Climate protection is relevant to migration too

explains Dirk Messner, Co-Chairman of the German Advisory Council on Global Change WBGU (german: Wissenschaftlicher Beirat der Bundesregierung Globale Umweltveränderungen) in his interview with Ralf Bindel about the most important players for climate protection, about migration and trade agreements. für den Klimaschutz, über Migration und Handelsabkommen. Further on they continue with topics including the responsibility to the impoverished countries, the sustainable planning of further urbanization, the connection between migration and climate change and the integration of climate protection into international trade agreements.

factory: What we have to be aware of is the economic pressure that will be put on German companies by China. How are other developing countries dealing with climate protection? China is certainly the biggest and most important player during future climate negotiations, but there are other countries that have been raising their voices against them. They are fighting to ensure that their economic growth cannot be limited, that they have the same right to maximize their economic and social welfare at the expense of the climate. Is there a new development that makes it so that these countries could become more important players? 

Dirk Messner: First of all, I can really understand the developing countries’ arguments. The countries which have primarily caused this problem are industrialized and emerging countries. They have to show that it can be done in a different way and that growing welfare does not have to be paired with emissions. That means in detail that we have caused the problem, we have available the necessary financial means and technology to solve the problem and it is our duty to show developing countries how it works in order for them to learn from us as soon as possible. These arguments seem to be valid – it complies with the ‘polluter pays’ principle. Second of all, the emissions of the 60 to 70 poorest countries in the world are so low that, from a global perspective, they are playing a minor role. Burkina Faso has per capita emissions of less than 0.2 tons per year. At the end of 2070, when the global economy must reach zero emissions, even those of Burkina Faso will still decrease. These countries will gradually adopt technologies that have been developed somewhere else but they are not the driving force of the process. It is more important to collaborate with the growing group of countries concerned with climate protection, that are not among the big threshold countries like Brazil, China and India but still dynamically growing like Vietnam, Indonesia and Peru. 

Therefore, developing nations are just as important for climate protection… 

… since there are two more fields in which they play a significant role. First and foremost concerning the protection of the forests because a large part of them is located in developing countries and one part of the solution is to stabilize global forests.

In this respect, the Congo plays an important role. It is a poor country that produces almost no emissions in the energy sector; however, forest conservation is of crucial importance. There is the Amazon basin in Latin America, in particular in Brazil; however, forest conservation also plays an important role in the neighbouring states. The same holds true for forests in Indonesia. Apart from forest conservation, the development of cities is also of importance. We are facing a doubling of the urban population from currently three billion people to approximately six billion people by 2050. 75 to 80 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. Since a large part of urban development takes place in developing countries and newly industrialised countries, the development should be as climate-proof as possible. 

This will pose a problem as especially big cities in developing countries are located near the coast and are strongly affected by a rising sea level. This results in a high use of resources in order to save the coasts or to construct new buildings, which has, at the same time, a quite adverse effect on climate protection (see factory "Baden gehen” (“Going for a Swim”)). Are there any essential similarities between the decarbonisation strategies in the cities of industrial countries and the cities of developing countries?

The starting situation is quite different. We, in Europe as well as in the USA, have to climate-proof our already existing cities, which are only growing slowly – most of them are even decreasing. It is about refurbishing buildings, renewal – and on this scale, we have to reduce our emissions. This gives rise to a series of disadvantages since there are many path dependencies in Europe. All of our mobility systems have already been built. Gradually changing them to renewable energies requires a new system in which future electric vehicles are charged with renewable electricity. Previous gas stations would no longer be needed. It is difficult to change such big systems. In developing countries and newly industrialised countries, we have the advantage that a completely new infrastructure can be built. Facilities and infrastructure are being built for another three billion people. It would be a great opportunity if we succeeded in making them more climate-proof from the beginning on. If we do not succeed and climate-damaging infrastructure is built once again in the following 35 years, it will be almost impossible to correct this. The boost of urbanisation in the next three decades is of crucial importance. It may go totally wrong, but if it goes well, we may also experience a leapfrogging process.

There will be a massive worldwide movement of people in the following decades, not only because of the rising sea levels, but also because of more serious conflicts and the increasing degradation of arable land. How can we reasonably deal with this at a global level? Is it possible to build new megacities where people can be offered a perspective for the future?

