UN climate conference: "It can’t be the only forum"

From the scientific point of view, the result of the UN climate conference is a minimum consensus. Climate researcher Rahmstorf therefore also demands in the interview tagesschau.de more political will to meet the 1.5 degree target.

tagesschau.de: Are climate conferences like this one in Sharm el-Sheik still effective at all?

Stefan Rahmstorf: The result is of course very disappointing because it will have really bad consequences for humanity as a whole if we don’t reduce emissions much faster. And unfortunately that was not decided. And it was not decided because of a birth defect at this UN climate summit: decisions can only be taken unanimously, so that every state – even a single oil state, for example – can always prevent an agreement. And as a result, there is inevitably only a minimal consensus. It’s a miracle that something like the Paris Agreement came out of it, which was already a huge success. But what really matters now is the implementation of the Paris goals.

To person

Stefan Rahmstorf heads the Earth System Analysis department at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and is Professor of Ocean Physics at the University of Potsdam.
In his research work, the physicist and physical oceanographer deals with the effects of climate change on ocean currents, sea level and extreme weather events, as well as with modeling the earth system.

“It can’t be the only forum”

tagesschau.de: But at the moment it looks like there is a standstill – are decisions even possible in a time like this?

Rahmstorf: It’s almost impossible, I would say. On the one hand, I think it is important to continue to have this type of global conference where all countries have a voice, because affected countries are also there, the poor developing countries, small island states and so on, and they have a voice. However, it cannot be the only forum where climate protection is pursued; instead, the leading industrialized nations or the G7, or even the G20, must also agree on a very rapid reduction in emissions from the major emitters, because what these global peaks is simply not enough.

Stefan Rahmstorf, University of Potsdam, Are climate conferences still effective?

11/22/2022 12:33 p.m

tagesschau.de: Certain countries must therefore lead the way – Europe, for example. Would that make sense?

Rahmstorf: Absolutely. That makes a lot of sense. And it is entirely justified, because Europe is one of the main emitters of greenhouse gases. There are, of course, others like China, which have grown very strongly with emissions in recent times. But you have to take two things into account: The climate impact depends on the total emissions since the beginning of industrialization, and Europe simply has a multiple of China when you relate it to the size of the population. And in addition, of course, part of the Chinese emissions arise from the production of goods that we then buy here – they are simply outsourced in this respect.

“Emissions must now transition to a descent”

tagesschau.de: What do you think should happen now?

Rahmstorf: What needs to happen is already clearly shown in the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: we need to halve emissions by 2030, worldwide. And so far they’re not even sinking! You could say they look like they’ve stagnated for the past ten years, which is definitely progress. This is due, for example, to the exponential growth of renewable energies. But emissions must now begin a steep decline and be halved by 2030.

“The political will is just not there”

tagesschau.de: The 1.5 degree target almost didn’t even make it into the final paper of the climate summit. In your view, are 1.5 degrees still achievable?

Rahmstorf: From a scientific and technological point of view, the 1.5 degrees are still achievable. But as you can see in Sharm el-Sheikh, the political will is simply not there. My prediction is that we will most likely break the 1.5 degree target. But not because it would be impossible, but because politicians are not pursuing it with the necessary priority. You’d have to make it the number one priority, like in a defense case, for example, where other things just have to take a backseat or face catastrophe on a planetary scale.

The billion dollar question

tagesschau.de: If you say that political insight is still a bit lacking, how could that be changed?

Rahmstorf: Yes, that might be the billion dollar question. How can you do that? We scientists have been clarifying the facts since 1990 at the latest, when the first report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was published. But yeah, obviously that’s not enough. It obviously needs more political pressure. And that’s why I’m also very grateful for “Fridays for Future” that young people are really protesting now, taking to the streets and saying: “Our future is being destroyed here. Politicians must act now.” There are simply too many intertwined interests: the fossil energy lobby, which plays a role here and has been fighting climate protection for decades and keeps delaying it, and that simply has to end now.

“The cause of global warming has been unequivocally explained”

tagesschau.de: Do we need more facts, more scientific results or even clearer communication?

Rahmstorf: It doesn’t need more facts. The cause of global warming has been unequivocally explained, as have the consequences that we have been predicting for decades, such as an increase in extreme heat, extreme precipitation, melting ice, rising sea levels, stronger hurricanes. Things all happen. Science just did its job well. She was right. She has communicated this very carefully in the IPCC reports. One can perhaps criticize the fact that these reports are written in a relatively technical way. But that has now been significantly improved in the last reports, so that they are easier to understand. And every politician should be able to read and understand at least the Executive Summary of the IPCC reports.

tagesschau.de: Do some reports perhaps sound too vague? Should it be formulated more clearly? When it is then said whether the extinction of certain animal species is due to the acidification of the oceans, it is not yet entirely clear.

Rahmstorf: Most of it is not so vague. You’re right, there are things that aren’t that well understood, like the impact of ocean acidification, but most of the basic facts, the extent of warming, the consequences for extreme weather events are actually pretty clear and are also clearly spelled out in the IPCC reports. And that, although these reports are also a consensus document of many scientists involved. This is almost similar to the climate negotiations, there must also be a consensus on what is in the report. And yet they are, I believe, of great clarity and clarity. In my experience, however, they are not even read by many politicians, who then take their information on climate change from the media. And there, serious climate information is still heavily mixed with pseudo-expertise coming from so-called “think tanks” – financed by the fossil industry lobby – who keep trying to throw smoke screens and pretend that everything is unsafe to the public to confuse.

More speed is needed in the energy transition

tagesschau.de: The next UN climate conference will take place in a year. What do we have to do this year so that this climate conference might have a chance?

Rahmstorf: Yes, I actually think that it makes a lot of sense if the main emitters Europe, USA, China, Canada, for example, get together and simply say: “We can no longer wait for the consensus at the global climate summits, we are moving forward now. ” There are also good signs, the USA passed the “Inflation Reduction Act” under President Biden, which, despite the name, is largely a climate protection program with very large investments in more climate protection. Europe has the “European Green Deal” and the Chinese have at least set themselves a climate neutrality target and are setting new records in the expansion of solar energy. I think the energy turnaround is already underway, and the main thing now is simply to speed it up even further.

tagesschau.de: Despite these results, are you optimistic about the future or would you say you are a little disappointed?

Rahmstorf: I’m definitely disappointed. But I’m the type of person who never gives up hope that maybe we can turn things around at the last minute and prevent a catastrophe.

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

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