Addressing climate change is one of the biggest global challenges of the 21st century. The average global temperature on the earth’s surface is continuously increasing due to even higher carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, the impacts of which are already evident today. If global warming continues unchecked, it is likely to exceed the adaptive capacity of natural, managed and social systems.
Man as the main cause of climate change
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) summarised the current global climate research knowledge in its Fourth Assessment Report of 2007, which is still relevant today. The report proved beyond doubt that global warming is progressing and reiterated that mankind is the main cause of this development. It its Fifth Assessment Report, to be published in 2014, the IPCC came to the same conclusion. In comparison to the Fourth Assessment Report, the first part of the Fifth Assessment Report, adopted in September 2013 in Stockholm, assumes an even higher probability that this is the case.
International efforts against climate change
In 1992, the international community of states adopted the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and agreed to stabilise atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases at a level that would prevent further dangerous anthropogenic interferences with the climate system. Whilst the Framework Convention contains general commitments made by the Parties, it does not set any binding reduction targets. The third Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 3) adopted the Kyoto Protocol, which, for the first time, laid down legally binding obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for industrialised countries. The Protocol entered into force in 2005 and its second commitment period will remain effective until 2020.
Global climate policy is becoming compatible as a result of the Paris Agreement concluded in 2015 at COP 21 which, for the first time, commits all countries, that is, industrialised countries, emerging economies and developing countries, to making appropriate contributions to climate action and limiting global warming to less than two degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels, ideally to 1.5 degrees. The Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016 following an unprecedented swift ratification process by the signatory countries.
Germany at the forefront of international climate policy
Germany and the EU continue to strive for a comprehensive climate agreement that limits global warming to below two degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial times. The German government has been a driving force in the international climate process, for example by organising the annual Petersburg Climate Dialogue. The Petersburg Climate Dialogue goes back to an initiative launched by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel after the climate negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009. It takes place between climate summits and every year brings together environment ministers from developed, newly industrialising and developing countries for open discussions. The goal is to speed up progress in international climate negotiations.
At national level, Germany is making headway with the transformation of its energy system and has set ambitious targets for reducing emissions: Climate-damaging greenhouse gas emissions are to be reduced by 40 percent by 2020, 55 percent by 2030, 70 percent by 2040 and by 80 to 95 percent by 2050, compared to the reference year 1990. The long-term Energy Concept lays down how these goals are going to be achieved.