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Eliminating subsidies harmful to the climate: “We have a vast number of possibilities"

11/14/2011 - With tens of billions some states subsidize fossil fuels like oil. This was dubbed “an absurdity of our economic system” by Achim Steiner, Head of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) during his Climate Lecture at Technische Universität Berlin (TUB). To stop these subsidies of more than 500 billions US$ a year could be a great chance for global climate protection; just one of many. “We have a vast number of possibilities – if we succeed to mobilize decision-makers in economy and politics,” Steiner told more than a thousand listeners. The world should listen more closely to science. It consolidates its findings more and more. Despite remaining questions and uncertainties, climate protection is simply “reasonable risk management”.

Subsidies conferred for products from mineral oil especially in developing countries support environmental damages and slow down investments in climate-friendly technologies, Steiner said. He is one of the minds behind “Rio+20”, the sustainability conference of the international community of states 20 years after its legendary predecessor in Brazil. That is where the subsidies belong, he said. To cancel them would lead to a 40 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that are necessary to reach the goal of limiting global warming to two degrees. At this, Steiner referred to the official figures of the International Energy Agency. The money spent on subsidies in less developed economies could be more reasonably used for the struggle against poverty, he said.

A discourse beyond talk shows

Steiner was characterised by Ottmar Edenhofer as “a mastermind of sustainability”. As a professor for climate economy at the TUB, supported by the Michael Otto Stiftung, and Deputy Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, together with the energy company Vattenfall he invited the UNEP Chair to come from Nairobi to Berlin for the Climate Lecture. In the years before, the American economics Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom and Nicholas Stern from the London School of Economics gave their talks. The main topic has always been the challenges induced by human-made climate change.

“Here, the university reclaims the public sphere, it leads a discourse beyond talk shows – it opens doors and windows and invites society into its edifices, the ones of stone and the ones of ideas,” says Edenhofer. Climate change researchers are attempting to assume their responsibilities by “pointing out various paths for policy-makers to choose from,” he said. “But science is science and not politics. Thus, it is so inspiring to have Achim Steiner, an expert of both worlds, at the Climate Lecture.”

A traveller between the worlds politics and science

“Successful climate policies should be internationally aligned, long-term orientated and economically conceptualised,” says Stefan Dohler, Member of the Managing Board of Vattenfall Europe AG and one of the organizers of the Climate Lecture. “Therefore, Vattenfall favours for years a globally-binding climate agreement based on clear goals and market signals.” The company sees itself “as a partner of society, helping to shape our power supply climate-friendlier and more sustainable - by investments into renewable energies, intelligent system solutions and clean coal.”

The president of the TUB, Prof. Dr. Jörg Steinbach, emphasised that the university has committed itself to the principle of sustainability. It develops “as strong partner in the European network ‘Climate-KIC’ of the European Institute of Technology solutions and technologies to strengthen climate protection” – this is a shared activity with the PIK. “At the Climate Lecture, key scientists have since 2008 the opportunity to speak in a future-orientated manner”, says Steinbach. “As a University, we want to enlighten, promote the discourse and give impulses for political decisions. We are happy that, this year, we were able to welcome Achim Steiner, a traveller between the worlds of international politics and science.”

 

Weblink to theClimate Lecture (text of Achim Steiner's speech, pictures, and more)

 

 

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