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Industrialised world must act first on climate.

Irene Quaile
December 15, 2014

Climate summits have been held for 20 years now, but global warming continues. If the UN cannot succeed, who is responsible for saving the climate? DW asks climate expert Professor Mojib Latif.


DW: We seem to be on the way to the warmest year since records began. Emissions are still on the rise. Does the outcome of the Lima conference reflect awareness of that?

Not really. I think since the international negations started in the early 1990s, unfortunately exactly the opposite happened to what should have happened. Global carbon dioxide emissions, which are the main cause of global warming, increased by approximately 60 percent. This reflects the failure of these negotiations.

Does that mean that these negotiations are a waste of time?

I am not sure if they are really a waste of time, but they don’t yield what they should yield: a stabilization of CO2 emissions globally, and in the long run a decline of those emissions.

Climate expert Mojib Latif
Climate expert Mojib LatifImage: dapd

Who is going to bring about that transition if the UN fails?

I think it’s a matter of historical responsibility. So if you ask where the carbon dioxide came from which we measure in the atmosphere today, then you have to look at the accumulative emissions, which are the emissions summed up over many decades. And if you do that, you will see that one quarter of the CO2 in the atmosphere was emitted by the United States, and another quarter was emitted by the European countries. So I think they have to be the front-runners here. They must go ahead and submit a reduction that really reflects this historical responsibility.

Do you see any signs of that happening?

Not really. Everybody is looking at China and the other tiger states. China is of course the largest emitter of carbon dioxide with a share of about 27 percent; but if you look at the emissions summed up over the 20th century, then China has only a share of about ten percent. You can’t blame China for having caused the climate change problem. So I think there must be some manifestation of this historical responsibility, and then I think China will follow.

How do you rate our chance of that happening and of the world keeping to the two-degree goal for the maximum rise in global temperature?

This is a difficult question. I don’t think this will happen through the international negotiations. It might happen through the dynamics which the renewable energies actually create. In Germany, we have a renewables share of 25 percent now, but in the early 1990s, energy companies said the share would not be larger than five percent by the end of the 21stcentury. So there you see the growth of renewable energies. And I hope that countries like Germany or Denmark show that the renewable energies are developed, and that they can be used at an affordable price. And I hope that this is then a role model for other countries.

Yet there is still a reluctance on the whole to reduce emissions and to embark on a renewable path. Why is that? Where is the opposition coming from?

It’s coming from different sides. The main reason is that we live in a world which looks only at the short-term goals and not the long-term goals. The economy wants to make profit in the short run, they look at months or maybe a few years, the politicians look to the next elections, and so nobody has this long-term strategy which is needed. We must cut global greenhouse gases by 2050 by approximately 50 percent and stop emitting any greenhouse gases by 2100. This is still 85 years and it is possible, but we have been unable to start this process. You can’t only blame one group. It's basically the whole society that’s stuck in these short-term actions.

So if all of society and all the countries have to act, that brings us ultimately back to the UN and the need to get a global international climate treaty in place in Paris next year?

Yes, that would be good, and I think this will happen. However, the commitments will not be sufficient to meet the two-degree target. I don’t see that the global community as a whole will move forward. And then, once again, it comes back to individual countries.

Professor Mojib Latif is a meteorologist and oceanographer at Kiel University. He heads the research division on ocean circulation and climate dynamics.

The interview was conducted by Irene Quaile.

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