Merkel Speaks Out At UN Climate Summit Fighting Climate Change 'Makes Economic Sense'

In her first appearance before a high-level UN assembly, Angela Merkel has called for a follow-up agreement to the Kyoto Protocol. Tackling climate change and economic growth can go hand in hand, she argued at the UN climate summit on Monday.

It was the largest-ever meeting of state and government leaders devoted to fighting climate change: Eighty world leaders participated in Monday's UN climate summit in New York -- an impressive gathering that prompted UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to speak of a "groundbreaking, historical event."

While no resolutions were passed, clear signals were still sent. German Chancellor Angela Merkel used her speech on Monday afternoon to take a firm stand: "If we do not act resolutely, dramatic harm will result," she said, adding that climate change could reduce prosperity by at least five percent, "perhaps even by 20 percent."

Much as during the G-8 summit in Heiligendamm in June, Merkel spoke out in favor of a consistent policy on tackling climate change. Such a policy could be implemented by spending "as little as 1 percent of our wealth" on dealing with climate change, she argued. Fighting global warming also made "economic sense," she said.

Merkel called for measures to encourage investment in climate-friendly technology. The industrialized countries need to set an example in this area and demonstrate how they plan to achieve their ambitious emission reduction goals, she said: "To me, this is a moral and an economic necessity."

The German chancellor is visiting New York for two days. In addition to her speech at the UN climate summit, she will give another speech, also on climate change, on Tuesday evening. The theme of this year's UN General Assembly is climate change -- partly in order to raise awareness about a UN conference on the issue scheduled to be held in Bali in the autumn. Representatives of 150 nations were expected to attend the climate summit in New York.

On Monday, Merkel drew attention again to the report on the world climate by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), according to which global emissions need to be reduced by at least 50 percent by mid-century. Only then will there be a "realistic chance of keeping global warming below the critical level of two degrees Celsius," Merkel said. At the G-8 summit in Heiligendamm, the United States accepted the IPCC report as a valid scientific basis, after some initial hesitation.

'A Realistic Chance'

Merkel took the opportunity during her speech to once again praise this summer's G-8 summit. Heiligendamm "made an important contribution" to warding off the worst effects of climate change, she said -- most of all because the US had pledged there to tackle climate change within the framework of the UN . But Europe, the US and other countries still disagree about the specifics. The Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, and negotiations on a possible follow-up agreement will begin this year at the Bali conference.

Merkel spoke out emphatically in favor of a follow-up agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, calling it "the only way to achieve a fair balance of interests, one that motivates everyone to act." Emissions trading will play a crucial role in this, Merkel argued: "It is only when greenhouse gas emissions have a price that climate-friendly technologies become economically attractive too." Merkel said she would like to see a "clear road map" agreed on in Bali, so that negotiations can be completed by 2009. Europe is prepared to reduce emissions by 30 percent by 2020, she said, within the context of a UN agreement that sees all countries making a "fair contribution."

Merkel said she was convinced it is possible to "increase economic growth and prosperity while at the same halving emissions." There is still "great potential" to be tapped and developed, she argued: Electricity can be produced by wind farms and solar panels, for example, and buildings can be air-conditioned without using energy from fossil fuels. A drastic reduction in fuel consumption is also possible, Merkel argued. Developing countries "can and should continue to achieve strong economic growth," Merkel said, but in the future growth should be increasingly independent from emissions.

Even as the UN debates climate change in New York at the invitation of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the US has issued an invitation to its own conference in Washington. Germany will be represented there by its Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel. The number of participants in the Washington conference is considerably lower than that in New York: Among others, the G-8 states and the five major industrializing countries are participating.

Sources in Berlin nevertheless view Bush's decision to attend a dinner with 24 state and government leaders in New York on Monday as a positive signal. Bush, who will give the opening statement at the UN General Assembly Tuesday, sat next to Merkel at the meal.

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