A few weeks ago: A toxic cloud is moving over Delhi. A huge garbage dump is on fire. Extinguishing is impossible because of the prevailing temperatures of up to 50 degrees. A massive heat wave hits India. Bangladesh is experiencing its worst flooding in almost 20 years. The drought around the Horn of Africa is devastating. Dead, thirsty animals. Starving people leaving their homes in search of food and drink.
Coal phase-out, climate change, sector coupling: The briefing for the energy and climate sector. For decision makers
What sounds like the beginning of an apocalyptic film is reality, happening in the here and now. Humanity is feeling the consequences of what it has caused itself: devastation, desertification, flooding. We should be clear: the consequences of our lives, economies and actions in the rich industrialized countries we load on others: nature, the people of the Global South, the species that are irretrievably disappearing. Path. Forever. The way we live today makes the earth desolate and empty, and in the long run it causes our planet to collapse.
The number of people forced to leave their homes because of the consequences of the climate crisis has quadrupled since the 1970s. Within the affected countries, more people are already being displaced by climate and environmental disasters – floods, drought, storms – than by violence and conflicts. It is foreseeable that entire islands will disappear from the maps in the future.
In a 2018 study, the World Bank calculated that there would be 140 million climate-related displacements in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and South America alone by 2050. A number that made the headlines at the time, but is not just a number. Behind this lies the potential suffering of many millions of people who need an answer. A realistic view, free from ideology. Hoping that things won’t get that bad is not allowed.
Four years ago, the World Bank study still assumed that around 80 percent of displacement could be avoided through ambitious climate protection. Today the number is likely to be lower. It’s simple: we’re running out of time. And we don’t have enough left to mitigate the consequences so that we won’t feel it. The fact that at least some of the serious consequences can still be avoided requires all our energy, determination and all conceivable alliances.
What’s the answer? The first can only be an extremely consistent climate policy: our lifestyle will inevitably change. Yes, it will be more uncomfortable for everyone, but it will also be bearable and safer. Not only for us and our children today, but also for their children and grandchildren when we are long gone.
The second answer: Consistent climate protection requires a new justice contract with a new understanding of responsibility. Wealth obliges. This principle must apply more strongly again. We have to distribute what we have left in such a way that it is fair, so that it is not the most sensitive, the poorest, the least loud who carry the most.
Some can cushion a higher electricity bill by swapping the petrol engine for an electric car. Others, however, are hit harder here by the climate crisis. Of course it makes a difference whether someone is exposed to the heat and air pollution in a poorly insulated house on the noisy street or in a modern house with a garden in the countryside.
A broken environment and a climate in crisis also mean division and poverty. It is important to balance this out as best as possible. One thing is clear: the state cannot compensate for all the consequences. Impositions will be noticeable. For all. It can only be about distributing them as fairly as possible. Also for everyone. Instead of the watering can principle, the principle of a new, more climate-friendly redistribution should apply: We cannot compensate for every imposition and burden. We can only offset the burden for those who cannot bear it.
It’s no longer just about how we live, but how we survive as humanity. The climate crisis is fueling conflicts over scarce resources and triggering new struggles over distribution. The same applies globally: we can no longer prevent many things, we can only make them bearable as best we can. This includes making a fair German contribution to international climate finance – in accordance with the polluter pays principle.
A consistent climate policy and a new policy of justice, both globally and nationally, can only be part of the answer. The third major task for the industrialized countries: we must not let those who are already directly affected by the climate crisis bear our costs. We can support the adaptation and strengthen resilience, but we must not shift the responsibility for solving the problem from us as the polluters to those affected.
That is why we also have to talk about migration and flight. Because migration is also an “adaptation strategy” to deal with changed living conditions on site. It is therefore important that we adjust our immigration law accordingly. If we enable regular migration, we avoid forced displacement. And yet: Escape will take place.
We should promote the idea of a climate passport for climate displaced people internationally. In the first phase, this offer of assistance could be available to populations of small island states whose areas are about to become uninhabitable. We should also consider placing disaster displaced persons under subsidiary protection. This is a global task that we must not postpone indefinitely into the future.
Finally: The fossil addiction has made us dependent on dictators, we are not resilient, the global nature of dependencies has made us prisoners of prosperity. Industries that depend on gas supplies, the food program that needs the wheat that’s in silos in Odessa. It is high time that we break old dependencies and become resilient. A start has been made. The way is long. But going back is not an option.