Climate protection at any cost makes no sense

The chances of concluding a broad-based agreement at the UN climate talks in Cancún are slim as a result of divergent economic interests, write Graham Weale and Alexander Nolden from German energy utility RWE AG. Subsidised jobs in the renewable energy sector are already costing jobs elsewhere, they warn

Graham Weale is chief economist at RWE AG. Alexander Nolden is Vice Director Public Affairs/Energy Policy at RWE AG. They contributed this commentary in exclusivity for

"The former German president, Richard von Weizsäcker, once said: 'I always preferred building bridges to digging trenches.'

Building a bridge is also the objective in Cancún, where the international community is meeting for the World Climate Change Conference. But the prospects for achieving a global agreement are slim - until now there have been more trenches than bridges. Given the present state of play it will be counted a success if the international community achieves at least some modest agreements such as were made at Copenhagen.

All international environmental and trade agreements to date have been difficult and time-consuming. The challenges facing the World Climate Change Conference are even greater due to the number of countries involved, the divergent interests, the complexity of the subject matter and the question as to how to penalise treaty violations. In many countries, climate protection ranks far below economic growth and securing energy supplies. So the outlook for concluding a broad-based climate agreement is bleak.

At least one major objective was agreed at Copenhagen: limiting a temperature increase to two degrees. The current view is that this requires a halving of the global CO2 output by 2050. Yet how can we achieve this? Do mega-conferences really get results? Or do we need an alternative approach?

The facts are sobering. The global population will increase dramatically by 2050. By then, nine to ten billion people will be living on planet Earth - 50% more than today. 1.5 billion people are still without electricity. They will be demanding secure energy. The IEA [International Energy Agency] is expecting that the world will be using nearly 40% more energy in 2035 than today. This already assumes that countries will fulfil their existing climate protection commitments.

Global CO2 emissions in 2009 reached 31 billion tonnes. At 7.1 billion tonnes, China, the largest emitter, has a clear lead over the USA (5.5 billion tonnes). These are followed by Russia, India and Japan. But it is Germany that is setting the pace for climate protection. We pay out a lot for our effort but this so far makes little impact on the global climate.


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