Prof. Dr. Eberhard Umbach, Würzburg
am 28. Februar 2007
Speech of the President
of the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft e.V.
on the occasion of the presentation of its study entitled
"Climate protection and Energy Supply in Germany 1990-2020"
at the Representation of the Free State of Bavaria, Brussels
"Responsible Energy and Climate Protection Politics needs Facts" 1
Frau Staatsministerin Müller, Herr Kollege Blum, Ladies and Gentlemen,
We meet here in Brussels at a time, when the probably most burning question of this century finally reaches general awareness. Global warming is now being accepted as a real big danger with all its conceivable and incalculable consequences, and excessive energy consumption and thoughtless energy conversion are being identified as main origins. Today, there is hardly any newspaper or magazine, and hardly any newscast, in which climate change, or one of its indications or consequences, is not mentioned and more or less objectively treated. However, although there is an urgent need for actions and although many people and several govern-ments still must be persuaded, we have to refrain from recklessly expressed striking warnings like "the climate threatens to finally tilt" or "the disaster is hardly still avoidable". Rather, it is the duty of all of us, politicians as well as journalists, industry managers as well as scientists to keep calm, discuss and then quickly decide on the necessary measures. We have to act im-mediately without prejudices and without ideological or purely economical bias, but on the basis of sound technical and scientific facts from unbiased experts.
These thoughts lead me to the central statement and topic of my speech, namely “Responsible Energy and Climate Protection Politics needs Facts”. To provide facts and basic information is the task of independent scientists and scientific institutions like the German Physical Society, DPG, which is with more than 160 years the oldest and with more than 52,000 members the largest learned physical society of the world. From a society like ours which comprises scientists from all scientific fields and of different world views we expect a high degree of neutrality and independence and we can grant them the ability, to evaluate the available facts soberly and to avoid hasty conclusions.
To be more specific: The climate change caused by human activities is a global as well as a century problem. Various national and international studies clearly emphasize this, in particular the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), established by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). It represents the current state of research with regard to climate change. It undeniably shows that most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely (i.e. more than 90% likely) due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations. Human activities that contribute to climate change include in particular the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, both of which cause output of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases. Increasing global temperatures will bring changes in weather patterns, rising sea levels as well as an increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like hurricanes, floods, try periods, and even winters without snow. From 1906 to 2005 the world-wide average temperature rose by about 0.74 degree. The warming up rate of the last 50 years is almost twice as large as in the last 100 years. It steadily becomes accepted that this changing of the climate system is unambiguous. Mankind therefore has to act very resolutely to avert, that global warming increases more than two degrees in relation to pre-industrial values.
By the way, even those who are the world’s experts in wasting energy, our North-American friends, reconsider their abstinence in climate protection which can be derived from two very recent events: the first is a statement of the American Association for the Advancement of Science that was published ten days ago and received quite some response in the media. It says, for instance: “The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society.” This association comprises about 120,000 individual scientists and 262 scientific societies with together about 10 million people. The second event happened about 60 hours ago, the donation of the Oscar to Davis Guggenheim’s documentary movie “An inconvenient truth” about Al Gore's campaign for climate protection.
There are different scenarios to escape. A reasonable and hopefully realistic one could be the following: In order to avoid a climatic disaster, the first step that has to be taken is to stabilize global greenhouse gas emissions, then ultimately bring them down to half of their 1990 level by the middle of this century. In particular the developed countries, which alone cause half of the entire output, must lower their emissions substantially. But this is a long and difficult process, which is rather stagnating than speeding up. Let me shortly outline this and then come to the role and responsibility of Germany within the European context.
The first step for global climate protection was taken in the year 1992 with the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro. More than 150 states signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). When they adopted the Convention, the governments knew that their commitments would not be sufficient to seriously tackle the climate change. 1995, the first Conference of the Parties (COP) on Climate Change Convention in Berlin followed. The most important result of the Berlin Summit was the agreement to adopt CO2 reduction obligations for industrialized countries within two years. Germany committed itself to reduce CO2 emissions by 25% until 2005 compared to 1990. To achieve the intended goal COP launched in a decision known as the “Berlin Mandate” a new round of discussions to decide on stronger and more detailed commitments for industrialized countries. After two and a half years of intense negotiations, the so called “Kyoto Protocol” was adopted 1997 in Kyoto. There, many developed countries agreed on specific targets for cutting their emissions of greenhouse gases to 5.2% below 1990 levels in the period 2008 to 2012. As an aside: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change already said in its 1990 report that a 60% reduction in emissions was needed.
