How can countries act against climate change

Strategies for the future

The contribution of the forests

In addition to burning fossil fuels is the Clearance of tropical forests the second important source of carbon dioxide (>> here). In many poor developing countries, but also in large emerging countries such as Brazil, Indonesia and Malaysia, this (in which the greenhouse gases laughing gas and nitrogen oxides are also released) and the conversion of the areas into arable and pasture land, and in recent years also in palm oil plantations ( >> more), the biggest contribution to climate change. Since deforestation is profitable for soy and oil palm cultivation, poor countries in particular will only be able to do without it if they are compensated for the lost income. (This is one of the blind points of a market economy: Forests are only valued according to the value of their raw materials, their ecological capabilities - not only carbon storage, but also regulation of the water balance and the regional climate, preservation of biodiversity and protection of the soil - have no financial capabilities Value; are therefore not perceived by actors acting “economically”.)

In addition, the states must be put in a position to combat illegal logging effectively - in Southeast Asia around 70 percent of trees are illegally felled. In order to reduce deforestation, the poor countries must be given incentives to protect forests and opportunities for sustainable forest policy - for example through an emissions trading system (>> more). Such incentives for the protection of tropical forests are to be created in the “Kyoto II” treaty (>> more); Possible forms are still being discussed: Many developing countries propose that the emission targets in the rich countries be tightened and that they have to buy the necessary emission certificates in those countries that protect their forests. Brazil, on the other hand, would rather have a fund that pays for emission reductions achieved.

In its special report 2009 (>> here), the WBGU advises against offsetting emissions from fossil fuels with those from deforestation, as these differ too much (for example in terms of reversibility, measurability and controllability). The WBGU proposes an independent regulation to protect natural carbon stores from deforestation and degradation. The financing could come from the fund, with which the industrialized countries redeem their historical responsibility (>> here). Apart from these regulations, there are already voluntary payments for the maintenance of such “carbon stocks” in tropical forests or their reforestation, for example to compensate for other greenhouse gas emissions (“climate-neutral flying”). It is crucial for the effectiveness that these payments are tied to strict criteria (for example: “Gold Standard” of the Gold Standard Foundation, >> more).

Another contribution is better forest management, for example better protection against forest fires in subtropical forests, and sustainable forestry. 920 kg of carbon dioxide are bound in one cubic meter of wood, so the use of wood in long-lasting products also helps to protect the climate; this effect is even stronger when wood replaces energy-intensive products (e.g. concrete in construction). (As the most species-rich habitats on the mainland, tropical rainforests are also decisive for the protection of biodiversity, more on the subject >> here.) They can also make a contribution to climate protection targeted reforestation, especially on cultivated land. This binds carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the soil, trees and other living beings; However, the potential is limited, as further areas will be needed for food security in the future (>> more).

Seal of approval for wood

The Forest Stewardship Council is the most common seal for sustainable forestry. Companies must comply with the relevant laws and the FSC principles; For example, the protective function of the forest and its biodiversity must be preserved and the rights of indigenous peoples must be observed.
>> FSC Germany
>> FSC International (in English)

Naturland includes the FSC rules; In addition, companies are not allowed to plant any tree species that are not local to their location (e.g. Douglas fir in Germany), and no clear-cutting is permitted (which is also the exception at the FSC, but is not generally prohibited). Forests that are publicly owned must have an uncultivated reference area of ​​10 percent in order to be able to understand the natural development of the forest.
>> Naturland forest and wood

Another seal of approval is that PEFC seal (Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes), which is mainly borne by the forestry itself. Critics consider the fact that not individual companies but entire regions are assessed here to be less strict. Social aspects such as dealing with indigenous peoples also play no role.
>> PEFC.

