As a measure against global warming, climate researcher Schellnhuber proposes limiting the amount of CO2 per capita and enabling private emissions trading. Minister Habeck rejects this.
In order to prevent the worst consequences of the climate crisis, many countries – including Germany – have committed themselves to stopping global warming at well below two degrees. In order to achieve this goal, only a limited amount of the greenhouse gas CO2 may be released into the atmosphere worldwide in the coming decades.
Three tons of CO2 per year per capita
If one were to apply a fundamental principle of justice, each person would have around three tons of CO2 a year at their disposal by the middle of the century, explains climate researcher Hans Joachim Schellnhuber from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). However, people in Germany are a long way from that.
Currently, each individual in this country causes about ten tons of CO2 per year. People with higher incomes emit significantly larger amounts of greenhouse gases. According to data from the Paris “World Inequality Lab”, many millionaires in Germany emit more than 100 tons of CO2 per person per year. Worldwide, several hundred thousand super-rich cause even more than 2000 tons of CO2 per capita annually.
Anyone who causes more emissions would have to buy rights
Schellnhuber therefore demands in an interview with the ARD magazine Panoramato introduce an individual CO2 limit and at the same time to enable private trading in CO2 rights. “Everyone gets three tons of CO2 per year, but if you need more, you just have to buy it,” explains the climate scientist – from others who consume less.
According to Schellnhuber, this would mean respecting the three tons as a “planetary guard rail” within the framework of a free society, but at the same time accepting the leeway that a market could provide. Because here two property rights are opposed to each other: the right to spend one’s money on something that is associated with high CO2 emissions and, on the other hand, the property right of all people, which consists in the fact that “we have an environment worth living in”. And there the common good must be higher, demands Schellnhuber.
In order to achieve an average of three tons of CO2 emissions per year, nobody would have to comply with this limit immediately. However, individual emissions would have to fall quickly from now on – initially to three tons by around 2030 and then further to zero by the middle of the century.
Habeck does not want “individual climate control”
However, the Federal Minister for Economics and Climate Protection, Robert Habeck (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen), rejects such an upper limit for CO2 for each individual. “I’m not concentrating on the question of an individual budget now,” Habeck said in an interview panorama.
The minister would like to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases through the measures that have already been introduced, such as the expansion of renewable energies or building renovations. In addition, products that are produced in a way that is harmful to the climate would have to be more expensive or – if necessary – banned, according to Habeck. He is of the opinion that the climate protection goals can be better achieved without “individual climate control”.
Government adviser for hard confinement
But even the expert council for climate issues set up by the federal government comes to the conclusion that the current measures are not sufficient. Greenhouse gas emissions are falling too slowly, according to the committee in its current report, and the targets for 2030 are likely to be “significantly missed”. The Council therefore recommends no longer just formulating soft reduction targets, but introducing a “hard limit on permitted emissions”.
From the point of view of climate researcher Schellnhuber, there must be radical clarity about what is necessary to stabilize the climate. This also means that it must be clear what each individual has to contribute. If you really take the climate crisis seriously and want to stop global warming below two degrees, then every citizen of the world would have three tons of CO2 at their disposal every year by the middle of the century.
The idea itself is not new
In principle, the idea of private emissions trading is not new. The British government already discussed introducing individual CO2 certificates in the early 2000s, but then rejected the proposal. Climate researcher Schellnhuber was already working on the concept back then.
In 2009 he proposed the idea as chairman of what was then the “Scientific Advisory Council on Global Change” to the federal government under Chancellor Merkel – without success. “It was a missed opportunity,” says Schellnhuber today.
It is now time to re-examine this idea, wrote scientists from several renowned institutes in Great Britain, Sweden and Israel in an article in the journal “Nature” in 2021. They argue that such a system would provide incentives for behavioral change. A visible price for emissions influences purchasing decisions and energy consumption. In addition, he could raise awareness of the problem.
The ARD magazine Panorama reports on this topic tonight at 9:45 p.m. on the first.