Climate protection as a new foreign policy imperative

03.06.2019 - Article

Article by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and the two heads of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Professor Edenhofer and Professor Rockström.

For years we have been hearing that the climate crisis is one of the most urgent challenges of our times. In studies, in political speeches, at international conferences. But let’s be honest: our actions have not kept up with our words. Now, all the studies and speeches are resonating in an unexpected place: it is young people in the internet and school children taking part in demonstrations who have really made climate change the number one issue in Germany. The message booming out to us every Friday is clear: Don’t ruin our future! Start implementing the promises made by 190 states in the Paris Agreement at last!

And scientists confirm what the young people are saying: if we don’t act quickly, the risks will increase. In the long term the global temperature could rise by up to five degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. We are heading towards a hot age with barely manageable consequences. Humans have become a geological force – and that is not something to be proud of.

Last year, the earth demanded a high price for that status: the drought last summer in Germany, rains and flooding in Japan, hurricanes in the Caribbean, forest fires in the United States. Extreme weather conditions are affecting people throughout the world, destroying lives, threatening livelihoods, devouring vast sums of money.

We need to do something about that. Now. Changing track is not a task for individual political parties, individual generations or individual countries. It has to be a global effort, in which Germany needs to play a leading role. If France, our closest partner in Europe, comes up with ambitious proposals here, then we cannot put the brakes on this. On the contrary, we Europeans must work together to pick up the pace – especially when others call their commitments from the Paris Agreement into question. Fair pricing for greenhouse gas emissions is a central tool in this regard – worldwide and in different development contexts: Used wisely, the funds raised in this way could promote stability and development through investment in health care and sustainable infrastructure.

Climate change needs to be right at the top of the international agenda. Climate protection needs to become a new foreign policy imperative. For the security policy implications of climate change are already serious. The stability of entire regions is at stake.

Water is becoming increasingly scarce in the Mediterranean region, the Middle East and Central America. Agriculture and fishing are having to adjust to dwindling yields. Where people’s livelihoods are under threat, conflicts are predestined. Displacement and forced migration could increase to barely manageable levels.
Foreign and security policy needs to provide a response to these issues.

That is why we, as scientists and politicians, are working together on new instruments. We are analysing how climate change intensifies conflicts in order to be able to react at an earlier stage. For example, one measure is an early warning system for the particularly hard hit Sahel region that is being developed by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research with the support of the Federal Foreign Office.

And we are working internationally to win allies. That is why Germany has made the security policy impact of climate change one of the focuses of its membership of the United Nations Security Council, supported by a Group of Friends comprising around 50 states from all continents. And that is why today in Berlin we are bringing together decision-makers from politics, science and business from more than 25 countries to launch a call for joint action. The goal is to find concrete solutions in order to mitigate the various security risks posed by climate change in as targeted a manner as possible.

The clock is ticking. More and more people are realising that. That is a good sign. We, too, have realised it and will act accordingly. It is not too late yet.


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