Carsten Rolle, Head of Department Energy and Climate Policy BDI. Photo: © BDI/Christian Kruppa.
25 Oct 2017 | Julian Wettengel

COP23 – 'Germany can achieve most for climate by technology export'

Germany is hosting this year’s international climate summit (COP23) in Bonn. The conference will be about establishing the trust in mutually agreed rules on climate protection, says Carsten Rolle, head of the energy and climate policy department at the Federation of German Industries (BDI). The Clean Energy Wire spoke to Rolle about Germany’s role in global climate protection and the industry’s technological contributions for the energy transitions in countries across the globe.

CLEW: On its website, the BDI says that Germany cannot save the climate by itself. Could you explain that?

Carsten Rolle: Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions make up hardly more than two percent of global emissions. So reducing its emissions is a far smaller contribution to climate change mitigation than what the country can achieve with its economy, for example technology exports. So it’s correct and important that we in Germany show how climate protection can work. At the same time, however, we have to deal with the question of how our technological achievements for climate protection can be used worldwide. Here, we can achieve much more. We also have to show that what we develop in technology is also economically feasible.

Against this backdrop, is the Paris Agreement a good platform for Germany to do its part for international climate protection?

Absolutely. The BDI strongly supports the whole COP process and the Paris Agreement. Climate protection will only work if as many countries as possible are involved in the process. In the past months, under the German G20 presidency, we advocated for joint climate protection efforts by – at the least – the big industrialised and emerging nations. This is more obvious within the framework of the G20 than trying to do it with all parties in the Paris Agreement. For us, it is important to agree on joint climate protection efforts on the international stage, especially with those countries that we’re in direct competition with.

The COP23 in Bonn will be a very technical conference. Where should the German and EU negotiators put the main emphasis in the negotiations on the implementation of the Paris Agreement?

You’re right, the COP in Bonn is going to be relatively technical. Still, there are important tasks and issues that must be advanced, for example the rulebook. Equal monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) requirements of GHG emissions are needed to ascertain transparent implementation of the NDCs [nationally determined contributions]. These are technical questions, but the implementation of comparable efforts depends substantially on us agreeing on this basic methodology. At the same time, there are processes that will be started now and continue into the next years, for example how market mechanisms such as emissions trading or, more generally, carbon pricing, can be harnessed to achieve NDC targets more cost-effectively. We have to find common definitions. In the past, we’ve always advocated for such market mechanisms. I believe that a development like that in China – which is currently not only testing emissions trade schemes regionally, but preparing a national roll-out – would not have been possible without the experiences that China had made thanks to the Kyoto market mechanisms like CDM. Furthermore, these cooperative mechanisms between parties in different countries provide very efficient ways to decrease carbon emissions. So, debating climate protection in connection with these mechanisms is helpful and can lead to new instruments.

What would be a good outcome of the negotiations in Bonn?

I don’t want to focus on the details here. It’s about advancing this process and staying on schedule until the COP24 in Poland next year. The negotiators have to find compromises and solutions for many details in Bonn and I think it’s important not to downplay this detailed work. In the end it’s about the trust in mutually agreed rules that have the same meaning for everyone. The negotiations in Bonn are also held to this end.

This year, the COP presidency is with Fiji, an island state directly affected by rising sea levels due to global warming. As industrialised countries are responsible for the largest part of greenhouse gas emissions, do they have a special responsibility to support countries like Fiji in adapting to the effects of climate change?

In the COP process, we have the two tracks, mitigation and adaptation. The latter includes providing financial support. To this end there will be talks in Bonn and shortly thereafter in Paris at President Emmanuel Macron’s summit. This track is just as important, even if the focus is not always on it. Support can be provided via the Green Climate Fund, climate risk insurance and other innovative financing instruments.

What significance does the COP in Bonn have regarding the climate protection debate in Germany and the current coalition talks for the next government?

I’m not sure if the negotiations in Bonn will be part of the coalition talks. In the past this was seldom the case. But I can well imagine that the public attention on the global topic climate protection will increase if such a conference happens here in the country and it is a chance to better understand the different views and motivations regarding climate policies worldwide.

According to the federal environment ministry, Germany is set to miss its 2020 climate targets by a wide margin. What must change under the next federal government for Germany to do its part to reach the targets laid out in the Paris Agreement?

Germany has defined long-term national targets, but there is still a lot to do regarding instruments. If we look for example at efficiency in buildings – a topic we’ve been debating for many years – there is still great potential. We hear again and again that more must happen here, but in the end it doesn’t. We have to be honest: it’s not enough to just debate targets, but we have to develop the right instruments.

You talked about the heating sector, which is responsible for a large part of German emissions. The German industry is responsible for about 20 percent of German greenhouse gas emissions. What can industry do for climate protection?

Industry does two things: on the one hand, it optimises the use of energy and the use of climate-friendly technology in production. Research institutes confirm that the German industry is a frontrunner regarding energy efficiency on a global level. That’s good. But I think it’s equally important to mention that Germany is much more important in developing technologies not only for the energy transition here in Germany, but for global use. That requires us to adapt to the target markets. We should not just export the German Energiewende, but think about the conditions in each market and adapt the mix of climate-friendly technologies to these conditions.

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