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Earth Without Stocks

This struggle demands more than setting up wind turbines, buying more economical cars and rehabilitating houses. An historically unique pact is necessary between North and South, between industrial countries and threshold and developing countries.

By Fritz Vorholz

[This article published 3/19/2009 in: DIE ZEIT is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://images.zeit.de/text/2009/13/01-Wirtschaftskrise-Klimaschutz.]

The struggle against the economic crisis may not be at the expense of climate protection. Otherwise the damage could be irreparable

The worldwide economic crisis costs jobs and devours trillions of euros for economic programs. It encourages secret costs by lowering the readiness to face other challenges that are no less pressing. The struggle against climate change has become the most prominent victim. It is said; we cannot afford climate protection in times of growing unemployment and collapsing businesses.

This is a misconception. We actually cannot afford abandoning protection of the climate.

The economic and financial crisis caused by people inflicts devastations in the universe of the economy. The damage is great but can be repaired. The global warming also engineered by people endangers the living space of the earth; this damage is irreparable. 600 million people could lose their housing through a three-foot rise of the sea level by the end of the century - nearly every tenth inhabitant of the earth!

Nevertheless in the past no nation and no group of states including Europe resolutely took up the struggle against climate change. The European Union introduced emission trade, promotes renewable energy and wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at least 20 percent by the year 2020.

In the past the EU has played the role of slave driver in the international climate negotiations. However the longer the economic crisis lasts, the more Europe's modest ambitions disappear. Deeds must follow the "green" announcements of the new US president Barack Obama.

The heads of state and government of the 27 EU countries showed how far the theme has slipped down on their agenda at their summit meeting in Brussels. They left three whole paragraphs in the final declaration for this theme. It almost fell under the table. Angela Merkel prefers to be silent.

The European spring summit had to set a sign of new beginnings. The year 2009 is the year of decision for climate policy. In December 2009 in Copenhagen, new effective rules on worldwide climate protection will be adopted under the auspices of the United Nations. The preliminary negotiations will begin at the end of March 2009 in Bonn. If the earth is not to become a hothouse hostile to life, the struggle against climate change must not be delayed.

This struggle demands more than setting up wind turbines, buying more economical cars and refurbishing houses. An historically unique pact is necessary between North and South and between industrial countries on one side and threshold- and developing countries on the other side.

Countries of the South have not contributed much to the climate outrage since the beginning of industrialization. However some of them like China with its mammoth population have become great emitters of greenhouse gases. China and Co. are summoned to slow down global warming. Countries of the North, the causal agents of the measurably higher temperatures, are challenged in two ways. They must reduce their emissions and help the South with money - to pay their historical climate debts.


An annual contribution in the triple-digit billions is necessary. This is less than a half-percent of the global gross domestic product, an almost ridiculously small premium to avoid the dramatic risks of climate change. What is involved is money for dikes, irrigation systems, nursing wards and medicines - for everything that helps poor countries and people protect themselves from the consequences of global warming that has already begun. What is imperative is money for protecting primeval forests whose destruction accelerates climate change. Finally, money will enable countries of the South to develop without repeating the mistakes of the North.

Up to now this money was refused developing countries. If this continues, there will be no new climate protection agreement. Once the climate trailblazer, Europe acts coy and misses the opportunity to at least make an offer to the South. That the heads of state and government of the EU chicken out and merely promise a "fair share" of an unspecified sum is a sign of how weak the will for climate protection has actually become.

The economic crisis is not an excuse. Oh no, not at all! It shows what immense sums can be cou9ghed up within the shortest time. Granted, a functioning banking system is important. But it is not as important as the earth as a functioning living space.

The EU has missed a change to preserve this habitat. There isn't much time to make up for the neglect. Gradually, the earth will be too hot.

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