Climate change and sustainable development

The world has been a series of extreme weather events over this year. Droughts have been occurring in India and the United States, hurricanes have hit Central America and severe floods emerged in China as well as in Europe.

These extreme events may serve as a warning of the consequences of climate change. As the international community of climate scientists have stated in their latest report, we will have to face extreme weather events not only more frequently, but also more severe ones. They also predict an increase of average global temperature between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees Celsius and a sea level rise by 10 to 90 cm by the year 2100 due to global warming. These effects of climate change would have severe adverse impacts on humankind and nature, with the poor countries being the most vulnerable ones.

But the world still has the choice: Do we want to collectively go down that route of unsustainable development? Or shouldn't we rather develop our societies without giving such a burden to future generations?

My answer to this question is very clear: We have to combat climate change and achieve sustainable development at the same time. Both issues are two sides of the same coin. There is no way to achieve sustainability in a devastated world. Therefore, both developed and developing countries share common but differentiated responsibilities. The developed countries have to rapidly re-direct their societies and economies towards clean energy, energy efficiency and more sustainable consumption patterns. The countries in the developing world must get their chance to take a direct road towards a sustainable future, avoiding the deviation of relying on unsustainable energy forms such as fossil fuels and nuclear. There is no reason why developing countries should go through the same mistakes that developed countries have committed. We can do better and we definitely should.

For this reason, at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in August this year, the world community agreed that poverty eradication and access to clean energy have to go hand in hand. At the summit, the European Union took the initiative to form a group of like-minded countries which are willing to agree on timetables and targets for increasing the use of renewable energies. We wholeheartedly invite India to join this initiative.

We believe that focussing on renewable energies is the key to the future. For this reason, the German Government is dedicated to fund renewable energies and energy efficiency projects in developing countries with one billion Euro (equivalent to about one billion US$) over the next five years. Further, Germany has committed itself to increase the share of renewable energy in electricity production from currently 6.5 to 12.5 per cent by the year 2010. Also, Germany will be inviting the world community by the end of 2003 to a conference that will address this issue.

These and other policies and measures will be necessary to achieve the ultimate objective of the climate convention, that is to stabilise the concentration of global greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a level that prevents harm to humankind and nature. To achieve this goal, there is still a long way to go. It requires drastic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions over and beyond the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, i.e. for the period after 2012. The process to start considering further commitments to achieve the ultimate objective of the climate convention should start at the first Conference of the Parties after the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol. We expect this next year at COP-9.

Only two weeks ago, the re-elected German Government decided that Germany is willing to go ahead; we are prepared to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions until the year 2020 by 40 per cent below 1990 levels, provided the E.U. decides to reduce its emissions by 30 per cent and other countries adopt similar ambitious targets. The success story of German climate change policy clearly shows that while these targets are ambitious, they are also reachable and a benefit for the economy.

Of our Kyoto target, which requires a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 21 per cent below 1990 levels, Germany has already achieved 19 per cent today. At the same time, climate policy gave a push to renewable energies in Germany, with wind power plants quadrupling during the past four years. The same success story can be told about solar power generation and the use of biomass. The boom of wind energy in Germany which has made us the world leader in wind energy production, has created ten thousands of new jobs in this industry during the past years.

Today, the world climate conference hosted by India in New Delhi will come to an end, while the final outcome is still under negotiation. It is vital for my Government that Ministers from all over the world will live up to the challenge of climate change and sustainable development. We need to open up the process leading to further commitments and timetables to combat the adverse effects of climate change, leading us into the future of climate change negotiation and action. A future with less greenhouse gas emissions, less risks of floods and droughts and more benefits for both developed and developing countries. Hence, a more sustainable future.

(The writer is German Minister for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.)

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