Progress is a snail. That sounds more negative than it is, because the incremental improvement of a large number of processes and products is a core competence of German industry. Many small but permanent improvements bring lasting progress. They have put Germany’s companies in the top position worldwide for a large number of products.
Incremental changes, however, will not be enough in all that politics has set out to do. This particularly applies to the attainability of climate protection targets, which have recently become more stringent with increasing speed.
The European Union’s Green Deal increases the pressure considerably on Germany as well. Critics are already predicting that the current German target – greenhouse gas neutrality in 2050 – is not compatible with the requirements of the Paris Climate Agreement. This applies to the target set according to the proposal of the EU Commission, but again considerably more to what the majority of the European Parliament considers possible.
In a world full of trade conflicts and geopolitical challenges, which is also in the midst of a global health crisis, this goal appears to be unattainable, especially if the said snail is the driving force.
However, sometimes it is faster. Events and developments occur unexpectedly, and suddenly it becomes apparent that many things can go much faster than assumed. We are moving towards such a “moment of time”. It is all the more important to be aware of developments and to make preparations.
In his speech to the UN on September 22nd, Chinese President Xi Jinping surprisingly announced the goal for China to be “carbon neutral” by 2060. Given China’s starting position, this may be even more spectacular than the EU’s goal.
Glimmer of hope for climate protection
In the USA, too, there is a lot going on. Joe Biden, promising Democratic candidate for president, promotes the “Biden Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice”. The main objective of the program: 100 percent clean energy and “net zero emissions no later than 2050”.
A glimmer of hope for climate protection – and beyond. In the background there are completely different, more profound problems between the three most important industrial regions in the world by far. In the USA, with a view to China, people speak quite openly of the war of the systems.
In the EU, much more withdrawn, at least from the systemic rival. Many fundamental questions about togetherness in the 21st century are open: reciprocity in trade relations, hegemonic ambitions, human rights, trade restrictions, security and the free market itself.
If you look at the discussion of the past few years, you can see that the universalist claim often sought in Sunday speeches, which would be necessary in particular for a successful climate policy, has increasingly given way to a particularism of the trading blocs.
This also applies to the planned “CO2 border adjustment system”. This border mechanism is intended to price greenhouse gas-intensive EU imports into the EU and thus ensure fair competition. Even before it is implemented, the so-called climate tariff is critically assessed by many experts. It is clear to all sensible actors that particularism cannot be the solution, but that it is becoming a gigantic problem for the questions of the future of the 21st century.
So far, China has been reliable in the energy transition
In view of the ambitious climate announcements by Biden, Xi and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, there would be an opportunity to get closer: It is precisely the compatibility of the objectives in terms of climate policy that is an occasion to get all actors around the table and the conglomerate of problems in a summit process to address and resolve. Everyone should be interested in constructive cooperation – because global challenges can only be mastered multilaterally.
In the end, it depends on what really happens. The steps since Xi’s opening speech in Davos 2017 are rather sobering, but China has so far been quite reliable when it comes to the energy transition and climate protection. The pressure is great in the USA, and the commitment to Biden’s plan is clear.
And the EU? Despite all the criticism of climate policy, the EU is the furthest of all regions. There is enormous expertise and experience here. In any case, we have something to contribute to this process.
A common climate policy could help resolve the crises of the 21st century. It is clear, however, that such a moment must be prepared. Dialogues on climate policy are not enough; consistent implementation is required.
To this end, the EU must develop joint positions as quickly as possible on other open issues. Initial findings have been gained in recent years, and this is where we need to start. So that when the moment comes, the EU can act properly and safely. She has shown time and again that she is capable of this.
It would be the ultimate success of the Paris Climate Agreement if it were to be the basis for the political architecture of the 21st century beyond climate policy. A guide for the great transformation that goes far beyond the post-fossil economy that the Scientific Advisory Council on Global Environmental Issues (WBGU) described almost ten years ago.
A common solution is needed for economic and climate-friendly cooperation. The main features of such a summit are already clear. The EU should prepare to host such a summit. A great moment in the best sense of Stefan Zweig is on the horizon. Using them takes determination and judgment. But first, the voters in the USA have the floor.
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