lIn a salute to the Future Conference of the Hamburger Universitäts-Gesellschaft, which took place at the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, climate researcher Klaus Hasselmann, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics last year, presented his analysis of the recent climate debate WELT publishes his speech, which was read at the event in the author’s absence.
It is now 60 years since my fellow Nobel laureate Syukuro Manabe showed that an increase in CO₂ in the atmosphere leads to an increase in global temperatures. It has been 50 years since the Club of Rome published its famous book The Limits to Growth. And now a follow-up work has been published that significantly expands the earlier model and presents two scenarios: TLTL, too little, too late, and GL, giant leap. The latter would be our only chance to control man-made climate change and keep the consequences bearable.
It has been 40 years since I was able to scientifically separate natural climate variability from human-induced influences, leading to the finding that human-induced CO₂ emissions account for 95 percent of measured global temperature increases. Since the first IPCC report (1990) at the latest, politicians have known what to expect. Mrs Merkel visited my institute in 1998 and as a physicist she was able to give us a razor-sharp presentation on the climate problem.
Time and time again we, especially my colleagues Mojib Latif and Hartmuth Grassl, have tirelessly pointed out that the longer we wait, the more expensive it will be to solve the problem. Also keep in mind that stopping CO₂ emissions will not solve the problem. No, the gas remains in the atmosphere for more than 100 years before disappearing.
Why Germany is not meeting its climate targets
How much time has passed since then! And what was actually done? The federal government’s climate experts have just stated repeatedly that Germany is far from meeting the climate targets it has set itself. Why is this:
1. Humans have an innate ability to react to danger only when it directly affects them.
2. Churchill formulated: Democracy is still the best of all evil forms of government. Yes, politicians want to be re-elected every four or five years. People don’t like to make unpopular decisions that only pay off in the distant future.
3. Yes, and then of course there is the economy, which will not change if they experience economic disadvantages. Yet there were also commendable exceptions, such as Michael Otto, who sold clothes from sustainable production early on. His endowed professorship of sustainable environmental development for social and humanities research into economic and climate issues was very prescient. She has contributed to the climate research excellence clusters of the University of Hamburg.
And now the dangers of climate change are closing in. The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research has just published a study, according to which hurricane damage increases as global temperatures rise due to greenhouse gases from fossil fuels. Computer simulations of regional economic sectors and supply chains in the US now show that the resulting economic losses may at some point no longer be compensated nationally if warming continues to intensify.
According to the study’s authors, if too many production sites are hit by a hurricane and stop producing, other countries jump in to supply goods. Thus, the climate change effects of hurricanes will put the US at an economic disadvantage – the warmer, the stronger. I don’t think I need to mention the costs of the direct damage caused by increasingly extreme events.
Yet climate change has now penetrated the consciousness of the majority of people. Heat waves, heavy rains, storms are an integral part of our lives. I also think that the economy, independent of politics, is looking for ways out, like Maersk trying out new fuels for their ships, or Airbus having interesting plans to produce hydrogen from sunlight in flight. To name just two examples.
I also found it interesting in the new Club of Rome report that the goals can only be achieved if humanity finds cooperative forms of living. This also applies to countries that benefit from their natural resources themselves. Similarly, general debt relief must provide poorer countries with the conditions to even have a chance at sustainable development.
I am always asked if I believe that humanity will overcome the climate problem. I’m an optimist by nature and I think we’re going to make it. Yet the earth will not look like it did when I was young. The target of 1.5 degrees is no longer feasible. Nevertheless, let’s deal with it!
The author, now 91 years old, was director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg from 1975 to 1999.