The possible contribution of afforestation

What potential there is in afforestation to restore the carbon dioxide concentration in the air to reduce, shows the following rough calculation: Plants convert at least 55 billion tons of carbon from the air into biomass every year (>> here); that is almost seven percent of the 820 billion tons of carbon in the atmosphere (>> here). Around 200 billion tons of carbon are bound in the tropical rainforests; a growing rainforest binds around 10 to 35 tons of carbon per hectare every year, i.e. 1,000 to 3,500 tons per square kilometer (>> here). If we only five percent of the rainforests felled in the last century reforest this would be an area of ​​over 425,000 square kilometers, corresponding to a carbon uptake of 425 to 1,470 million tons of carbon per year; in 50 years from 21 to 72 billion tons of carbon. The concentration of Carbon dioxide in the air this would decrease by 10 to 35 ppm. This contribution would only be permanent, however, if the carbon dioxide was not released again later, but was withdrawn from the cycle for a longer time, e.g. in the form of building material or charcoal for soil improvement (see next section).

The contribution of the soils

The earth's soils contain at least as much carbon as trees and other living things and the atmosphere combined (>> more), agriculture can make a significant contribution to combating climate change in two ways: On the one hand, by reducing greenhouse gases, above all Nitrous oxide and methane, produced; on the other hand by increasing the carbon storage in the soil and the use of agricultural products and residues for the production of bioenergy. Similar to wood, the material use of biomass in long-lasting products, for example in the form of plastics made from biomass, is a way of removing carbon dioxide from the cycle (at the end of its service life, a “cascade use” as a fuel is recommended). For reasons of competition with food cultivation, the use of biomass in a sustainable society is primarily restricted to the use of residual materials (similar to bioenergy, >> more). The production of nitrous oxide can be reduced in conventional agriculture by means of a fertilizer regime specially adapted to the nutrient requirements (“precision agriculture”); also through the application of methods of near-natural agriculture.

However, the greatest potential of agriculture lies in maintaining the carbon content of the soil and restoring degraded soils. The humus layer of the soil (>> more) consists to a large extent of carbon; Dealing with plant residues is decisive for their salary. New cultivation methods in which plowing reduces (conservation tillage) or completely set (no tillage) becomes. However, the techniques are not suitable for all crops; and in conventional agriculture, weed control associated with plowing is often offset by increased use of pesticides. In organic farming, however, these and other methods of re-enriching soils with carbon can lead to the fact that carbon dioxide can even be removed from the atmosphere in the future. In order to improve the carbon storage in the soils, the introduction of bio-charcoal into soils is also being tested ("black carbon sequestration”): In this process, already practiced by the indigenous people in the Amazon region (>> here), charcoal is produced from biomass and introduced into the soil, where it improves structure and fertility. In addition, the carbon from the charcoal remains in the soil for centuries to millennia, and the volatile substances produced during the production of charcoal can be used as biogas. What these measures have in common is that they not only combat climate change, but also restore soil fertility and thus also contribute to sustainable agriculture (see also >> Healthy food for everyone).

The protection of soils does not only affect agriculture, but also the protection of natural areas with particularly carbon-rich soils. These are wetlands on the one hand, but also tropical savannas and grasslands in the temperate zones. However, so far, soils have not been taken into account as carbon dioxide storage in international agreements, as there is no internationally standardized and recognized method of measuring carbon storage in soils. In the meantime, however, there are several sufficiently reliable methods so that this obstacle could be overcome - at the same time, the recognition of measures to improve soil would help the poor countries most and would thus contribute to fairer burden sharing.

How much carbon could the soils store?

1,580 billion tons of carbon are stored in the soil (>> here), almost twice as much as in the atmosphere. How much could be added through other practices of soil maintenance and the introduction of bio-charcoal is even less known than in the case of the rainforests. Tim Flannery states in his book "Auf Better und Verderb" a billion tons of carbon a year for bio charcoal alone, and a total of almost 40 billion tons for the next 25 to 50 years: This would make the contribution of soils about as large as that of the Afforestation of five percent of the rainforests felled in the last century with medium growth rates; a further 18 ppm of carbon dioxide would be withdrawn from the atmosphere.

