German leader champions new approach to climate at event in Davos
GENEVA – New German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Wednesday called for a “paradigm shift” in the way the world approaches climate policy, saying his country would use its chairmanship of the Group of Seven industrial nations this year to push for standards for combating global warming.
Climate talks were a key theme this week at a meeting of the World Economic Forum, which is being held online after COVID-19 concerns delayed its annual gathering in Davos, Switzerland. It included a panel with US climate special envoy John Kerry and billionaire Bill Gates that presented ideas that environmentalists and scientists have challenged: that innovations yet to be invented or widely used would help dramatically reduce emissions.
Unlike events such as last year’s UN climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, the Davos meeting is more of a discussion about big ideas – not how to act. Critics regularly criticize the Davos event, whose origins date back to 1971, for hosting economic and political elites who express lofty but often meaningless goals and are seen as disconnected from the needs of ordinary people.
In a speech, Scholz focused on the ambitions of Germany and the wider European Union to fight climate change.
“Europe has decided to become the first carbon neutral continent by 2050; Germany wants to achieve this goal already in 2045…a monumental task, but a task we can and will master,” he said.
Scholz added that Germany will use its G-7 presidency to “make this group the nucleus of an international climate club.”
“What we want to achieve is a paradigm shift in international climate policy. We will no longer wait for the slowest and least ambitious,” he said. “Instead, we will lead by example and transform climate action from a cost driver into a competitive advantage by agreeing on common minimum standards”.
Scholz said the “climate club”, which he first announced months ago when he was finance minister, would be open to all countries.
Several groups of countries have similar goals, including the High Ambition Coalition which aims to meet the toughest goal of the Paris climate accord – limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit ) by the end of the century compared to pre-industrial times.
Critics say these groups often include members with less than stellar weather records. Germany and the United States, for example, are not on track to meet their emission reduction targets and have postponed providing poor countries with the kind of financing they seek to fight climate change. .
The goals Scholz suggested for the climate club – the 1.5 degree cap and climate neutrality by 2050 – are already part of or are implicit in the Paris agreement. More importantly, Scholz said the club could seek to achieve these goals “by pricing carbon and preventing carbon leakage”.
These proposals are designed to prevent companies from moving carbon-intensive industries to countries with less stringent emissions rules and disadvantage countries like Germany.
If the idea enjoys strong support within the European Union, whose members are accustomed to negotiating compromise agreements for the common good, it will be more difficult to obtain the adhesion of the United States and large developing countries such as China and India.
Representing the United States, Kerry urged businesses and governments to accelerate their efforts to scale technologies that will help dramatically reduce carbon emissions. Speaking at a panel on climate innovation, Kerry said many of the “critical technologies” needed to cut emissions were not moving fast enough.
“The world must pick up the pace,” he said.
He and other panelists talked about ‘carbon capture’, the process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide before it enters the atmosphere, and ‘green hydrogen’, the separation of water into hydrogen and oxygen with energy from low carbon sources.
The idea that technologies and markets are central to tackling climate change is popular in some circles but also controversial because technologies such as carbon capture are expensive, energy-intensive and far from widely used.
Carbon capture was also mentioned by an energy company executive in a separate panel on energy transition, where Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, pointed out that the main oil producer was ” proactively engaged with everyone” as the world tries to reduce emissions. .
The prince said fossil fuels would play a role alongside renewables and urged countries to use “all the tools in the kit” including cleaner ways to use fossil fuels rather than simply phase them out.
A group of Latin American leaders also discussed climate change in another panel, urging the biggest carbon-emitting countries to be held to account and help fund green programs.
Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei has linked climate change to migration in the region as it saps resources, hampering opportunities for growth. He said Central America caused just 0.33% of greenhouse gases, but the countries “suffer the most”.
“Every year we have to rebuild the country because there are hurricanes,” Giammattei said. “A lot of our resources that should be spent on generating new opportunities must be directed to building roads, bridges, drinking water systems.”
Associated Press writers Geir Moulson and Frank Jordans in Berlin, David McHugh in Frankfurt, Germany, Regina Garcia Cano in Mexico City, and Peter Prengaman in Phoenix contributed to this report.
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