By Christian Schwägerl
She was once celebrated as the "Climate Chancellor" and seen as an important campaigner for the environment on the international political stage. Now it appears that it is Angela Merkel, of all people, who is dealing a death blow to international climate deals -- by navigating a shortsighted course within the European Union.
On the first day of the EU summit meeting, with bloc leaders gathered in Brussels, Merkel adopted a stance which enraged environmentalists. The EU, Merkel was quoted as saying, should not be overly hasty in offering financial aid to developing countries for climate-related projects and should wait on China and the US. Concrete pledges should not be made, she said.
What does this mean? A big dispute about money is looming at December's climate summit in Copenhagen. The poorer countries, led by China, are demanding sizable CO2 reductions from Western states. They base their demand on the fact that the West is historically to blame for pumping the largest proportion of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. But the richer countries, led by the US, reply that the CO2 emissions from highly populated countries like China and India are rising dramatically -- meaning that it is they are responsible for future emissions.
Environmental strategists like Yvo de Boer, who heads the UN Climate Convention and Achim Steiner, head of the UN's Environment Program, see only one way to overcome this impasse: Extensive financial aid from the West.
Such funds should help to cover the additional costs of setting up renewable energy forms, more efficient technologies and green infrastructures in developing countries. Only in that way can it be guaranteed that the most environmentally nondestructive technologies are implemented globally, to put a halt on catastrophic climate change, its advocates say. The talk is of 20 billion ($30 billion) starting immediately, then 50 billion from 2016 and 100 billion annually from 2020. This extra burden should be covered by the US, the EU and Japan.
'Sorry, Kids, We've Spent all our Money on the Banks'
Merkel's decision to block a concrete financial pledge will not exactly boost enthusiasm in other parts of the world -- rather it will dampen it. When delays are created by the Europeans, who always pride themselves on being frontrunners in climate protection, then the US and China can get away with not making any progress.
The Copenhagen summit in December, on which scientists and environmental activists are placing their hopes, is at risk of collapse due to mutual blocking on the part of both rich and poorer countries. A failure could set global climate protection efforts back by years.
Should the EU now follow Merkel's lead, then she will have played a prominent role in that setback. If the EU refuses to agree on concrete financial pledges, it will strengthen the impression that the West isn't prepared to seriously address climate protection.
The chancellor may be exhausted from negotiations in Berlin over her new coalition government, in which every single euro has been haggled over. She may also be scratching her head over where to find the billions of euros that she needs to finance the tax-cut programs insisted on by her junior coalition partner, the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP). And she may still be dizzy from the enormous economic aid packages she had to finance in the past year to save banks and major businesses. But now there is no money left to save the planet? Does she really want to wait until this perfidious poker match gets to the very last second before naming a figure for climate aid in order to save as much as she can -- saving at the cost of keeping the planet inhabitable?
Sorry kids, we've plunged all of our money into the banks and you can now sweat to pay the debt back -- is that Merkel's message for the next generation?
The new coalition government of the conservatives and the FDP has just presented its policy plan for the next four years -- and it certainly contains some good news for the planet. The government wants to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050, it wants to expand subsidy programs for renewable energies -- but none of that will help if we are unable to come to a global agreement to stop the emissions of greenhouse gases.
Merkel Has Opportunity to Trump Obama as a 'Citizen of the World'
Merkel is presented with the unique opportunity of demonstrating to US President Barack Obama just how political eminence works. She could demonstrate to her trans-Atlantic colleague just how one transcends domestic sensibilities to make decisions that may not be immediately popular back home. Merkel has the chance to do something that would be beneficial for all humankind -- but which would especially help those in poor countries which will suffer considerably from global warming in the future.
When Obama visited Berlin in 2008 during his campaign, he said he was a "citizen of the world." But the issue of global warming has so far been largely absent from his foreign policy. Under pressure from domestic oil, coal and automobile lobbies, America's already moderate CO2 emissions reductions goal have been further watered down. In the ongoing international debate about climate change, the US still is not playing a productive role. To be sure, Obama has put together the environmental dream team with a Nobel laureate as energy secretary and one of the co-discoverers of global warming as an advisor. He also included billions in aid to renewable energies as part of his country's economic stimulus package. But as a citizen of the world, he has to do his part to ensure that the rest of the world begins charting a greener course. The world needs the US to take a leading role in combating global warming. So far, though, America has failed to do so.
Next week, Chancellor Merkel will be in Washington. She has been granted the rare honor of speaking to a joint session of Congress. It would be the ideal moment to say: "President Obama, Europe is making 40 billion available to finance climate projects in the developing world. We in Europe are going to reduce our CO2 emissions by 30 percent by 2020 relative to 1990 levels."
"Are you Americans citizens of the world as we are? Or are you going to leave this planet's children in the lurch?"
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