UN climate conference: “It cannot be the only forum”


Stand: 23.11.2022 2:20 pm

Scientifically speaking, the result of the UN climate conference is a minimal consensus. Climate researcher Rahmstorf therefore also makes demands in the interview tagesschau.de more political will to achieve 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 very bad consequences for humanity as a whole if we do not reduce emissions much faster. And unfortunately that has not been decided. And at this UN climate summit, no decision was made because of a congenital defect: decisions can only be taken by unanimity, so that any state – even a single oil state, for example – can always avoid a deal. 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 leads the Earth System Analysis Department at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and is a 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 conditions, as well as modeling the Earth system.

“It can’t be the only forum”

tagesschau.de: But at the moment it seems to be at a standstill – are decisions even possible in a time like this?

Rahmstorf: It’s almost impossible, I’d say. On the one hand, I think it is important to continue to have global conferences like this where all countries have a voice, because there are also affected countries, 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 countries or the G7, or even the G20, must also agree on a very rapid reduction in emissions from the largest emitters, because these global peaks are simply not enough.

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

11/22/2022 12:33 PM

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

Rahmstorf: Absolute. That makes sense. And rightly so, because Europe is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases. There are, of course, others, such as China, that have grown very strongly in emissions in recent times. But you have to take into account two things: the climate impact depends on the total emissions since the beginning of industrialization, and Europe simply has a multiple of China if you relate it to the size of the population. And in addition, of course, part of China’s emissions come from the production of goods that we then buy here – they are simply outsourced in that respect.

‘Emissions must now transition to a decrease’

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

Rahmstorf: What needs to be done is already clear from the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: we need to halve global emissions by 2030. And so far they don’t even sink! You could say they look like they’ve been stagnant for the past decade, which is definitely progress. This is due, for example, to the exponential growth of renewable energy sources. But emissions must now fall sharply and be halved by 2030.

“The political will just isn’t there”

tagesschau.de: The target of 1.5 degrees almost did not even reach the final paper of the climate summit. Do you think 1.5 degrees is still feasible?

Rahmstorf: From a scientific and technological point of view, the 1.5 degree is 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 do not pursue it with the necessary priority. You should make it a number one priority, like in a defense case, for example, where other things just have to take a back seat 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 change?

Rahmstorf: Yeah, that might be the billion dollar question. How can you do that? We scientists have been elucidating the facts since 1990 at the latest, when the first report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out. But yes, that is of course not enough. More political pressure is clearly needed. And that’s why I’m also very grateful for “Fridays for Future” that young people are now really protesting, 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 against climate protection for decades and keeps postponing it, and that just has to come to an 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: No more facts are needed. 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. All kinds of things happen. Science just did its job well. She was right. She communicated this very carefully in the IPCC reports. One might criticize the fact that these reports are written in a relatively technical manner. But that has now been significantly improved in the latest reports so that they are easier to understand. And every politician should at least be able to read and understand the Executive Summary of the IPCC reports.

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

Rahmstorf: Most of it isn’t that vague. You’re right, there are things that are not very well understood, like the impact of ocean acidification, but most of the basic facts, the rate of warming, the impact on extreme weather events are actually quite clear and spelled out clearly in the IPCC reports as well. And that, although these reports are also a consensus document of many scientists involved. This is almost comparable to the climate negotiations, there also needs to 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 get their information about climate change from the media. And there serious climate information is still heavily mixed with pseudo-expertise from so-called “think tanks” – funded by the fossil industry lobby – who keep trying to throw smokescreens and pretend everything is unsafe to confuse the public bring.

More speed is needed in the energy transition

tagesschau.de: The next UN climate conference will take place in a year’s time. What should we do this year to give this climate conference a chance?

Rahmstorf: Yes, I actually think it makes a lot of sense for the biggest emitters Europe, US, China, Canada, for example, to come together and simply say, “We can no longer wait for the consensus at the global climate summits, we are now ahead.” There are also good signs, the US has 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 solar expansion. I think the energy shift is already underway, and the most important thing now is to accelerate it even further.

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

Rahmstorf: I am certainly disappointed. But I’m the type of person who never gives up hope that maybe we can change things at the last minute and avoid catastrophe.

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

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