Interview with German Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen 'China Doesn't Want to Lead, and the US Cannot'
German Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen talks to SPIEGEL about the failure of the Copenhagen climate summit, why neither China nor the US can take the lead in the fight against global warming and Germany's role in the new world order.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Röttgen, Chancellor Angela Merkel says we shouldn't bad mouth the outcome of the world climate summit in Copenhagen. Please tell us, as a minister who is loyal to the chancellor, exactly what good came out of it.
Norbert Röttgen: First and foremost, the result is a great disappointment. But one should not overlook the fact that one thing has been achieved and secured: The goal of keeping global warming from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius is included in the closing document and there is a stated desire to provide aid worth billions for sustainable development in developing nations. China has also agreed for the first time to allow its emissions cuts to be tracked. We agreed to this because it is better than doing nothing. We will now continue on this basis. The alternative would have been a total collapse of the climate protection process.
SPIEGEL: Before going to Copenhagen, you formulated clear criteria for success at the summit. You wanted to see concrete reduction targets being established for both 2020 and 2050, which would lead to a global climate treaty within six months. Neither of those things has been achieved. Why don't you be honest and talk about a complete failure?
Röttgen: There is no disguising the fact that the outcome does not meet our criteria for success, and it is miles away from what we consider to be urgently necessary. If you want to call that failure, then I can understand that -- even if I do not entirely share that view.
SPIEGEL: Why, then, is the chancellor accusing critics of the summit, of all people, of damaging climate protection efforts?
Röttgen: The chancellor and I have seen up close that in some quarters there is great interest in seeing the UN's climate protection process fail completely. Therefore, it can be dangerous to talk everything down. Those who always talk about the conference using only the vocabulary of failure must be careful not to herald the end of international climate protection efforts. The brutal disappointment, which I also feel myself, should not cause us to become resigned. On the contrary, it has now become more urgent than ever that we find solutions.
SPIEGEL: What caused the conference to collapse?
Röttgen: Emerging economies, led by China, were not willing to commit themselves to CO2 reduction targets as a part of their foreign policy or to join the common political will. With the United States, the problems were domestic in nature. The political conditions are lacking there for the country to be part of a global framework. Both countries are not prepared, for different reasons, to solve the problem on the basis of reciprocal obligations. Both seem to consider national politics to be more important.
SPIEGEL: Was the goal not simply too ambitious from the outset?
Röttgen: No, and we will not give it up, either. It is ambitious, but there is no alternative. That's why we now need to analyze exactly why it hasn't worked yet.
SPIEGEL: At what point in Copenhagen did you realize that things were turning for the worst?
Röttgen: When it became clear that China was not even willing to accept unilateral pledges on the part of the industrialized nations to reduce emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050. That was the absolute low point. The Chinese said that was too little for them. We replied that we industrialized countries could perhaps offer 100 percent, but that would have to be the end -- for mathematical reasons apart from anything else. At that point, it became clear that the Chinese were not concerned with agreeing on CO2 reductions, but rather with preventing them. When US President Barack Obama retreated for a face-to-face meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, it suddenly became clear to me: We can forget about our main targets.
SPIEGEL: Angela Merkel is talking about a new world climate order. What would that look like?
Röttgen: The conference has made it clear that we do not have a global climate policy and that the will to create one is lacking. The CO2 issue is fundamental, it cuts deep into every economic process. It will lead to new power battles and to a new division of power.
- Part 1: 'China Doesn't Want to Lead, and the US Cannot'
- Part 2: 'The Wrestling for Power Will Now Begin'
- Part 3: 'Our Capital Is Green Technology and Political Credibility'