By Ramesh Jaura
BERLIN (IDN) – German chancellor Angela Merkel and UN Secretary-General António Guterres have accentuated that any coronavirus recovery programme should have a clear focus on climate targets and rebuilding “our world for the better”. They were addressing a two-day video conference in Berlin co-organised by Germany and Britain, the latter as the presidency of UN Climate Conference (COP 26).
Scheduled for November, COP26 will take place in 2021 because of COVID-19. In response to the coronavirus crisis, Germany and Britain put the focus of the conference – officially known as the ‘Petersberg Climate Dialogue’ – on “sustainable recovery”.
Accordingly, Chancellor Merkel strongly pleaded for raising the European Union’s 2030 climate target to between 50 and 55 per cent. She said the European Commission had mapped the path to greenhouse gas neutrality by 2050 with the Green Deal. “We know it is going to be a long road and that is why I welcome the interim target proposal for the European Union to reduce emissions by 50 to 55 per cent by 2030 over 1990 levels.”
Merkel emphasised the need for a comprehensive package of measures, including investments in climate-friendly infrastructures and appropriate CO2 pricing. She welcomed “the planned expansion of the EU emissions trade [EU ETS] to additional sectors”. She appealed to as many countries around the world as possible to invest in CO2 pricing. Broad participation “is the best way to prevent distortion of competition”.
“As we plan our recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, we have a profound opportunity to steer our world on a more sustainable and inclusive path – a path that tackles climate change, protects the environment, reverses biodiversity loss and ensures the long-term health and security of humankind,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
Guterres encouraged the EU to “continue showing global leadership by presenting, by the end of the year, a Nationally Determined Contribution [NDC] in line with its commitment to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050”. Besides, Guterres called on all G20 member states to commit to carbon neutrality by 2050 as they are responsible for 80 per cent of global emissions.
Both Merkel and Guterres were referring to the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s announcement in 2019 of the framework of an ambitious and comprehensive economic plan to make the continent climate neutral by 2050. This target has sparked hopes that the EU and Germany would avail of their pivotal roles to drive global climate ambition this year.
This year’s Petersberg Climate Dialogue, 11th in the series, organised by the German government and in Berlin’s city centre, is seen as a critical milestone in preparation for the next UN climate conference. Though COP26 in Glasgow will take place in 2021, the high-level ministerial talks on April 27-28 provided an opportunity to mobilise political support for more ambitious climate action.
Ministers of 30 states met online to debate how countries can proceed in this regard despite the postponement of the Glasgow climate conference. Under the Paris Climate Agreement, many countries are supposed to raise their NDCs by the end of 2020, and the coronavirus crisis has intensified worries that some governments could show a lack of ambition.
Among the countries whose ministers contributed to discussions in the video conference were: Bhutan, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Egypt, Finland, France, Gabon, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Marshall Islands, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Rwanda, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Arab Emirates.
Among the intergovernmental organisations joining the exchange of views were: the UN Climate Change (UNFCCC), OECD, Renewable Energy Agency, UNDP, and IMF. Non-state actors were from the Greenpeace International, ICLEI, and the World Resources Institute.
Germany’s Environment Minister Svenja Schulze explained to participants that despite the current crisis, the German government had decided to host the climate dialogue digitally because “climate change continues to exist, even if it is receiving less attention right now”.
Schulze said the conference showed that many countries are already preparing measures to boost the economy after the crisis and are keeping climate action and the protection of ecosystems in mind when doing so. The world needed a “new start” of the economy, said Schulze. “Our vision is not the old world, but a better world that is more crisis-proof and climate-friendly.”
The crisis will lead to a “difficult discussion about distribution”, Chancellor Merkel said, cautioning that governments needed to make clear that they would not hold back on climate action in their paths out of the crisis. “If we look at the economic damages that the coronavirus crisis has caused in our respective budgets, the more important it will be to keep a firm eye on climate action when we introduce economic stimulus programmes.”
She called for investments in future-oriented technologies and following through on international commitments rather than countries focussing on themselves.
Guterres also called for a green recovery and said there was now a “rare and short window of opportunity to rebuild our world for the better”.
The conference concluded with a commitment to a green recovery built on solidarity.
NGOs like Greenpeace International had called on Merkel – who has in the past been named the “climate chancellor” for her efforts concerning international climate policy – to use today’s summit to make clear that now was the moment to “rebuild better”.
Observers said, while several big companies such as steelmaker ThyssenKrupp or chemicals firm Bayer also voiced support for a climate-friendly recovery package, Germany’s industry association BDI cautioned against overburdening businesses hard-hit by the crisis. Despite companies supporting the goal of climate neutrality by 2050, BDI deputy managing director Holger Loesch told newspaper Handelsblatt that the EU’s 2030 interim targets needed re-assessment in the light of the crisis impact.
Chancellor Merkel disappointed some climate protection advocates. They expected a more concrete plan both for how Germany aims to contribute to reaching EU goals and how the government will use the EU Council presidency it holds during the second half of 2020 to influence European neighbours to do the same.
“We would have hoped for a concrete initiative from the government to develop a global vision of how the necessary economic revitalisation can be made climate-compatible,” said Jan Kowalzig, senior policy advisor on climate change at Oxfam Germany. He added that the chancellor would have a chance to put actions to her words about a green recovery at the forthcoming car industry summit and make clear that there will be no buyer’s premium for combustion engine cars.
Earlier in the day, support for the idea of a green recovery had come from economy minister Peter Altmaier. Ahead of a meeting with fellow energy ministers from other EU member states, he said the European Green Deal could become a significant growth strategy if investments in new technologies led to the increased competitiveness of the EU.
Altmaier pointed to the great potential in offshore wind projects, hydrogen, energy efficiency and heating with renewables. “Here, we can give a significant boost to the energy transition and ensure investments and economic growth at the same time.”
In a press release also earlier in the day, economic cooperation and development minister Gerd Müller said that the EU should not only focus on itself in the fight against the pandemic. In addition to the coronavirus emergency programme, the EU should also extend its Green Deal to Europe’s neighbours and African countries. The EU should “launch an ambitious investment and innovation package for the development of renewable energy in Africa”, said Müller. [IDN-InDepthNews – 29 April 2020]
Photo credit: German Environment Ministry | Christoph Wehrer