International politics

25 countries are responsible for 83 percent of greenhouse gases worldwide - the old industrialized countries as well as some emerging countries. Historically, the industrialized countries have had a special responsibility (>> here); they are responsible for today's climate change - but China has now overtaken the US as the largest source of greenhouse gases (with an American's per capita percentage still four times that of a Chinese). No question about it: the inclusion of the emerging countries in the international climate protection system will determine the future of the world climate, as will the decisive climate protection in the previous industrialized countries. Redistribution will have to be talked about: In India half of the population do not even have an electricity connection - but with growing economic power no one will be able to deny them this. The German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) has developed a proposal for this, see here: >> Strategies against climate change, in particular >> Who must act?).

However, the hope of setting binding emissions targets worldwide by the year 2050 at the conferences of the parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change (“climate summit”) has so far failed. The state of affairs is a voluntary agreement according to which the industrialized countries announce their emission reduction commitments and have compliance checked internationally. The developing and emerging countries can register their measures in their own appendix and receive financial support for this and for adaptation to climate change - this support is to amount to US $ 30 billion for the period 2010 to 2012 and to US $ 100 billion by 2020. increase $ per year.

In any case, it is unclear whether the conference of the parties to the parties is the right way to make decisive progress in climate protection. Effective regulations would also need sanctions in the event of violations; however, this presupposes a transfer of powers to international organizations. Some Western democracies feel uncomfortable about giving power to organizations in which the voice of a dictator who pursues nothing but his own interests counts as much as that of a democratic state; and this fear can be understood. In any case and in addition to all international commitment, international climate protection therefore needs pioneers who set a good example in order to motivate emerging and developing countries to participate with success. Many of the technologies that help combat climate change make sense anyway: energy efficiency and renewable energy sources prepare us for the foreseeable end of fossil energy sources; Soil improvement using bio charcoal also benefits agricultural yields. Highly efficient technologies for energy generation, distribution and use, for the use of renewable energy sources and for protecting the efficiency of ecosystems will sooner or later become export hits anyway; sustainable consumption models will prevail. That will certainly not be a disadvantage for those who are leading the way here. The alternative would be for the developing and newly industrialized countries, in the absence of an alternative, to follow the raw material and energy-intensive development strategy of the industrialized countries, which is historically responsible for the destruction of the environment.

It is also still unclear whether and when it will be a worldwide emissions trading system will give: This would make it worthwhile for private investors to invest in climate-friendly technologies. Such a system could build on experience with European emissions trading (see >> here). Such a trading system would also contribute to the support shown above for poor countries: They could use the proceeds from the emission rights they sell to create their own energy supply in an environmentally friendly manner (Lutz Wicke and co-authors already described this idea in their Kyoto Plus concept: Kyoto Plus. This is how it works Die Klimawende. CH Beck Verlag 2006).The inclusion of forest protection and soil improvement in an emissions trading system could also help to protect the remaining rainforests and to regenerate impoverished soils, especially in Africa. Emissions trading systems also have their disadvantages: where there is a lot of money, fraudsters are at work, and effective control costs money and means bureaucracy. Another argument of the critics is: Once the emissions have been reduced to the level of the emission certificates, there is no longer any incentive to reduce them further. A tax on emissions, on the other hand, would be far less bureaucratic and would always provide an incentive to reduce emissions. Alone: ​​In some countries, many people are allergic to the word “taxes”, which makes it difficult to implement them politically.

Websites on the subject

Kyoto II: A portal funded by the Federal Environment Agency and the EU on how to proceed after the Kyoto Protocol expired in 2012 (in English).

Continue with:
Two concepts for combating climate change are presented here:
>> Wedges Against Climate Change - The Ideas of Socolow and Pacala
>> The climate protection concept of the Federal Environment Agency

>> Adaptation to climate change

© Jürgen Paeger 2006 - 2012