Climate protection? Yes please! Rarely has there been so much agreement on one issue. But when it comes to specific action – and carrying the associated costs – the mood tends to change quickly. Climate protection? No thanks – let others go first!
Such is the pattern that we have seen in the years of wrangling over an effective, globally binding agreement to combat climate change. And whether we will see movement on the various fronts at the Copenhagen Conference remains to be seen. Given the global recession, after all, getting back on track for growth is top priority.
The economic crisis, however, provides a unique opportunity to rethink and develop new concepts for both: more growth and more climate protection. Climate protection must pay off somehow, which means we have to start where it costs the least or will even save money in the foreseeable future. And we need to start now.
A key to cost-effective climate protection is right in front of us: energy efficiency. We could cut energy consumption in older buildings by an average of two-thirds right now by using modern construction and insulating materials and efficient technology for heating, cooling and lighting. Cars are another area where there are plenty of opportunities to save fuel and thus cut emissions: using lighter plastic components that reduce the weight of vehicles and hence their fuel consumption, more efficient engine technology, and hybrid vehicles with high-performance batteries.
These are just a few examples from a very broad range of innovative products. A common feature is that all have been developed by a modern, high-performance industry – the very industry that public opinion puts at the top of the list of climate change villains.
From a global perspective, industry standards differ greatly from region to region – and the same applies to the improvement necessary with respect to the efficient use of energy and raw materials and the reduction of emissions. In developed countries, and in Europe especially, the chemical industry is a leader in efficiency. It is also the driving force behind innovations that make efficient climate protection possible in the first place. However, the industry faces the threat of losing that innovative power if its global competitiveness is hampered by overly ambitious and one-sided climate protection requirements, for example in the implementation of the European Union emissions trading scheme. That innovative power ultimately enables the necessary technology transfer to countries that need to catch up in energy efficiency and environmental and climate protection.
The chemical industry is a driver of innovation and climate protection solutions in virtually all industries: coatings for more efficient wind turbines; materials for novel solar cells; plastics for lighter, more economical cars; components for fuel cells or high-performance batteries; the above-mentioned products for climate-compatible construction and housing.
The extensive contribution the chemical industry makes toward more climate protection can also be seen from its global carbon footprint. A recent study published by the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) showed that over their entire lifecycle, products and technologies from the chemical industry help to save more than twice the amount of climate gases emitted during their manufacture, use and disposal.
We have to make even more effective use of this potential, now and in the future. That is why climate protection needs partnership between industry and policymakers. We need to use existing and future technologies where they make the most economic sense. For that to happen, we need fair standards for climate protection that apply worldwide. We can protect the climate and at the same time safeguard growth and prosperity only if we combine innovative technology with innovative political concepts. And the Copenhagen Conference must set the right course to achieve these goals.
Dr Jürgen Hambrecht is Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF SE.