeatedly lead to floods. We're talking about rising sea levels, which will also affect Germany's coasts. So we must not belittle climate change - it will have a massive effect on us.

Interview: Irene Quaile (ew)

Editor: Sean Sinico