Since the year 2005 the Kyoto Protocol became effective and now includes more than 160 countries globally and over 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The European Union assured to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases in the period 2008 – 2012 by 8 % compared to 1990, Germany agreed to reduce its emissions even by 21%. Thus, the German reduction goals correspond to about 75 % of the total reduction of greenhouse gases required from the EU. Thus, Germany accepted a pioneering role in international climate protection. And Germany has the economical, technical, and scientific potential to take up this pioneering role. For example, Germany has a market leading position in the production of climate and environmental protection goods. 55 billion Euros’ worth of such goods was manufactured in 2004. This represents an increase by 5 billion Euro compared to 2002. With a 19 % share of the world trade amount German companies are at the forefront of environmental engineering, followed by the United States and Japan. And the largest amount of patents in the field of environmental engineering filed at the European Patent Office comes from Germany.
In view of the fact that Germany’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions only makes up 3-4 % of the total, there is little that Germany can do in the physical sense to significantly improve the global climate situation. The intent and purpose of the German climate protection policy lies rather in making contributions that will encourage and help the other players in this global undertaking to invest the required joint efforts against man-made global warming.
Although the quoted measures and the results obtained so far in Germany may seem very positive, and in part they are indeed, one has to look more closely and focus on the facts. This is one of the fundamental tasks of a scientific society like the DPG. On this account, the DPG has dedicated itself already at the beginning of the year 1980 particularly to the phenomenon of the greenhouse effect and has informed the public, at that time unfortunately with little resonance.
Because of the apparent threats and because of the German engagement in energy and climate politics DPG has published in 2006 a new study, which will be presented by Professor Walter Blum in the following. This report has created a great interest with 3,000 distributed hard copies and 17,000 downloads and has attracted significant political attention. This large interest may partly be due to the German EU Presidency and its political concentration on a few topics, in particular climate and energy politics. In this study, some energy and climate experts of the DPG attend to the potentially biggest set of problems of the 21st century knowing about our responsibility as scientists for the future of our society. They did this rather time consuming effort voluntarily, independently, and without any payment in their free time. Therefore they deserve our sincere and cordial thanks.
The study reveals, that climate protection in Germany – in contrast to the optimistic expectations of the Federal Government – is only progressing very slowly. By today’s measures the ambitious targets of the government for 2020 will be missed by far. This applies particularly, if the German nuclear power plants were shut down prematurely, as decided by the past parliament. For instance, Germany was only able to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in the period of 1990 – 2004 by 15 % compared with the level of 1990. So Germany definitely missed its goal of a reduction by 25 %. Without the unique collapse of many East-German industries after the reunification the reduction achievements would have been even smaller.
In conclusion, the DPG underlines the enormous importance of a rational and reasonable climate protection and energy politics and the urgent need for rapid measures. The DPG urges all decision makers and opinion-leaders in Europe, especially politicians, executive officials, leading industry managers, and journalists to discuss these issues without economical or ideological bias, based on scientific facts and careful evaluation by independent groups of experts. This particularly implies the consideration and assessment of all available and potential energy sources. Even unpopular or unconventional ways or visionary approaches have to be seriously taken into account. The DPG offers its neutral help and advice and is prepared to support the necessary discussions by a rational and unbiased appraisal of all aspects.
Moreover, apart from political, tax or other financial incentives novel ideas and unconventional initiatives are required. Thus, I suggest that Germany - or perhaps the European Union - should start a large-scale research and development initiative for energy supply and climate protection. This initiative should attract and combine the most innovative and experienced scientists and engineers in large collaborations to concentrate on innovative solutions of our energy and climate problems. Research and development groups in industry, research institutes and universities should form cooperative teams on selected topics. The initiative should be generously supported by an attractive competitive funding, provided in equal parts by governments and industries. We need new ideas and positive signals to face the future challenges. By its scientific, technological, and industrial position, Germany is able to play a leading role in this task.
I would like to end my speech with this appeal. Many steps have been taken so far but more need to be done based on sound information which we will get in the following presentation by Professor Walter Blum.
1. Quellen u. a.: DPG-Studie zum Klimaschutz, FIZ-Karlsruhe (BINE Informationsdienst), IPCC-Bericht, Regierung online.