Climate policy has almost nothing to do anymore with environmental protection, says the German economist and IPCC official Ottmar Edenhofer. The next world climate summit in Cancun is actually an economy summit during which the distribution of the world’s resources will be negotiated. – Ottmar Edenhofer
For those who may not know, Ottmar Edenhofer is the co-chair of the IPCC Working Group III.
Interview by: Bernard Potter
NZZ am Sonntag: Mr. Eden, everybody concerned with climate protection demands emissions reductions. You now speak of “dangerous emissions reduction.” What do you mean?
Ottmar Edenhofer: So far economic growth has gone hand in hand with the growth of greenhouse gas emissions. One percent growth means one percent more emissions. The historic memory of mankind remembers: In order to get rich one has to burn coal, oil or gas. And therefore, the emerging economies fear CO2 emission limits.
But everybody should take part in climate protection, otherwise it does not work.
That is so easy to say. But particularly the industrialized countries have a system that relies almost exclusively on fossil fuels. There is no historical precedent and no region in the world that has decoupled its economic growth from emissions. Thus, you cannot expect that India or China will regard CO2 emissions reduction as a great idea. And it gets worse: We are in the midst of a renaissance of coal, because oil and gas (sic) have become more expensive, but coal has not. The emerging markets are building their cities and power plants for the next 70 years, as if there would be permanently no high CO 2 price.
The new thing about your proposal for a Global Deal is the stress on the importance of development policy for climate policy. Until now, many think of aid when they hear development policies.
That will change immediately if global emission rights are distributed. If this happens, on a per capita basis, then Africa will be the big winner, and huge amounts of money will flow there. This will have enormous implications for development policy. And it will raise the question if these countries can deal responsibly with so much money at all.
That does not sound anymore like the climate policy that we know.
Basically it’s a big mistake to discuss climate policy separately from the major themes of globalization. The climate summit in Cancun at the end of the month is not a climate conference, but one of the largest economic conferences since the Second World War. Why? Because we have 11,000 gigatons of carbon in the coal reserves in the soil under our feet – and we must emit only 400 gigatons in the atmosphere if we want to keep the 2-degree target. 11 000 to 400 – there is no getting around the fact that most of the fossil reserves must remain in the soil.
De facto, this means an expropriation of the countries with natural resources. This leads to a very different development from that which has been triggered by development policy.
First of all, developed countries have basically expropriated the atmosphere of the world community. But one must say clearly that we redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy. Obviously, the owners of coal and oil will not be enthusiastic about this. One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. This has almost nothing to do with environmental policy anymore, with problems such as deforestation or the ozone hole.
Nevertheless, the environment is suffering from climate change – especially in the global south.
It will be a lot to do with adaptation. But that just goes far beyond traditional development policy: We will see in Africa with climate change a decline in agricultural yields. But this can be avoided if the efficiency of production is increased – and especially if the African agricultural trade is embedded in the global economy. But for that we need to see that successful climate policy requires other global trade and financial policies.
Full Interview h/t to Dr. Benny Peiser at the GWPF