Global environmental challenges
Can science and politics mix in Copenhagen?
As a trained physicist, Angela Merkel knows scientific findings and political negotiations don’t always mix well.
So the German Chancellor, who has no doubts about the scientific evidence of climate change, is going with a somewhat uneasy feeling to the climate conference in Copenhagen, where negotiations are taking place for something that she thinks should be non-negotiable: fighting global warming.
“Limiting a rise in temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius is an ambitious target but it’s absolutely necessary to reach that target,” she told a group of foreign journalists in the chancellery, which is covered with 1,300-square metres of solar panels producing nearly 150,000 kWh of electricity per year. “Because if global temperatures do rise above 2 degrees there will be a need for adaptation and there will be reactions that will be not only enormously expensive but far more difficult to manage.”
Merkel, who has a doctorate and worked at East Germany’s Academy of Sciences for 12 years before entering politics in 1990, said it is infinitely more difficult to reach a comprehensive agreement on fighting climate change than on many other issues because there are so many different countries with so many different interests involved. She doesn’t envy hosts Denmark.
“It’s not like some political target, such as putting limits on bank bonuses, that we can choose at will. We’re facing a natural phenomenon here that requires an answer based on scientific fact. It is an issue of vast importance to humanity itself,” she said.
As Merkel talked about the perils of climate change in her office with its view of the Tiergarten park, it was clear she is not only well-versed in the material but also has more than a casual interest. As Germany’s Environment Minister from 1994 to 1998, she hosted the first U.N. climate conference in Berlin in 1995, a meeting that paved the way for the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. A conservative politician, Merkel raised the issue of climate change in her speech to the U.S. Congress last month, and sometimes struggles to understand why in the United States the conservative party – the Republican Party – has not embraced the fight against climate change too.
An agreement in Copenhagen is possible, she said. But there is still a lot of hard work ahead. The United States, China and India all need to improve their offers although she is encouraged by their first offers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
She thinks an agreement on near-term financing for developing nations to combat climate change is within reach but it will be difficult to get a deal in Copenhagen for long-term financing. “The Americans have their difficulties with that,” she said. Merkel believes finding common ground on the financing will be the key to creating a level of trust among all the parties so that everyone will be willing to move forward to reach an agreement.
PHOTO: German Chancellor Angela Merkel stands on a ship during a visit to a fjord near Ilulissat in 2007 on a fact-finding mission to Greenland to see the impact of climate change. REUTERS: Michael Kappeler