Climate change – time to act

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Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations from 2007 until 2016, described climate change as the biggest challenge in the history of the human race, because it "threatens life and our existence". This means, he says, that the world must take concerted action – and do so quickly and vigorously. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) likewise warns that any delay in taking action to protect the climate will restrict subsequent options and drive up costs. In 2015 the international community created the political framework for this action by adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Climate Agreement.

A target of well below 2°C

Climate change is largely man-made. It can be kept within manageable bounds only by rigorously cutting back greenhouse gas emissions. On the basis of scientific calculations, climate policy in recent years has set out to limit global warming to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and to 1.5°C if feasible. Beyond that limit, the consequences of climate change threaten to become irreversible and uncontrollable.

In the Paris Climate Agreement the international community has taken this a step further and resolved to limit the global temperature rise to well below 2°C, and if possible to 1.5°C. This more stringent target is influenced in particular by the interests of small island states whose very existence is under acute threat from global warming.

The new target is achievable – if the trend towards ever-increasing greenhouse gas emissions is rapidly reversed. In addition, anthropogenic emissions must be neutralised by carbon sinks (such as forests and oceans). However, this requires radical technological, economic and institutional change.

Climate policy is also development policy

Failing to achieve these targets would have devastating consequences: some scenarios predict that sea levels could rise by several metres and that sea temperatures would also increase. The rising water temperature would cause the oceans to become more acidic, causing widespread destruction of plant and animal life in some areas. Entire regions would be at risk of becoming excessively arid or could become uninhabitable on account of excessive heat. Food production in these regions would fall sharply.

Even if we succeed in stopping temperatures rising to more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, the world is going to change: some regions will suffer from water shortages, others from flooding. The countries most affected will be developing and newly industrialising countries; it is they who are hardest hit by the impacts of global warming.

Hard-won economic and social progress may then be undone; achievements in the war on poverty, hunger and disease and in the drive for more education are at risk. Inevitably, therefore, climate policy is also development policy. Climate change is no respecter of national boundaries. Its impacts are not limited to specific areas of policy, sectors of the economy or social groups – but poor population groups are particularly hard hit. It is therefore important not to lose sight of the many and diverse linkages when taking climate action.

Agriculture, for example, is an important source of income for many people in developing countries, but it is coming under increasing pressure as a result of climate change. At the same time, agriculture is itself a major contributor to climate change through the felling of forests or emissions of methane in livestock farming. Urban areas compete with agriculture for water and food/animal feed. The migration of people from the countryside greatly increases population pressure in the cities: action to protect the climate must therefore be compatible with growing motorisation and the creation of jobs.

Steps must be taken to reconcile differing needs, create incentives for climate-friendly behaviour and promote opportunities for adaptation to climate change. German development policy contributes to all of these strands of action – and harmonises its activities with the guiding resolutions of the international community.

Active on many levels – new initiatives

Since the adoption of the Paris Agreement, the German government has launched and supported some major initiatives. These include:

  • the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative, which aims to expand renewable energy capacity in Africa,
  • the InsuResilience climate risk insurance initiative, which seeks to insure 400 million poor, particularly vulnerable people against the consequences of climate change,
  • reforestation in Africa and financing for REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) and, in particular,
  • the NDC Partnership to promote implementation of Nationally Determined Contributions in developing countries.

Furthermore, at the Habitat III conference, BMZ introduced the Transformative Urban Mobility initiative for sustainable urban transport in developing and newly industrialising countries.

It is now time to act

The policy framework for years to come has now been created; the initial goals have been formulated. The implementation stage has begun. It is time to step up our efforts so that we can achieve these targets and set new ones that are even more ambitious.

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