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Background

Climate change – time to act

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"Climate action is gathering momentum not just because it is a necessity but also because it presents an opportunity – to forge a peaceful and sustainable future on a healthy planet. (...) It is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do," as UN Secretary-General António Guterres put it. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) likewise warns that any delay in taking action to protect the climate will restrict future options and drive up costs.

The global transformation towards climate-friendly and climate-resilient development is now making progress. In 2015, the international community created a political framework for this transformation by adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement.

Well below two degrees, and 1.5 degrees if possible

Climate change is largely anthropogenic in nature. It can only be kept within manageable limits if we consistently reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the climate agreement concluded in Paris, the international community made a commitment to keep global warming well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to undertake efforts to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This stricter target has been set in consideration of the interests of small island states in particular, whose very existence is under acute threat from global warming.

This ambitious goal can only be achieved if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced as quickly as possible. That will only be possible by continuing to massively scale up the use of renewable energy. And carbon sinks, such as forests and oceans, will have to be preserved and protected so as to facilitate the sequestration of emitted carbon dioxide, thus reducing the strain on the global atmosphere. This requires fast and far-reaching technological, economic and social change.


Climate policy is also development policy

Failing to achieve the climate targets would have devastating consequences: depending on the scenario, this would lead to a significant increase in sea temperatures and a rise in sea levels by several metres. As a result of taking up more and more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, oceans would become more acidic, causing widespread destruction of plant and animal life in some areas. The expected rise in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events would pose a hazard to humans and to the environment. Entire regions would be at risk of becoming excessively arid or could become uninhabitable because of excessive heat or flooding. In some parts of the world, food production and supply would be put in jeopardy.

And even if humanity manages to limit temperature rise to well below two degrees and, if possible, 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, the world will still have to expect that some of the consequences of climate change described above will become reality. In some places, the effects of climate change can already be felt.

Hard-won economic and social progress may then be undone; achievements in the struggle against poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy will be jeopardised. Inevitably, therefore, climate policy is also development policy. After all, climate change does not stop at the border. Its impacts are not limited to specific areas of policy, sectors of the economy or social groups – but poor population groups are particularly vulnerable. It is therefore important not to lose sight of these interdependencies 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, for example through the cutting down of forests and through methane emissions from livestock farming. Urban areas compete with agriculture for water and food or animal feed. The migration of people from rural areas greatly increases population pressure in the cities, where action to protect the climate must be harmonised with the creation of jobs and the growth in motorised transport.

Steps must be taken to reconcile differing needs, create incentives for climate-friendly behaviour and open up opportunities for adaptation to climate change. This is not only about limiting and preventing the negative effects of climate change. The necessary transition to a climate-friendly and climate-resilient economy offers enormous opportunities for economic development and poverty reduction. For instance, the expansion of decentralised energy supply systems based on renewable energy sources does not only contribute to climate change mitigation, it also reduces energy poverty and facilitates economic and social development even in remote regions.

Germany is contributing to this through its development policy, and it harmonises its activities with the guiding resolutions of the international community.


Active at many levels – new initiatives

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

  • the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative (AREI), which aims to expand renewable energy capacity in Africa,
  • the InsuResilience climate risk insurance initiative, which seeks to improve the protection of an additional 400 million poor and particularly vulnerable people against the consequences of climate change,
  • reforestation in Africa (African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative, AFR100) and financing of the REDD+ approach (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation),
  • the NDC Partnership to promote implementation of Nationally Determined Contributions in developing countries, and
  • the Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative (TUMI) for sustainable urban transport in developing and emerging economies.

Implementing the Paris climate agreement will require a strong international alliance that works for sustainable development within the boundaries of our planet. During its G20 Presidency in 2016 and 2017, Germany has therefore made a point of closely linking the implementation of climate, energy and development goals in G20 and developing countries. The G20 Climate and Energy Action Plan for Growth is an important step towards the implementation of the Paris climate agreement. All the G20 countries have committed themselves to this plan. The only exception is the US government, which has stated its intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The Action Plan shows that there can be no going back. A strong alliance of industrialised and developing countries, the private sector, civil society and municipalities is working on realising a climate-friendly model of growth and economic activity for the future. While climate action and the climate-friendly transformation of energy systems involve great challenges, they also offer enormous potential for growth and employment.

An overview of the outcomes achieved under Germany's G20 Presidency in the area of climate and development can be found here.


Implementation of the climate targets has started

For the coming years, the policy framework has been put in place through the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement. Specific targets have been defined. Implementation has started. Now it is crucial to reinforce efforts so that the Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to 2 or 1.5 degrees can still be reached. To that end, countries will not only have to implement their current climate action plans systematically. Over time, they will also have to define new and more ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions.


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