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Greenhouse emissions growing

11 February 2004

HAMBURG – Warnings by scientists against the growth of greenhouse gasses seem to have gone largely unheeded with a German report showing emissions growing.

Indeed, car emissions have doubled within a generation and the annual output of carbon dioxide has increased by about a quarter since the first World Climate Conference in Vienna 25 years ago.

The industrialized countries first agreed on a target to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

However, even though they reached their – as yet non-binding – aim to bring emissions down to the levels of 1990 by the year 2000, this was by no means due to the climate protection measures that were taken.

Instead, it was largely the breakdown and economic restructuring of the countries of the former Communist Eastern bloc in the 1990s which slowed the output of the harmful gasses.

Figures by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) show that the emissions of Western countries actually grew during the same period.

And the United States, Canada and Australia even recorded double- figure increases in the output of greenhouse gasses.

Only the European Union managed to lower their emissions slightly, and Germany succeeded in cutting levels by 18.3 percent.

At the Climate Conference in Berlin in 1995, the German government had set itself an independent, more far-reaching goal in the effort to save the climate.

Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl promised to reduce the country’s emissions to a quarter of the 1990 levels by the year 2005. This goal, however, now looks increasingly unrealistic.

The industrial nations as a whole took another step at the Kyoto Global Climate Conference in Japan in 1997 when they agreed to reduce the 1990 rates by 5.2 percent by 2010.

However, it is now more and more uncertain whether the Kyoto Protocol will ever be ratified. The US administration under President George W. Bush turned its back on it, and Russia has been delaying its response.

Most of the countries which did sign up to the agreement are also far from achieving the agreed goals.

Since 1979, the carbon dioxide emissions caused by burning coal, oil and natural gas have been growing less quickly than the world’s population.

However, even this is only a putative success, as most of the population growth occurred in developing countries where very little fossil fuels are burnt per capita of the population, Joerg Feddern of the Greenpeace environmental group points out.

By contrast, energy requirements are expected to rise sharply in countries like China and India, with much of the output likely to be caused by increasing road traffic.

In Germany, traffic has been the only sector where carbon dioxide emissions have gone up in the last decade. According to the DIW, emissions caused by traffic rose by just under 9 percent between 1990 and 2002.

The highest drop in emissions – 36 percent – was recorded in the industrial sector, whilst trade, commerce and services reported reductions of 36 percent, trailed by the energy sector with 15 percent and private households with 7 percent.

A glimmer of hope is that the total emissions caused by privately owned cars in the country have gone down slightly since 1999.

Nobody can say for sure whether the increasing occurrence of floods and extraordinarily hot summers is a direct consequence of the climate change.

Most climate researchers, however, agree that the indicators for climate change are substantial and that the targets stipulated in the Kyoto Protocol are insufficient to contain the expected climate change within acceptable limits.

Scientists suggest two measures: an increased use of alternative energy sources and adaptations to the changing environment, for instance, by building dams and cultivating less heat sensitive crops in Germany.

There are some encouraging signs for environmental progress in the industrial sector. Shell and BP are among the world’s five leading producers of solar energy installations, and the two energy giants have also invested in the development of wind power.

Rainer Winzenried, communications officers for Shell Germany Oil Ltd said: “Responsible corporate activity according to the principles of sustainability are vital for the continuing success of any business today.”

Shell expects the world’s energy needs to double or even triple and the consumption of fossil fuels would therefore continue to rise, he said.

However, “Shell expects that sustainable energies will make up one third of the market by the year 2050,” he said.

This is not enough, Greenpeace says. “We have to save 80 per cent of the carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 in order to get the climate change under control,” said Feddern.

Meanwhile, the Munich Reinsurance Company says it is bracing itself for an increase of greenhouse gas emissions.

The summer heatwave in 2003 and other seemingly extraordinary weather events were only some of the indicators of a changing climate. “They show that we have to expect new kinds of weather and an increased risk of damages,” the company says.


Subject: German news