Aiming at 2 Degrees

Almost all of the debate about the mitigation of global warming is circulating around aiming at a certain maximal temperature increase goal, beyond which we don’t want to come. For the time being, it is mostly 2° C (the Copenhagen Accord names this goal, too). But perhaps sticking to a concrete temperature goal is what we are doing wrong? That’s the question asked by a member of the German think tank SWP.

Oliver Geden questions the feasibility of this approach pointing to the fact that our politicians haven’t been able to bindingly commit to any temperature increase goal. He makes another proposal instead:

An alternative paradigm would have to combine realism with a positive global vision. One possibility is to establish “climate neutrality” as a long-term global objective – i.e., work to reduce net emissions of greenhouse gases to zero. Even if this objective were to be initially linked with a broadly defined timescale, it would establish the standard for action according to which all countries would have to be measured.

Within such a framework, ambitious climate-policy actors such as the EU, Switzerland, or Japan would face the task of committing to exacting de-carbonization measures. They would need to muster evidence that the transition to a low-carbon economy is both technically feasible and profitable, yielding positive effects not only for the climate, but also for energy prices and security of supply. Success would spur other G-20 countries, acting out of self-interest, to follow in the climate leaders’ footsteps.

Within such a framework, we still would have a well-defined goal to reach. But at the same time it would be harder for those objecting a temperature increase goal to claim that we cannot make it any more, that it is too late and that it would therefore be a better idea to set another, higher goal. Of course, the proposals by Geden is built on a fair portion of optimism. But, on the other hand: has it sense to still stick to the old approach? After Copenhagen? And the time that’s gone since, without any new commitments?

Perhaps it is not a bad idea. As long as this approach would be sufficient to reach a binding global agreement (by which it would have done much more than all we have tried so long)… Why not?


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