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On Monday the new Assessment Report was officially presented in Berlin.

CliSAP: So from an academic perspective it’s an interdisciplinary project.

Held: Exactly. It’s also important to get disciplines on board that have been largely ignored in trying to solve the climate problem. For example, the current report is the first one to include a chapter on ethics, which examines the question just what a fair deal looks like in the context of climate policy. These questions of fairness are central considerations, especially because those parties most responsible for climate change are affected comparatively less by its impacts. And vice versa, those hardest hit by it only produce a small share of global emissions. These ratios have only started to change in the last few years – some newly industrialized countries, which tended to be “victims” in the past, are now becoming new “culprits” instead.

CliSAP: Who is most responsible?

Held: Right now we’re seeing the highest emissions growth in Asia. CO2 emissions in the OECD countries are stable, though also very high. In 2010, 65 percent of the emissions came from burning fossil fuels like coal and gas, and from industry. Further, the new report classifies emissions by demographic groups. This shows a clear connection between per capita income and per capita emissions, with the upper middle class currently being most responsible for the rise in global CO2 emissions. It also clearly shows that different lifestyles, like eating habits, are a factor. For instance, I was surprised to see how much worse the footprint for beef is in comparison to pork or poultry.

CliSAP: So some nations and demographic groups produce more emissions than others; that really does seem to be a question of fairness.

Held: That’s why in the new report we especially emphasize that the state of the climate is something that belongs to everyone. Questions of fairness focus on the one hand on pollution rights, and on the other on how investments in climate protection and adapting to climate change can be fairly distributed among everyone’s shoulders. Here we have to bear in mind that countries that invest in low-carbon technologies create benefits for everyone – but have to bear the costs alone. At least in my eyes, that isn’t fair.

“If we look at the current agreements, what we’re heading for is more like a 3.5-degree goal.”

CliSAP: How much money are we talking about here? Will the capital currently invested be enough?

Held: Unfortunately not. By 2050, investments in the low-carbon sector will have to be tripled or quadrupled; that’s the only way we’ll be able to cut CO2 emissions by 40 to 70 percent and achieve the two-degree goal. Right now politicians may have proclaimed that goal, but the actual obligations still allow emissions levels that are too high. If we look at the current agreements and duties, what we’re heading for is more like a 3.5-degree goal.

CliSAP: Some people feel that higher limits would make good economic sense – less climate protection, and more adaptation measures. The costs caused by extreme weather and smaller crop harvests would then be balanced out by the lower investments in climate projects.

Held: The only problem is that this kind of cost-benefit analysis isn’t terribly sound, since there’s no way of knowing for sure how the Earth system will react to major warming. For instance, we don’t know how abrupt the changes will be and how much time we’ll have to adjust to them. If this fundamental uncertainty is taken into account, even some economists consider radical efforts to cut emissions to be worth discussing. From that point of view, we would in fact need to reduce CO2 emissions even more than the majority of scenarios call for.

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