UN climate summit: Why authoritarian states are discovering climate protection

Status: 02.11.2021 8:01 a.m.

Saudi Arabia, Russia, Turkey: Former climate protection skeptics are suddenly announcing that they will become climate neutral. There is not always a change of heart behind the plans: It is also about pending aid funds.

Russia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Turkey – none of them are known for committed climate protection. In the run-up to the UN climate conference in Glasgow, it was precisely these states that made a name for themselves with their own climate protection plans. While China and India are keeping a low profile, the former brakes are sounding loudly about saving the world. Climate protection is not necessarily an issue that authoritarian governments value, because it has to do with international cooperation and the rights of minorities.

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro, for example, is not going to Glasgow: he has bigger problems at home. This is the only way to explain that he misses the opportunity to give the great climate protector. Because his Vice President Hamilton Mourão has made it clear that there should be new and better announcements: The delegation will announce that the illegal deforestation on the Amazon is to end “in 2027 or 2028”. Bolsonaro had himself celebrated for the date 2030 in April.

How resilient these announcements are at all depends on who will have to redeem them at the end of the decade. Under the current government, deforestation is increasing, not decreasing. But it could be in Brazil’s interest to be flexible, says Dr. Susanne Dröge, expert on international climate policy at the Science and Politics Foundation in Berlin. On the one hand, the US could have put pressure on in the background; on the other hand, Norway and Germany, for example, have stopped payments to the international Amazon fund. Brazil wants to get the money back and is negotiating it with Norway.

Climate gas trading compatible for many

For the negotiations in Glasgow it could be particularly important that the government in Brasilia apparently signaled a willingness to compromise in international cooperation on market-based climate protection instruments such as the so-called climate gas trade: States that do not achieve their goals should, as it were, with others that do more than enough Can buy up compensation. That is Article 6 of the Paris Agreement – the only point that has still not been settled. Up until now, Brazil has strictly stipulated that it should be able to count twice as much for every one of its own benefits: once as its own contribution to climate protection and then again as a commodity that others can use to buy their way out.

Surprisingly, Turkey recently ratified the Paris Agreement as the last of the 20 large industrialized countries (G20). A U-turn by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had so far given the rest of the world the cold shoulder and threatened to follow the example of US President Donald Trump and to resign altogether. Erdogan mainly has economic problems and needs outside help. To do this, he has to make concessions and demonstrate his own willingness to cooperate.

But Erdogan also fears persistent real climate protection requirements. In parallel to the ratification, he therefore had Parliament pass a motion in which Turkey classifies itself as a developing country and does not accept any conditions that affect its own economy. Under the Paris Agreement, the states themselves determine what they want to do anyway. But during the negotiations there is of course more pressure on industrialized countries – which the country certainly belongs to.

Sham successes are sold big

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently announced that his country wants to become climate neutral by 2060 at the latest. In terms of content, it is based on China. The role of one’s own attitude towards climate change remains to be speculated. So far he has liked to publicly question whether climate change is man-made. Major fires in recent years and droughts could have changed his attitude.

However, the concrete national climate targets for the next few years were not exactly ambitious: Since 1990 is the base year for greenhouse gas emissions, it is very easy for the country to sell the collapse of its economy after the end of the Soviet Union as a “success in climate protection”. The targets for 2025 and 2030 even leave room for an increase compared to the current level.

Saudi Arabia has also declared 2060 to be the year of its climate neutrality. By 2030, the country wants to cover half of its own energy needs with renewable energies. The new strong man in Riyadh, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has the distant future in mind and is opening up new markets. But that does not mean that the country will become a more pleasant partner in the negotiations, says expert Susanne Dröge: The Saudis still have a massive financial interest in postponing climate protection for as long as possible.

Hardly any real good news

The main reason why the announcements of the last villains in climate protection got so much attention was that there was a lack of other good news: India and China will not be represented with the heads of state. New and additional commitments that would have been important for the wide-ranging efforts to improve climate protection cannot therefore be expected from them. Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi also pose their national problems over an engagement in Glasgow.

The international partners react to all these developments either with incantations or with panic. The host of the conference, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in particular, fears that he could be held responsible for an unsuccessful summit. He therefore speaks of the possibility of failure and major problems. John Kerry, the US President’s climate envoy, is putting pressure on by saying that Glasgow is the “last, best chance”, the last real opportunity to keep the temperature rise below 1.5 degrees.

Aid money for poorer countries

In fact, even with current commitments, the world is still well on the way to global average warming of 2.7 degrees. However, the climate targets should be improved at least every five years. In Glasgow, however, it will not just be about that, says Prof. Niklas Höhne from the New Climate Institute. At least as important is the commitment of the industrialized countries to finance climate protection and climate adaptation in the poorer countries. US $ 100 billion should be mobilized annually from 2020 onwards. This has not been achieved so far: This sum will not come together until 2023 at the earliest, a recent cash drop has shown.

However, successes are still possible: On the one hand, with specific schedules for important individual topics. On the sidelines of the official negotiations, for example, there will be a lot of talk about the coal phase-out – or about a US-EU push to reduce methane emissions. On the other hand, it is also about demonstrating that this UN negotiating format is capable of delivering results at all, says Prof. Höhne. Above all, the issue of emissions trading, Article 6 of the climate agreement, must finally be regulated.


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