Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the briefing on the 25th UN Climate Change Conference

14.11.2019 - Speech

A small German town has 11,000 inhabitants on average. Now picture such a town, and no matter who you ask in this town, each individual warns you urgently against taking a “business as usual” approach in climate policy.

The opinion of so many people should make an impression, you might think.

Indeed, the appeal signed last week by 11,000 scientists from all over the world leaves no room for misunderstanding. If we humans fail to fundamentally change our behaviour, it says in the article, it will be impossible to avoid “untold suffering”.

Untold suffering! This is a more than remarkable choice of words for scientists. One that hopefully makes it impossible to ignore this warning.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Eleven thousand people. That’s about the number of people living in Nauru. The people of Nauru are among those most directly affected by the impact of climate change because their country is literally up to its neck in water.

In June, the then President of Nauru visited us here in Berlin. Nauru is part of a Group of Friends of 50 countries on the issue of climate and security that we founded at the UN in New York. This issue is one of our priorities for the period in which we are a member of the UN Security Council. At the time, the President raised the question of whether the UN should send blue helmets to shut down coal-fired power stations.

This was a clearly-worded plea, but one that was, above all, based on a bitter truth, namely that climate change has long since become a threat also to peace and security, in many places around the world. Climate policy has long since ceased being merely a question of environmental policy. Climate policy must inform our foreign policy, too, to a much greater extent – and not just ours!

It was therefore particularly important to Svenja Schulze and myself to attend this morning’s briefing with the German Climate Consortium. We hope that this will help to further develop what we are doing and prepare us for what lies ahead.

If we want to get on top of this task facing humanity as a whole, we must not only consistently perceive environmental, climate and foreign policy as being interlinked, but we must engage in a much closer dialogue with you, with the scientific community and also with civil society. You have not only been ringing the alarm bells loudly and effectively for a long time, but you have been talking about solutions and about how we can mitigate climate change and improve the way in which we deal with its impact.

I experienced this recently when touring the Canadian Arctic with experts from the Alfred-Wegener-Institut, the Max Planck Institute and the GIGA. Together with our Canadian partners, we have agreed to intensify our scientific cooperation in this field, and it is, above all, thanks to your work, the work of the scientific community and NGOs, that public awareness of climate change has never been greater than it is today.

But that’s not enough. Awareness must be followed up with action. Otherwise we’ll end up proving the old adage, namely “those who understand and don’t act haven’t really understood”. We are rightfully reminded of this each Friday when we’re told: don’t destroy our future! Instead, implement at long last what was promised in the Paris Agreement!

That’s why I’m most grateful, Ambassador, that Spain is making it possible to hold COP25 in Madrid in December at short notice. We know what a challenge this will be. I would like to thank you and all of our Spanish friends for bravely stepping into the breach!

I’m aware of the fact that this relocation has caused financial difficulties for some delegations. This is why we’re offering the UNFCCC Secretariat additional support in order to ensure that all delegations are able to attend, including those that have to contend with financial issues owing to this relocation.

And, Ambassador, we warmly welcome the fact that Chile will assume the COP25 Presidency as planned! COP25 is taking place at a decisive juncture. Next year, the Paris climate goals will be up for assessment for the first time – crunch time, also for us. COP25 must therefore send a clear signal for greater ambition, above all from the major emitters!

This is all the more important now that, unfortunately, the US officially announced its withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement ten days ago. This is a step that we deeply regret. And we hope – and are committed to ensuring – that this is only a temporary departure. However, ladies and gentlemen, we must not count on the disagreement in climate policy being resolved any time soon. No major climate policy impetus of note is likely to be expected from either the US Presidency of the G7 or Saudi Arabia’s G20 Presidency next year. In an international environment such as this, we must also subject our own climate policy approaches to scrutiny.

It goes without saying that the international climate regime is needed more than ever before. However, at a time when countries are taking unilateral action in climate policy, I believe that we must not rely on the COP process alone. We must get new partners on board, and this is why we’re seeking much more intensively to engage in dialogue with progressive forces at the respective state and municipal level. What is more, we’re pursuing complementary strategies – to put an end to the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, for instance, or to help major emitters to invest in renewable energies instead of coal-fired power stations.

Let me give you just two examples of what can be expected from a new climate diplomacy in this regard.

Firstly, India.

At the intergovernmental consultations in New Delhi at the beginning of the month, we agreed to work together, for example to expand the use of solar energy in the metro network. Germany is setting aside one billion euros for this as we know that if India, which is responsible for six percent of greenhouse gas emissions even today, does not manage to transform its transport sector, this will have serious consequences at the global level.

Secondly, Brazil, which is a slightly more difficult case.

It goes without saying that President Bolsonaro’s Government isn’t an easy partner in climate policy. But we need Brazil. The Amazon rainforest fires reminded us recently how vulnerable the rainforest, so crucial to our climate, actually is.

That’s why, after the new Government took office, I was the first European Foreign Minister to travel to Brasilia. Not everyone understood this decision. And contrary to some expectations, we managed to persuade the Brazilians to issue a firm commitment to protecting the climate and the Amazon in a joint declaration. This is, of course, only on paper for now. But it’s also a starting point for reminding Brazil of its responsibility and for taking the country to task in the future. And this is what we did at the meetings that we, Svenja Schulze, myself and others within the Federal Government, held with the Brazilian Foreign Minister and the Brazilian Environment Minister, for example.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In all the things that we’re doing at the international level, one thing is clear above all, which is that we will only be able to convince others if we, as a rich economy, do our homework.

And let me say quite candidly that our international credibility has suffered owing to the fact that we haven’t pursued our climate goals consistently enough in recent years. We must put an end to this!

I know that, for many of you, the climate protection law and the Climate Protection Programme 2030 that have just been adopted don’t go far enough. Since we launched these plans in Germany, however, they have been perceived internationally as a clear commitment by our country to change its climate policy and, at long last, to meet the goals it has set itself – to be a pioneer once again!

It’s very important in this regard that we regularly review and adjust our goals and the extent to which they are achieved. And the assessments of experts like you will be the yardstick for us here, not least in the public debate. Europe also has to lead the way, because only then will countries like China and India stay on track.

This means that the EU must step up its climate goals for 2030 and make them more ambitious next year. The European Green Deal must not remain an empty promise! Its implementation will therefore also be the focus of the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue in March, which we will be hosting here at the Federal Foreign Office. The new President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, will be in attendance and will be an important point of contact also in the future. And I would like to cordially invite you all to this event.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In 2007, Susan Solomon said the following with regard to the global climate: “It’s later than we think.” Twelve years down the line, today’s briefing bears the slogan “Time for Action”. This all sounds very familiar somehow and tells me one thing above all else, namely that words must be followed by actions. And I mean now!

So, with this in mind, welcome to the Federal Foreign Office! We’re looking forward to our discussions with you!


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