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Q&A: ‘Emissions Trading Can Raise Billions To Combat Climate Change’

Interview with German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul

BERLIN, Nov 30 2007 (IPS) - Developed countries have a “moral duty” to help the world’s poorest countries combat the consequences of climate change to which they have contributed the least, says German Development Cooperation Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul.

Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul Credit:

Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul Credit:

One way to do this is through emissions trading which will help “mobilise the billions needed for climate protection,” but only if the United States, Canada and Japan follow the European Union example, she says in an interview with IPS European director Ramesh Jaura.

IPS: Climate change has moved to the top of the global agenda. What does that mean for Germany’s development cooperation policy and programmes, and for international development cooperation on the whole? Germany is after all an important donor.

Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul: The countries being hit hardest by climate change are the world’s poorest countries, which have so far done least to cause it. We now have to help developing countries, like others, do what they can to mitigate climate change and start adapting now to the inevitable consequences of global warming as best they can.

A top priority for us is protecting the tropical forests. The destruction of tropical forests alone accounts for about 20 percent of global CO2 emissions and is thus contributing to global warming. Under Germany’s G8 presidency (this year), we have established a Forest Carbon Partnership Facility under the auspices of the World Bank, which is aimed at protecting forests and the climate. Germany is contributing 40 million euros (58.9 million dollars) to the facility. So we are heading in the right direction.

We are also helping emerging economies like China and India to sever the link between growth and emissions. We have to show them that an active policy of climate protection makes financial sense and will not stand in the way of their economic development. Technology transfer is a particularly important aspect. Germany is providing funding of almost three billion euros (4.4 billion dollars) worldwide to encourage the use of renewable energies and energy efficiency.

IPS: UNDP’s new Human Development Report released one week before the Bali conference is asking for an additional climate change adaptation financing of around 86 billion dollars by 2015. Do you see Germany – and the EU – jumping in to provide the funds in addition to fulfilling their ODA commitments?

HWZ: It is scandalous that those countries that have contributed least to climate change are being hit hardest by the consequences. That is particularly true of Africa, the small island states and the regions at the mouths of Asia’s major rivers, where droughts, floods and hurricanes have already wreaked major havoc. The industrialised countries have a moral duty to help protect those countries from the consequences of climate change.

Such adaptation measures require enormous efforts, and new ways of funding them have to be explored. One such approach is emissions trading and the global carbon market. Starting in 2008, Germany will be auctioning some 10 percent of its pollution permits under the EU emissions trading scheme. A proportion of the profits will be ploughed back into international climate protection. In 2008, the figure will be around 120 million euros (176.8 million dollars), and that figure is set to rise over the coming years.

Yet we will only be able to mobilise the billions needed for climate protection if the United States, Canada and Japan start emissions trading like the EU.

IPS: Climate change has been under way all these years. Scientists have been warning of disastrous consequences. And yet, it seems, it hardly found inroads into the minds of development policy planners. Sign of a lack of vision – also on the part of the authors of the eight MDGs – who refer to environmental sustainability but not to the impact of climate change?

HWZ: Policymakers long underestimated the pace of climate change. In the daily business of politics, it is hard to communicate forecasts that look 50 or 100 years into the future. All that changed radically with the Stern Report on the economic implications of climate change in 2006 and the fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC in 2007. Nobody in future will be able to claim that they were unaware of the dimensions of the problem.

Bali must mark the launch of negotiations on an international climate treaty. Negotiations should be completed by 2009 so as to leave no gap between the Kyoto Protocol and a new treaty. The solution must be under the United Nations umbrella.

IPS: Agriculture and rural development were consigned to oblivion for 25 long years by the World Bank and other donors. For the first time since 1982 these are now subject of a World Development Report. Isn’t that another sign of lack of vision?

HWZ: It is high time that the World Bank and the international community turned their attention to agriculture once more. Agriculture is key to fighting poverty and hunger. Today, 75 percent of all those living in absolute poverty live in rural areas in the developing countries.

At the same time, climate change is making things more difficult for agriculture and producing adequate food. The increase in extreme weather events and natural disasters is destroying entire harvests and often depriving farmers of their livelihoods for years to come. We have seen that this year across large parts of Africa, particularly Ghana and Uganda.

For us in the German government, that means we have to fight poverty and hunger where they are at their most severe, namely in rural areas.

IPS: Your just published book is titled ‘Moving the World’ in which you write about your experiences and encounters during the nine years you have been minister of development cooperation and before that. How far did you succeed in moving Germany and the ‘developed’ world as such towards fulfilling its commitments towards the ‘developing’ South?

HWZ: By “moving the world” I mean that we all need to move the world when it comes to fighting poverty and climate change. During my time in office, I have been focusing above all on making progress on the Millennium Development Goals. And we can report a number of successes, thanks for example to the tying of debt relief for the poorest countries to poverty reduction. We have made debt relief conditional on African governments using the money for education, health and efforts to combat AIDS. With visible success. More children are going to school, more money is being invested in health systems.

IPS: You describe (former West German president) Willy Brandt as your role model. Nobel laureate Brandt not only helped bring about peace and reconciliation in post-war Europe, but also championed the cause of the ‘South’ in two reports named after him. Where do we stand 27 years on? At the edge of the abyss? Or is climate change ‘plateauing’ development?

HWZ: In Willy Brandt’s day, we were still in the midst of the Cold War. Back then both sides, East and West, were also extending their support to corrupt regimes. Today all donors are basically pulling in the same direction. That marks tremendous progress.

One thing is as true today as it was back then. Development policy is peace policy, which means it is a form of security policy that is in our own best interests. What that means for climate change is that we should use the development policy instruments available to us to fight climate change and prevent, for example, millions of people in Africa becoming environmental refugees.

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