Last exit 1.5°C. Is Angela Merkel paying attention?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) special report on global warming landed like a bombshell, judging from headlines in media across the globe. Paul Hockenos takes a look.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) special report on global warming landed like a bombshell, judging from headlines in media across the globe. Now countries have to act immediately to prevent a outrages climate change.

Paradigm changes must take place on national and international level (Public Domain)

“We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe,” cried The Guardian, referring to the time span when measures can still be implemented to keep temperature change at 1.5°C.

But judging by the German government’s non-response – and it is not alone – the shrill wake-up call landed on deaf ears.

The UN group’s study underscores in no uncertain terms that global warming exceeding pre-industrial levels 1.5°C would transform the world we live in – and not in fifty or one hundred years, but in twenty or less. Moreover, the world is no anywhere near on track to halt warming to 1.5°C or even 2°C, but rather we‘re heading to a 3°C change, which is only the beginning if dramatic climate protection measures aren‘t put into place. This is the final call, say the climate researchers, for the world to get its act together to keep climate change at 1.5°C – or that chance will be lost.

“Scientists might want to write in capital letters, ‘ACT NOW, IDIOTS,’ but they need to say that with facts and numbers,” Kaisa Kosonen of Greenpeace told the BBC. “And they have,” she says, referring to the report.

Actually, the 36-page report is turgid and slow-going. I suppose this is what you can expect from something compiled from the input of thousands of scientists worldwide, which is what the 195-country IPCC does. This is also why it’s authoritative.

The scientists claim that even half a degree over 1.5°C change portends significantly higher risk of extreme drought, wildfires, floods, and food shortages for hundreds of millions of people. Already, at just 1°C, which is where we stand today, we see the uptick in extreme weather, rising sea levels, and diminishing Arctic sea ice – another full degree is another story entirely. The panel has obviously given up hope about keeping the climate to a 1°C rise.

The question now is 1.5°C or 2°C, and that is no small difference in terms of impact. Water stress, for example, would be 50 percent higher at 2C, it notes.  Literally hundreds of millions fewer people, particularly in poor countries, would be at risk of hunger and poverty.

The report though isn’t fatalistic. The 1.5°C goal, which is at the high end of the Paris treaty’s ambitions, is doable if governments jump on board now by expanding renewables and rapidly phasing out fossil fuels. Even though it would mean restructuring taxation, pricing carbon, and transforming consumption habits, the world could afford it and the technology is now there.

It’s policy though that will be decisive. The Swedish daily Sydsvenskan hit the nail on the head, underscoring the structural changes that have to happen: “The burden must not be borne solely by the more afraid or more conscientious. If we end our dependence on fossil fuels we will be on the verge of a historic paradigm shift. Taking fewer family holidays that involve air travel demonstrates commitment. But to be effective the paradigm change must also take place on the national and international level.”

Given this tiny window, one would have hoped that governments might have responded at least with pledges to get on the ball. They could have exclaimed,” We hear loud and clear!”

But no. And Germany, once a pioneer, appeared to be charging like a bull in exactly the wrong direction.

Despite the fact that environmentalists won a huge victory in stopping (temporarily) the excavation of Hambacher Forest in the Rhineland for coal, negotiations at the EU level for higher emissions standards for cars showed no sign of an epiphany on behalf of Berlin’s representatives.

At issue was whether states would require automakers to reduce average emissions of carbon dioxide by 30 or 40 percent by 2030. Germany, as loyal to its carmakers as ever, lobbied hard for the lower limit. Usually, when Germany weighs in on behalf of Volkswagen, BMW, and Mercedes Benz, it gets its way.

But not this time. Germany and the Central Europeans (the coallands) were out voted and outmaneuvered by Austria, France, Denmark, Luxembourg and Netherlands, and a compromise found at 35 percent. While this is being billed as a victory – observers were shocked to see Germany with the short end of the stick – scientists say that it has to be 50 percent to keep to the 1.5°C upper limit.

This is how far out of synch politicians and industry are. In light of the IPCC report, the compromise wasn’t a victory at all but rather a red herring that enables governments, industry and citizens to feel like they’re doing something – when it’s not nearly enough.

So, if this alarming report didn’t do the trick, one asks what will? In Germany the answer is new elections and a new government. Merkel, a scientist herself, should be leading Germany, Europe, and even the free world in climate protection. But neither she nor anyone in her party – or among her coalition partner Social Democrats – prioritize climate. They, for example, rejected the Greens’ call for a special session of the Bundestag to discuss the UN report.

With a summer of extreme weather behind it, it’s hard to say what kind of a bombshell would prompt Berlin or other climate laggards to take the action required of them. Sadly, Germany has become a defiant, negative force in the development of international climate strategies.



Paul Hockenos is a Berlin-based journalist and author of Berlin Calling: A Story of Anarchy, Music, the Wall and the Birth of the New Berlin.

1 Comment

  1. Does the exact number for the car emissions target matter much? IIRC neither 30% nor 35% nor 50% reductions in vehicle fleet emissions can be achieved by any practicable improvements in the efficiency of internal combustion engines, The carmakers will have to produce large numbers of electric vehicles. Since these are superior to ICEVs in the eyes of consumers, the market will rapidly reach a tipping point and the ICEV lines will shrivel.

    The problem for German carmakers is not that they disbelieve in the transition, or don’t know how to make EVs, it’s that they are convinced batteries will stay expensive. In that case they won’t make a profit on the EVs the regulations force them to sell. It’s a strange position.. The optimism, of Tesla and GM on battery prices is strongly supported by both experience and a fat pipeline of innovations being investigated.

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