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Concrete action

Irene QuaileJune 7, 2014

China and the US have backed up their pledges of concrete action on climate at ministerial negotiations in Germany's UN capital, Bonn, giving new hope that a global agreement can be reached in 2015.

Barbara Hendricks and Christiana Figueres with an electric car
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks made her debut at international climate change negotiations in Bonn this week, as ministers aim to come up with a new global climate agreement by the Paris summit in 2015.

"The Paris protocol has to take us to a zero-carbon future," Hendricks (above right, with UN climate chief Christiana Figueres) told the meeting.

"Unlike Kyoto, it should apply to all countries, not just the industrialized ones. Each country should contribute as much as it can to protecting the climate. I expect all big CO2 emitters to adopt ambitious goals. And they would then be obliged to keep to them."

'Positive signals'

Hendrick's speech was well received. Environment and development NGO Germanwatch said her announced program of climate initiatives and promises of substantial financial support for developing countries were "positive signals that have to be filled with life in the coming months."

The German climate action program will include measures to make sure Germany actually reaches its goal of 40 percent emissions reductions by 2020. Since this is more ambitious than the EU's plans as a whole, Hendricks said the resulting emissions certificates would be taken out of circulation, to make sure others do not use Germany's progress to increase their own emissions.

UN Gebäude in Bonn, Thermometer
The temperature is rising at the UN campus in BonnImage: DW/I. Quaile

Laurence Tubiana, France's representative at the talks, told DW that the high-level discussion had brought a new atmosphere and urgency to what is normally a routine working meeting.

Tubiana, a seasoned climate negotiator, said it was the first time she had heard so many ministers come out with concrete information about what their countries are doing and firm plans for future action, instead of prevaricating with timetables and calling on others to act.

Emissions giants coming together?

The world's biggest emitters, China and the US, confirmed intentions announced earlier in the week to take substantial action on climate change.

"It's interesting to see that the two most important players are developing similar visions of what a future agreement could look like," said Germanwatch head Christoph Bals. "Some might ask if the proposals are ambitious enough, but they are far more ambitious than ever before."

Klimagespräche in Bonn Infostände NGO`s
NGOs saw the climate pledges as "positive signals"Image: DW/I.Quaile,

Bals said China was signaling that it would take its new position as a wealthy country with the highest emissions seriously, instead of insisting it's still a developing state. And, he added, the US had accepted the need to put more into the financing of climate protection and adaptation for developing countries - a major breakthrough, although difficult to implement against the opposition at home.

Martin Kaiser, head of international climate politics at Greenpeace, said the signals from China and the US should encourage others to follow suit. He said all countries should take the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change seriously and fundamentally redesign their energy systems to keep temperature increases below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

National measures now could reduce emissions as well as paving the way for an effective international agreement, to go into effect from 2020, he added.

USA, klima, kohlekraft, CO2, emissionen
US anti-coal measures will help reach both health and climate goalsImage: ap

'Agreement on track'

Manuel Pulgar Vidal, environment minister of Peru, where this year's major climate talks will be held in December, said he was feeling confident after the ministerial discussions.

By the Lima meeting, he expects $10 billion (7.3 billion euros) to be made available for the Green Climate Fund, within the framework of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Vidal stressed that the world had to respond to scientific evidence and the effects of climate change already being felt around the globe, saying that current trends would not keep temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius.

He added that it was a huge challenge for his developing country to host the major event, but said he was confident cooperation between civil society, businesses and governments would make it possible to create the foundations for an effective agreement in 2015.