Press Release10.12.2005, Berlin/Montreal

Glimmer of hope from Montreal – Task now: to circumvent blockade

United Nations Climate Change Conference ends

The German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) welcomes the decision reached at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Montreal to initiate a process to consider further reduction commitments beyond 2012 for developed countries which have ratified the Kyoto Protocol.

On their own, however, these countries cannot curb the process of climate change. That is why the decision to hold talks on long-term cooperative action between all countries on ways to address climate change is crucially important. But at present, there is little prospect of a process aimed at integrating further countries into a binding climate regime. The talks will therefore focus primarily on encouraging developing and transition countries to support climate protection in principle. Through technology partnerships, these countries should be empowered to stabilize their greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and make a commitment to emissions reductions over the longer term. One question which remained unanswered is whether and when the USA will commit to reducing their emissions. However, the international community should not be deterred by a few individual countries' blockading tactics. Until there is some prospect of a climate policy shift on the part of the US Government, WBGU recommends closer cooperation with the individual American states which adopt a progressive approach to climate policy; it also advocates the provision of support for global alliances of towns and cities that focus on climate protection. In order to avert dangerous global climate change, global emissions need to be halved by 2050. If this goal is to be achieved, there is no time to be lost in the further process. The task now is to agree more ambitious reduction targets as soon as possible so that the second commitment period can start immediately after the current period expires in 2012.

Impacts of climate change already apparent

Global warming is already being felt everywhere: 2005 is likely to have been the hottest year since records began 150 years ago. Before then, the hottest years were 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004. Never before since records began have there been so many tropical storms in the Atlantic, never before have so many of them developed into hurricanes, and never before have three highest-category hurricanes occurred in such quick succession. Two tropical storms also appeared to threaten Europe for the first time. A link between the force of the hurricanes and global warming is probable.

Establishing the 2°C guard rail in international law

As part of the further development of the international climate regime, the 2°C guard rail should be adopted on a binding basis as the marker of "dangerous climate change". If global mean temperature increases by more than 2°C, the adverse effects of climate change will be almost impossible to cope with. Such an increase could trigger major and perhaps irreversible processes in the Earth System such as the melting of the polar icecaps. This 2°C guard rail therefore cannot be called in question.

The diminishing scope to avert climate change

Since the Industrial Revolution, globally averaged surface temperatures have increased by 0.7°C; in Europe, the increase is 1°C. In order to prevent dangerous climate change, global greenhouse gas emissions must be more or less halved by 2050. A temperature rise of 2°C could occur if the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – which at its current level is viewed as just about tolerable – permanently exceeds 420 parts per million (ppm). In the past, carbon dioxide levels rose by around 1.5 ppm per year on average to the present level of 380 ppm. In the last two years, however, the rise increased to approximately 2 ppm per annum. There is thus a risk that the stabilization level essential for climate protection will be exceeded within the next twenty years.

Initiating a technology offensive – clear objectives and strong incentives required

The necessary emissions reductions cannot be achieved without the promotion and transfer of energy-efficiency and renewable energy technology. It is extremely important to involve China and India in any future climate regime. These two countries should be offered comprehensive opportunities for cooperation on environment and technology. WBGU also recommends that the German Government engage pro-actively within the European Union for an effective technology offensive in order to contribute to the necessary restructuring of global energy systems. This strategy would further enhance Germany's pioneering role in climate protection and safeguard Europe's leading technological position in this major future-oriented sector. Moves in this direction are also required in order to withstand the competition from the USA and, indeed, Japan on the future direction of global energy systems.

Critically reviewing geological CO2 storage

In Montreal, many countries were enthusiastic about capturing and storing the carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by power plants and factories before it enters the atmosphere. WBGU rejects the option of pumping CO2 into sea water as this is likely to have adverse impacts on the marine environment. Nor would this offer a long-term solution as the CO2 would quickly be released back into the atmosphere. CO2 storage in suitable geological formations should be subject to stringent permanence criteria. These technologies are still in their infancy, and before CO2 storage is adopted on a larger scale, the associated risks need to be researched more fully.