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Last update: 23.10.2013

International climate policy

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. 

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.

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 first steps were made towards such targets at the Climate Change Conference in Kyoto (COP 3) in 1997 with the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol. With this protocol, developed countries made a legally binding commitment to reduce their emissions during the commitment period from 2008 to 2012. Before the end of the first commitment period, at the Climate Change Conference in Doha at the end of 2012, the Parties agreed that there should be a second commitment period for developed countries. Due to a lower number of participants, the second commitment period from 2013 to 2020 has taken on more of a symbolic character, as the participating developed countries only account for less than 15% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.

Following the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol, another milestone was reached with the Bali Action Plan, agreed on by the community of states at the Climate Change Conference in Bali in 2007 (COP 13). At that meeting it was agreed that negotiations be started on comprehensive post-2012 climate agreement.

The negotiations were originally due to be concluded at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference (COP 15) in December 2009. Following disappointing negotiations at COP 15, only one political agreement was decided on, the Copenhagen Accord, which lists some key elements of future climate policy. More than 140 states (including all EU member states) have now joined the Accord, including numerous developed and developing countries which have submitted voluntary emission reduction targets or mitigation commitments for 2020.

Following the low point in Copenhagen, progress is being made in international climate negotiations since COP 16 in Cancún and COP 17 in Durban. The Cancún Agreements were the first agreements to recognise the 2°C target and set voluntary reduction pledges for developed and developing countries. The Climate Summit in Durban (South Africa) proved that countries are still fighting hard for more climate action. Negotiations had been prolonged for two days, but in the end the Durban Package can be seen as a milestone in international climate policy as the international community agreed that all states, which includes developed countries, emerging economies and developing countries, would be obliged to make commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the new agreement. The agreement is to be adopted in 2015 and enter into force by 2020 at the latest.

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 2°C 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% by 2020, 55% by 2030, 70% by 2040 and by 80 to 95% by 2050, compared to the reference year 1990. The long-term Energy Concept lays down how these goals are going to be achieved. The Energy Concept is worldwide a unique instrument which serves as energy policy guidance – regardless of the efforts made by other countries. This makes sense for economic as well as climate policy reasons. 

The German government also supports ambitious EU climate targets. Under the German EU Presidency in the first half of 2007 the EU committed to a 20 percent reduction of its emissions compared with 1990. The EU will increase this target to 30 percent if other industrialised countries undertake comparable efforts and emerging economies and developing countries make an adequate contribution also. 

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