Going Green. The Future has Begun
Boell Thema 1/2010Click here for the publication (18 pages, pdf, 900KB)
The high expectations prior to the Copenhagen Climate Summit could imply that now, after the failure of the conference, those enlightened on questions of climate change are extremely downcast. In spite of criticism aimed at the failure of governing elites to act, this does not seem to be the case. Is this a sign of cynicism? Or a sign of confidence in the fact that the green transformation of industrial society will proceed one way or the other?
No doubt, Copenhagen was a major setback. Whether or not there will be an internationally binding treaty to supersede the Kyoto Protocol is an open question. In order to achieve this, it would be necessary for the old industrial powers, especially the United States, and the emerging powers such as China and India, to budge more than just a little bit. Other than the far too intricate mechanisms of UN climate negotiations, which provide that 192 countries have to agree on one resolution, it was, above all, the conflicts of interest between the old and the new industrial powers that made the conference a failure.
Since the 1997 signing of the Kyoto Protocol, the scales between old and new powers have further tipped. The US is weighed down by a huge trade deficit, national debt, antiquated infrastructure, and energy-intensive and thus uncompetitive industries, while China, on the other hand, has become the United States’ largest creditor. West Europeans set out earlier on a course of green modernisation and are thus in a better position, yet they too have to struggle with huge economic and financial problems. Thus, both Europeans and Americans insist that, at least in the mid-term, the newly industrialised countries will have to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases so that they will loose their competitive advantage of having emission rights for free.
The Copenhagen Summit followed the old logic, which perceives of climate protection as an economic burden. The tug-of-war was about how to share the load between First, Second, and Third World: Who has to commit to what amount of emission reductions, who is going to pay for the transfer of environmentally friendly technologies to developing countries, and who will back the investment necessary for adaptation in the poor countries most threatened by climate change. Yet, this logic is on the rocks – and it is that, which gives hope. The insight, that climate protection is a source of new wealth is gaining traction.
The transition from the fossil-based industrial age to an era of renewable energies, resource efficient products, and smart green technologies is a potential fountain of youth for the old industrialised countries. The green industrial revolution will, on a grand scale, create new products, services, and jobs. It will replace the import of oil, gas, and coal with energy saving technology, wind and solar power, and it will transform the look of our cities and remake our transport systems. This opens up vast possibilities for researchers, engineers, entrepreneurs, farmers, urban planers, producers, and consumers.
Although much remains to be done, the great transformation is on its way: within the energy sector, in construction, in industry – and in Europe, the US, and China alike. To be sure, political decisions will be a major factor in how swiftly and powerfully change will occur. Yet, the future is not the exclusive domain of governments. All of us can be and will have to become actors in an ecological turnaround.
Co-President, Heinrich Böll Foundation
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