“Climate change mitigation through the freeloader effect”

November 29, 2011

On the occasion of the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, Jochem Marotzke, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, talks about the climate summit’s chances of producing a result and tells us that effective mitigation measures are still within grasp. Jochem Marotzke contributes to the scientific reports of the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change.

Professor Marotzke, what do you expect to be the outcome of the global conference on climate change in Durban?

Marotzke: I am quite sceptical about seeing any substantial outcome. At any rate, it will not lead to any major moves forward: I consider a successor agreement to the Kyoto protocol, with binding targets, very unlikely.

What is the major stumbling block?

Marotzke: In my opinion, the essential conflict arises between the developing and emerging countries on the one hand, and the industrialised countries on the other. The latter demand that the poorer nations participate in climate change mitigation measures. The developing and emerging countries, however, insist that the main responsibility lies with the industrialised countries, since they are originally to blame for this misery. The two stances are both correct. However, in a new scientific paper, we have presented a potential solution to this situation.

Could you tell us more about the solution?

Marotzke: Forecasts of intermediate climate change and the resulting economic damage could motivate the rich industrialised nations to increase their efforts in terms of climate protection and maybe even to compensate for a lack of contributions by the poorer nations. After all, the industrialised countries stand to lose more, and actually have the means to invest in climate change mitigation.

Are there any other potential causes of conflict?

Marotzke: One of the problems is that of the climate freeloaders. Countries that are not contributing to climate protection now may benefit from the mitigation measures of others later on. On the other hand, those who invest in climate protection must take into account the possibility of economic losses and may have to watch the freeloaders overtake them economically. Furthermore, if, despite their efforts, greenhouse gas emissions are not significantly reduced, these countries will quite probably have to face even more losses due to climate-related damage.

Will there then be no tangible results from this climate conference?

Marotzke: I would not go as far as saying that. I am sure that there will be small advances. Firstly, because many countries are travelling to Durban with good intentions. Secondly, because the climate conference in Copenhagen, which must be considered a failure, could have a positive effect. The response to this conference was scathing. In order to avoid a similar reaction, politicians will want to bring something home from the negotiations. From a cynical perspective, climate negotiators will make considerable efforts to achieve at least limited progress, in order to appear in a politically favourable light. Such small steps are crucial.

Which advances do you have in mind?

Marotzke: Negotiations about the climate fund, which was agreed upon in Copenhagen to assist developing countries in mitigation efforts, could be successful. However, the most important thing is for the dialogue to continue.

Could it still lead to a binding agreement on climate change mitigation?

Marotzke: A global agreement on the reduction of CO2 emissions has already failed and may fail in the future too. I do not think that we will achieve the target of limiting global warming to two degrees by the end of this century.

How can there be effective climate protection, then?

Marotzke: Our most recent research offers a good pointer: We need to establish a link between short-term self-interests and long-term collective interests. In the so-called Hartwell Paper, an international group of climatologists suggest a reformulation of climate targets for the developing countries. A target for these countries could be energy security. For instance, an African country is much more likely to achieve energy security using solar power than fossil fuels. Also, development aid could focus more on the aspect of emission reduction. Climate change mitigation would thus become a freeloader effect. This would be a huge step towards solving the problem.

Is it the duty of the industrialised countries to deal with the problem?

Marotzke: To a certain extent, yes. But to insist on moral obligations is hardly useful. The industrialised countries could possibly be motivated by the prospects for increased exports.

Finally, a question about your personal contribution to climate change mitigation: As a successful scientist and Max Planck Director, you travel all over the world and probably leave a considerably large carbon footprint. How do you deal with that?

Marotzke: It does not give me a guilty conscience. Travelling, even great distances, is part of my work. However, I deeply regret that we are not allowed to allocate funds for compensatory measures in our budget. If I could, I would do that immediately and also accept that these funds would be taken from other work-related activities. In other countries, for instance in Switzerland, this is allowed. However, German funding legislation prohibits it.

And what do you do in your daily life in Hamburg to reduce your impact on the climate?

Marotzke: I only use my bicycle and public transport to get around. At the moment, I do not even own a car.

Thank you very much for talking to us.

The interview was conducted by Peter Hergersberg

Go to Editor View