Results of the climate summit: "As a scientist, I am disappointed"

Not enough, too vague and too slow: climate researcher Pörtner is disappointed with the outcome of the climate conference. The 1.5 degree target is no longer achievable, he said tagesschau24-Interview.

tagesschau.de: You were in Egypt for almost the entire time at the climate conference. From an academic point of view: How satisfied are you with the final paper?

Hans Otto Pörtner: I am moderately satisfied with some aspects. In the final paper, the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) are prominently quoted. Reference is also made to the 1.5 degree target as a common goal. However, no breakthrough has been achieved in the sense that this goal should be striven for with high priority. Rather, vague formulations are mentioned that allow ways out. And that also reflects the discussions of the last few days and the unchanged strategies of the past few years by some actors. Especially those who want to sell fossil fuels and those who think that economic development gives them the right to use fossil fuels on a massive scale.

tagesschau.de: A farewell to oil and gas is explicitly not included in the final declaration. Does that mean nothing happens in this area either?

Porter: Of course, that’s kind of a crutch. There is talk that emissions have to go down drastically and that we have to achieve around 45 to 50 percent reductions in emissions by 2030. But oil and gas are not mentioned explicitly. It’s called coal, although everyone knows that when we talk about emissions, we mean emissions primarily from fossil fuels. Of course, we must not forget those from agriculture and forestry.

In this way, loopholes are installed that will make things difficult in the next few years – and this will delay everything again. And the big question that arises here is: can we pick up the pace so that we still reach 1.5 degrees? We can’t do that with our current efforts.

Hans Otto Pörtner

The climate expert has been researching the effects of climate change on marine life as a marine biologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute for more than 25 years. He is also co-chair of the IPCC Working Group II, making him a key author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s assessment report.

tagesschau.de: As a climate scientist, are you frustrated because the 1.5-degree target has been adhered to on paper but is almost impossible to achieve?

Porter: That’s the way it is. There is a further gap between the objectives and the implementation. Of course, one must also rate it positively that a mechanism or an approach has been found. Covering the damage, for example, and financing the adaptation was also discussed. These are all important aspects.

But we have gaps in implementation. The initiative of the EU, which says goodbye to the old view that, for example, the world’s largest emitter China is still considered a developing country, should be highlighted positively, but that China naturally also shares responsibility.

For me as a scientist, it is difficult to understand when politics dilutes this factually very obvious causality, because ultimately we as humanity have an overall responsibility for climate change. There are no good emitters and no bad emitters, but we are all called upon to reduce our emissions with the greatest possible initiative and ambition. Because we’re running out of time. The time window in which we can still limit warming to 1.5 degrees is closing. And it will close all the more, the more some countries claim exemptions for themselves. And that’s what the emerging markets and those who sell fossil fuels are doing.

Hans-Otto Pörtner, climate researcher, with assessments from science at the end of the world climate conference in Egypt

11/20/2022 1:00 p.m

“You play with the future of next generations”

tagesschau.de: What happens specifically if we cannot keep to 1.5 degrees? Maybe that’s still not clear to many people…

Porter: Even with many politicians, the deeper understanding that this is about our natural basis of life seems to be insufficient. Up to 1.5 degrees warming, we can still keep many risks at a moderate level. In addition, we are entering high-risk periods. This applies to the loss of human life as a result of extreme events. We are already seeing that hundreds to thousands of people are affected, especially when insufficient adaptation measures have been installed.

And we will have the loss of nature. Already now there is a loss of habitat in the tropics. We are losing warm-water coral reefs across the board and this trend will continue. As humans, we are part of nature. The way we are ultimately set up, we belong to the animal kingdom. And for us, too, the habitat will initially be lost in the tropics due to heat, extreme events, droughts and loss of food. There are also floods. Sea level rise will exceed one meter. All things that don’t seem worth striving for. And that should be obvious to everyone. And there you can’t make compromises, because you’re playing with the future of the next generations.

tagesschau.de: What would you have wished for this paper to contain?

Porter: It would have made more sense to implement the findings from science one-to-one and not to write down vague formulations and good intentions. Unfortunately, this is sometimes a consequence of finding compromises in the negotiations. We should have implemented seven percent of the emissions reduction every year since 2020 – we’re a long way from that. In any case, and this is the more recent insight from working group three of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we must go massively into reducing emissions by 2025. And that was already a compromise with reality. And we have to say very clearly that the quantitative specifications of science must be implemented in this way, otherwise it is not possible. And politicians must also understand that expertise really has to lead here and that the guidelines also have to be specified.

“Wrong Compromises”

tagesschau.de: Climate conference number 27 is over. Are you disappointed after this result because not enough has happened from a scientific point of view?

Porter: As a scientist, I am disappointed. Because I see that there is insufficient understanding of the scientific facts and because they are not implemented properly. And of course I’m also very disappointed as a person, as a father, as a grandfather, because I see that the future of the next generations is at stake – for the sake of short-term advantages.

And there is one major shortcoming: the right to development is being emphasized, especially by those who use or sell fossil fuels. Nobody will question this right to development, to economic development. But here a clear coupling must be established, so that development is only possible with the help of renewable energy sources and that the pace on both sides must be adjusted accordingly. On the one hand, what China is doing at the moment is admirable. There is probably no other country on earth that is so ambitious in developing renewable energies. But the same thing is happening on the fossil fuel side and humanity is shooting itself in the foot. And so it’s another very drastic example of wrong compromises and the resulting delays.

“We need a turning point”

tagesschau.de: In your opinion, is there any positive aspect of this climate summit?

Porter: The EU initiative, which makes all major emitters responsible, including China, is positive. No country can claim any longer that we are a developing country and are therefore allowed to emit massively more than others and that others then bear the costs for the damage we cause. Hopefully this dilemma will be resolved in the near future. That’s not quite the end of the discussion yet. There is a path.

The energy partnerships to help developing countries to phase out fossil fuels as quickly as possible are also positive. It is positive that there is also a need for action in the area of ​​adaptation and that efforts are being made to formulate a global adaptation goal. There have also been adjustments. Let’s take the floods in Pakistan with great damage. And then we take Bangladesh, where adaptation measures have managed to contain damage and human lives and loss of human life. So adaptation has increased in importance.

Financing issues are also important, of course. Here, too, there are signs that things could be going in the right direction. But the overall assessment of the climate summit must be: not enough, the speed of implementation, the breakthrough has not yet been achieved and we simply can no longer afford delays. We need a turning point to take up what Chancellor Olaf Scholz said. And not only in relation to Russia, but globally seen a turning point in a truly sustainable future.

The interview was conducted by Anja Martini, tagesschau.de and tagesschau24. It has been edited for the written version.

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