Climate change: Germany says time is ‘running out’ to save planet

The latest climate science report shows that time is running out to rescue Earth, Germany's environment minister said Monday, urging the international community to ramp up efforts to cope with the impact of climate change.

Climate change: Germany says time is 'running out' to save planet
Parts of Germany, including Bad Münstereifel, were devastated in the floods. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Federico Gambarini

The sobering study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released on Monday, warns that people will face more extreme weather, such as increasing number of heatwaves, droughts and flooding due to the effects of global warming.

However, scientists say there is still time to act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid a catastrophe.

It comes after Germany experienced severe deadly flooding that claimed the lives of more than 180 people and devastated communities. 

“The report makes it clear that we can no longer avoid many of the consequences of climate change today – we can only prepare and adapt to them as best as we can,” said German environment minister Svenja Schulze, pointing to the deadly floods that struck western Germany in July as an example of the result of global warming.

“There have already been enough wake-up calls and appeals,” the SPD politician said in Berlin. “The IPCC report presented today shows us once again that time is running out to save the planet as we know it.”

READ ALSO: How the extreme flooding in Germany is linked to global warming

Germany’s federal election coming up on September 26th, climate change will be on many voters’ minds.

READ ALSO: Germany’s Greens propose new climate ministry with veto power

What does the report say – and what does it mean for Germany?

The IPCC said in no uncertain terms that peoples’ behaviour is affecting the planet massively. The report said it is “unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, oceans and land”.

Unless there is a reduction in emissions, the global mean temperature will reach a level of at least 1.5C above that of the pre-industrial era in the next 20 years, said Valérie Masson-Delmotte, of the working group for the IPCC.

The 1.5C target is in the 2015 Paris climate agreement, with nations aiming to keep global warming well below 2C compared to pre-industrial levels (1850-1900). So far, the earth’s surface temperature has risen by around 1.1C across the planet, with regional differences. According to the German Weather Service (DWD), the average temperature has already risen by 1.6C in Germany compared to 1881. 

READ ALSO: Why have the floods in Europe been so deadly?

Scientists say that the 2C target can only be achieved with immediate and far-reaching climate protection measures.

That means climate neutrality will have to be achieved by about 2050-2070, they say. Germany aims to become climate neutral by 2045.

“If we don’t bring down emissions fast enough and reach net-zero by about 2050-2070, we will miss both Paris climate targets,” said IPCC co-author Douglas Maraun of the University of Graz.

The report said that since 1970, global surface temperatures have risen faster than in any other 50-year period over the past 2,000 years, and that this is “already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe”.

It also found that the past five years have been the hottest on record since 1850, while experts said human influence is “very likely” the main driver of the global erosion of glaciers since the 1990s and the decrease in Arctic sea-ice.

Even if we succeed in achieving climate neutrality by 2050-2070, sea levels at the end of the century are likely to be up to 62 centimetres higher than in 1995-2014, the report said.

“In the Arctic, three-quarters of the sea ice volume has already melted in summer,” said co-author Dirk Notz of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology. “We probably won’t be able to prevent the Arctic Ocean from being largely ice-free in summer by 2050, at least in some years.”

The report comes ahead of a key climate summit in November – known as COP26 – being held in Glasgow, Scotland.

It was written by more than 230 scientists from 66 countries. The summary for policymakers was unanimously endorsed by the 195 IPCC member countries. “Governments are all in the same boat so no one can say afterwards – I had nothing to do with it,” said Jochem Marotzke of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology.

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UPDATE: Greta Thunberg joins German climate strikes before vote ‘of a century’

Tens of thousands of climate activists including Greta Thunberg descended on German cities Friday ahead of the weekend general election to crank up the pressure on the candidates to succeed Angela Merkel.

UPDATE: Greta Thunberg joins German climate strikes before vote 'of a century'
Greta Thunberg and other climate activists in Berlin on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

Speaking at a rally in front of the Reichstag parliament building in the run-up to Sunday’s poll, Thunberg told cheering Fridays for Future youth supporters that they needed to hold Germany’s political leaders to account past election day.