The most important card we still have is to fight for every tenth of a percent that we might be able to avoid in terms of global warming. Whether we have 3.5 degrees or only 1.6 or 1.9 degrees at the end of the day makes a huge difference with regard to the progression of sea levels, drought problems, degradation of arable land and extreme weather conditions that we will have to cope with in the future.

Climate change is also relevant for migration, as you just put it. In 2007, we made a comprehensive study of the matter for the WBGU (German Advisory Council on Global Change), examining a world with a four-degree rise in temperature, together with the corresponding data, and simulating adaptation strategies. We have ultimately given a new title to the study: Climate Change as a Security Risk, since climate change could become a safety problem in a world with a four-degree rise in temperature and the environmental changes might overstrain many societies. We referred to the issue of migration, to conflicts over increasingly scarce water resources and to degraded soils. The approach to be taken towards reducing global warming is therefore the first important factor under consideration. The second factor is to plan the construction of all new cities in a way that prepares them for a future rise in temperature somewhere between two and three degrees, i.e., the increase in temperature that seems most likely and which we do not wish to exceed. What rising sea levels and water availability mean for the cities of tomorrow needs to be factored in and estimated price-wise today, even if these cities will not be built until 2030 or 2040. It is very important to take wise adaptability measures.

In Paris, efforts have been made to reach a single international agreement that would impel nations to take a common approach to combatting global warming and limiting its consequences; however, a number of international agreements concerning trade has been attempted and other matters are already in place. Due to the failure of the Doha Development Round of the World Trade Organization (WTO), these various agreements are all concluded more or less bilaterally or multilaterally, between individual states or communities of nations, e.g. between the US and Asia, the EU and Canada or the EU and African countries. Do you see the possibility of implementing more concrete sustainability or climate-protection measures as well as placing all action under a centralized protection chapter?

One major challenge is the integration of climate protection issues into large and important global economic institutions and frameworks. For the WTO, this would mean that in the areas where we currently do have relatively high tariffs – for example, for green products, energy-efficient technologies, renewable energy infrastructures and components – it would make a lot of sense to speed up liberalization so that these technologies can spread more quickly. We also have to think about whether the WTO would be the right institution to sanction states that are noncompliant with climate-change regimes. In order to implement ambitious climate-protection measures in Europe, we could use tariffs as a disincentive for those who would neglect climate protection or disregard trade agreements. Such discussions are sure to arise, so it is imperative that we firmly establish climate protection within global economic regimes and institutions: in the International Monetary Fund and in regulations for international financial markets.

So far, agreements such as TTIP, CETA, TiSA and EPAs have been made to reduce security standards in order to promote greater liberalization of the economy, especially through privatization in the public sector.

At this point, it makes a lot of sense to merge environmental standards with those for climate protection. In the context of TTIP, these are controversial subjects of much debate. Currently, Europe has different ideas in this area than the US, but it is definitely an important topic. It is relevant to embed ecological and social standards as well as objectives in the policies and institutions of the global economy. As already discussed at the beginning, climate protection is not simply a matter of global environmental policy, but of worldwide economic change. This also applies, for instance, to the World Bank, which has supported economic growth processes powered by fossil fuels over a long period of time through generous loans. For the past five years, however, the World Bank has been moving under its new President Kim toward decarbonisation strategies. Regional development banks – also a part of Global Economic Governance structures, such as the Development Bank of Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe – can also contribute to the decarbonisation of our economies by modifying lending conditions. It is not just the climate negotiators’ responsibility to decide whether the Paris Agreement will succeed or not. Negotiators have introduced ambitious targets that must be implemented from now on by many other actors in the economy, in society, politics and the sciences in order to create a world that can function without greenhouse gas emissions by 2070. 


Prof. Dr. Dirk Messner is one of the leading managers of the German Development Institute in Bonn and the Center for Global Cooperation Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen. He shares the chairmanship of the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WGBU) with climatologist Hans Joachim Schellnhuber. This council is one of the most important institutions involved with the evaluation and development of far-reaching strategies for climate and resource protection, and with other dynamics of global change. 

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