MEP: Climate action ‘all about the economy’

Climate action is not about the environment, but about building a new economic order, the vice-chair of the European Parliament’s delegation in Copenhagen, Karl-Heinz Florenz MEP, told EURACTIV in an interview, arguing that the investments of today will be the growth of tomorrow and trigger a sustainable development revolution.

German centre-right MEP Karl-Heinz Florenz (EPP) is vice-chair of the European Parliament’s delegation to the Copenhagen climate conference.

He was speaking to Daniela Vincenti-Mitchener. 

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here.  

You have been active in the climate protection debate since the Rio conference. What’s your perception this time of the world climate talks? 

I often get the impression that we do not see the bottom line of the debate and lose ourselves in small details and fussy debates. This is a big danger! We need to come back to the heart of the debate. We need to see the importance of this fight. Without fear-mongering and false pomposity, we need to reflect on this very crucial moment. 

Where do we stand? 

There are very few moments in history when nations are asked to find common decisions that will change the lives of every man, woman and child on the planet for generations to come. It is about an historic decision! 

I will give you a few examples: the creation of the Bretton Woods and the architecture of the post-war economy; the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after the war; the talks that led to the fall of the Iron Curtain and the reunification of Germany. 

Each of these momentous decisions made countries see not only their own goals but the needs of others; they recognised that in the end, they could thus achieve far more than what one country could have achieved on its own. Now we face another such moment. 

We need to find a way to tackle climate change – together with 192 nations! 

What do we need to do? 

We must agree a plan to cut emissions: a plan that will bring to a halt the increase in global average temperature. We know from our growing understanding of the impacts of climate change that an increase of more than 2°C (two degrees centigrade) is dangerous. 

This is the path onto which the Copenhagen agreement must put the world. These goals are essential, but attainable. 

In more detail, there are three big goals. 

Firstly, we need to agree that we are only allowed to leave a certain budget of carbon in the atmosphere (850 gigatons) until the end of the century. 

However, in the last ten years alone, we have already deposited 270 gigatons! If we go on like this, we would go insolvent in 30-35 years! 

Secondly, we need to find an agreement on how this budget is divided amongst the different states. Will there be a ‘per capita distribution’ or another ratio? 

Thirdly, we need to push forward a global carbon trading system. Otherwise, we won’t be able to get the budget we need. I am quite sure that we won’t find an agreement for all three points, but Copenhagen will be the start. We will have the first decisions there. 

What does this mean in practice? 

We will have to overcome the inertia of past practices, we need to make sure that coming laws are not the ‘paper tigers’ that we had in the past. Of course, there will are some costs. 

But the costs of doing nothing or too little will be far greater. I have absolutely no doubt that as investments in new low-carbon technologies start, this will bring costs down. 

The economics is clear: it tells us that the immense costs of future climate change are matched by the enormous growth potential of the revolution in sustainable development, the revolution in energy efficiency; in energy production; in consumption and transport. 

It is about building a new economic model. It is about assuring growth by not putting carbon into our energy systems but by taking it out. 

However, I have to admit: this might sound a bit ‘green’, a bit ‘environmental’…so perhaps it might be good to approach this problem from another perspective, a new perspective. 

Which one? 

Just imagine: we would go to Copenhagen not as climate negotiators but as trade negotiators. 

A delegation that tries to show you new possibilities of doing trade, of creating jobs, and of assuring development. 

The global market in low-carbon goods and services is already worth $5 trillion and is expected to increase by around half again over the next decade. 

According to a 2008 McKinsey study on the perspectives for German industry, already today there are about one million jobs in this sector. Imagine green technologies as an export hit. 

Analysts say that in 2020, more people will be employed in environmental technologies than in automobile/mechanical engineering ones. We have to shape our economy in a more sustainable way. 

This is about modern economy policy. More efficient use of raw materials and the intensification of productivity are key to competitiveness in the future. 

Sustainability should be key. It is not only about climate protection, but about the future of our industry. It is about jobs. But. But, we cannot do it alone. We need to make clear that we cannot shoulder this burden alone. 

At Borneo (or more specifically, on Kalimantan), every year, more than 660,000 hectares of forest are burnt down. 

This destruction of Indonesian peat forests accounts for 8% of worldwide CO2 emissions, which is more than two million tonnes of CO2, thus more than double what Germany emits. 

Another example: the European energy sector accounts for 4.1 billion tonnes of CO2 per annum, while deforestation in the Amazon and Indonesia amounts to six billion tonnes of CO2 annually. 

These are nearly the emissions of China! To stay on the pathway for the 2°C target until 2020, we need to reduce 17 gigatons of CO2. Science tells us that industrialised countries can reduce five gigatons. 

Another three gigatons can be taken in developing countries with negative costs (mainly efficiency).  What remains? Nine Gigatons! These nine Gigatons are our task. And for these nine Gigatons, we need to work together.

This is important. We need partners: industrialised and developing countries and emerging economies. Together. 

How can Europe build partnerships and convince developing countries? 

We should learn from our mistakes: we need to go to these countries as friends, as partners, and tell them that they should not make the same mistakes. 

Our development has given us great wealth, however, it has given us high environmental costs: we need a new growth model that allows developing countries to prosper without bad side effects. 

This is our task. This is our responsibility. 

The United States has excellent links to China and Asia. We hope that we can build on this. If there are more partners in a game, every partner needs to shoulder less – the burden is not so big. 

The United States succeeded in bringing people to the moon! A dream which many people never thought could come to reality: however, they succeeded.! Perhaps we should think of climate protection as being a new Apollo programme. 

What do we need to do when it comes to financing, then? 

First, we need to ensure fairness in contributions and allocations. Financing action on climate change in developing countries is not only the responsibility of the developed world. 

Under the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, the leading developing countries said that they are willing to finance a substantial part of their own action themselves. 

We also believe that they make a contribution to the actions taken by the least-developed countries. However, we need to work together. Everybody needs to contribute – according to their possibilities. 

Secondly, financing climate protection cannot simply be part of official development assistance. We need additional money. We cannot allow our fight against climate change to divert money from the poorest. 

Third is predictability. Tackling climate change requires long-term investments, in both mitigation and adaptation. Developing countries need to be able to plan and implement their climate programmes in the knowledge that there will be finance for them. 

This requires predictable long-term financial resources. 

The European Union has said that approximately 50 billion dollars could be necessary. This sounds a lot. However, we need to get this right. Fifty billion, this is about 0.1% of the GDP of the industrialised countries. 

If we think of a normal income of about 30,000 dollars, this is 300 dollars per year per inhabitant, or about six dollars per week. Don’t get me wrong: it will not be easy! But it is not about ruining industrialised countries, it is not about de-industrialisation. 

On the contrary, this might the biggest chance for our industry. This might be the next industrial revolution. 

Any final thoughts? 

When historians look back on this critical moment of human history, I would not like them to say that we have failed our children. I want them to say that we have succeeded in finding a way for our climate, for our economy and for us. 

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