“It is clearer than ever that no political party is doing close to enough… not even their proposed commitments are close to being in line with what would be needed to fulfil the Paris Agreement,” on curbing climate change, she said.

“Yes, we must vote, you must vote, but remember that voting only will not be enough. We must keep going into the streets.”

As Germany’s top parties hold final rallies ahead of Sunday’s vote, the Fridays for Future youth marches claim the political class has let down the younger generation.

“The political parties haven’t taken the climate catastrophe seriously enough,” Luisa Neubauer, who runs the group’s German chapter, said.

She said Germany, as one of the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases, had an outsize responsibility to set an example, with time running out to reverse destructive trends.

“That is why we are calling this the election of a century,” she said.

The race has boiled down to a two-way contest between Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, the moderate finance minister, and Armin Laschet from Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats.

Polls give Scholz a small lead of about 26 percent over Laschet at around 22 percent, with the candidate from the ecologist Greens, Annalena Baerbock, trailing in the mid-teens.

Despite the urgency of the climate issue for a majority of Germans, particularly in the aftermath of deadly floods in the west of the country in July, this has failed to translate into strong support for the relatively inexperienced Baerbock.

She told Die Welt newspaper that she hoped Friday’s rally would give her party “tailwinds” heading into the vote. “The next government has to be a climate government – that will only work with a strong Green party.”   

More than 400 “climate strikes” are planned across Germany, with the Swedish Thunberg, who inspired the movement, expected to speak outside the Reichstag parliament building.

Thousands gathered on the lawn there from late morning bearing signs reading “Climate now, homework later”, “It’s our future” and simply “Vote”.

“Climate is an important issue and if this continues things are going to get worse and worse,” 14-year-old pupil Louise Herr told AFP.

Gathering under the banners “We are young and need the world!” and “Everything for the climate”, the activists are arguing that “climate crisis is this century’s biggest problem”.

READ ALSO: Climate change made German floods ‘more likely and more intense’

 ‘Unfair burden’

The activists will be part of a global climate strike in more than 1,000 communities around the world, Fridays for Future said.

Their central demand is to limit the warming of the Earth to maximum 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) as laid out in the 2015 Paris climate accord.

The Paris agreement set a goal of reducing global warming by two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels with an aspiration to go further and cap the rise to 1.5 Celsius.

Despite Merkel’s vocal support of climate protection measures, Germany has repeatedly failed in recent years to meet its emission reduction targets under the pact.

In a landmark ruling in April, Germany’s constitutional court found the government’s plans to curb CO2 emissions “insufficient” to meet the targets of the Paris agreement and placed an “unfair burden” on future generations.

The Fridays for Future movement launched global school strikes more than two years ago arguing that time was running out to stop irreversible damage from the warming of the planet.

Demonstrators take to the streets in Berlin to call for urgent climate action. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP | Luca Bruno

In September 2019, it drew huge crowds in cities and towns around the world including 1.4 million protesters in Germany, according to organisers.

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic put the brakes on its weekly rallies but the election campaign in Europe’s top economy has revitalised the

“The climate crisis cannot be solved through party politics alone,” Thunberg told reporters ahead of her appearance in Berlin.

“We can’t just vote for change, we also have to be active democratic citizens and go out on the streets and demand action.”


Greens as junior partner?

Around 60.4 million Germans are called to the polls on Sunday and most voters cite climate protection among their top priorities.

All three leading parties have said they aim to implement a climate protection agenda if elected, with the Greens presenting the most ambitious package of measures.

However the Fridays for Future activists have said even the Greens’ official programme falls short of what is needed to stick to the 1.5 degree Celsius temperature rise.

The Greens want to end coal energy use by 2030 instead of the current 2038. They also want the production of combustion engine cars to end from the same year.

While the party is expected to fall far short of its ambition to win the election Sunday and place Baerbock in the chancellery, polls indicate it has a good chance of joining a ruling coalition as a junior partner under Scholz or Laschet.

By Deborah Cole