December 09, 2015

Review of the first ETIA Talk on the “2°C Climate Goal”

© Ksenia Poplavskaya

The 2°C Climate Goal is the most prominent environmental limit value in the world. Since the 1970s, this breakoff point between acceptable global warming and absolute disaster has gained momentum in both science and international politics.

This year’s first ETIAtalks panel discussion on 27 November 2015 picked up on the hot topic of the Paris Climate Conference (COP21) currently underway. More than 120 guests gathered at the Diplomatic Academy (DA) to engage in the expert debate led by the panelists Stephan Sicars (Director of the Environment Branch at UNIDO), Renate Christ (former Director of the IPCC Secretariat), Johannes Wahlmüller (Climate and Energy Spokesperson for GLOBAL 2000), and Helga Kromp-Kolb (Head of Center for Global Change and Sustainability at BOKU Institute of Meteorology), and moderated by freelance journalist and DA student Teresa Reiter.

Christ praised the engagement of COP21 host France for setting the stage allowing preparatory meetings and negotiations to commence far in advance of the COP21 itself – a strong contrast to the Danish management of the Copenhagen Conference in 2009, remembered by former negotiator Christ as a dramatic failure “to produce any outcome document”. Wahlmüller expressed optimism over the novelty that countries can decide their individual contributions themselves. Sicars emphasized the remarkable change in rhetoric of the big polluters China, India, the United States, and Canada.

Still, he saw the world steering at 3°C at best and Kromp-Kolb pointed out that even 2°C are not desirable as true consequences of such a rise remain highly contested. Scientists are uncertain, whether it is even humanly possible to stabilize global warming at any level at all. “2 degrees is a political compromise,” she stated, hoping that current trends of ‘divestment’ from fossil fuels will pick up pace. Wahlmüller mentioned the positive impact on health and energy security this would have for economies, contributing to a “society worth living in”. 

All four experts repeatedly stressed the role every one of us can play in mitigating climate change. “We need to change the way we think,” said Sicars. Suddenly, climate scientist Kromp-Kolb surprised the crowd with a simple exercise. She asked the audience to cross their arms twice and then to purposefully change the arm that had previously been above. A shuffling movement spread across the Festsaal. “See, to change your habit, you have to think,” she said – met by resounding applause and faces shining with recognition and new dynamism.

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