• Date 18 October 2019
  • Location Washington, D.C.

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Thank you, Thad, for the kind introduction.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am happy to be here at the Council on Foreign Relations today and I look forward to a frank and lively discussion with all of you.

I want to use my opening remarks to address a topic that concerns all of us around the globe with increasing urgency: tackling climate change.

This year, millions of people – young people in particular – have taken to the streets to remind us of the urgency of limiting global warming. But at the same time, we have seen pushback from those who refuse to grapple with the reality of climate change, who question the science, and who deny the need to take action because they find it inconvenient – right-wing populists in Germany, for example.

I would like to respond to them by quoting one of your founding fathers, John Adams:

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, […] they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

Man-made climate change is a fact. Another fact: the global community hasn’t done enough so far to limit global warming – none of us, including Germany.

Speaking for Germany, I can say: We want to change that. To this end, the federal government has recently laid out its multi-billion Euro climate strategy for the next decade.

As I like to point out to those who always insist that Germany should be spending more: To combat climate change, Germany is investing 54 billion Euros in the period up until 2023; up until 2030, we are in the region of 150 billion Euros.

When we undertake such a massive task, there is one central question that we policy makers need to answer:

What’s the point? Why do we bother, when at the same time new coal-fired power plants are being built in other parts of the globe; when, as in Germany’s case, our share of total global emissions is about 2 percent?

My answer is threefold:

Firstly: It is the right thing to do. As industrialised countries, we have emitted the bulk of mankind’s greenhouse gas emissions until now. Now we need to acknowledge our responsibility and start leading the fight against climate change.

Secondly: We can do it. We have the necessary technological and financial capacity. Germany prides itself on its engineering. If we can show that it is possible to reduce emissions significantly and be all the more successful for it economically, others will follow suit. We can lead the shift to a low-carbon global economy.

And thirdly: It is an opportunity. Yes, making this transition requires a big effort now, but ultimately it will strengthen our industrial base. From battery-powered vehicles to hydrogen fuel cells: we are seeing climate-friendly technologies improve to the point where they are becoming commercially viable, similarly to what happened – for example – with wind energy. The fight against man-made climate change will become a business opportunity. And in a country which prides itself on its business instincts, in a country of deal-makers, I say: If you do not join in the fight against climate change, you are voluntarily foregoing a great deal.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The fight against climate change will be the defining issue of the coming decades, for all of us. Climate policy will shape all policy areas, economic policy in particular.

By the way, we are also seeing this trend at the IMF. Tomorrow, on the margins of the current IMF and World Bank Group meeting, we will be having a special meeting of the Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action.

Increasingly, foreign policy will have to be climate policy. The need for coordinated action to reduce overall emissions is only one of the channels connecting climate change and foreign policy. We need to consider the link between migration and desertification or flooding, between water scarcity and the potential for international conflicts.

We all know that climate change poses a global challenge. And so – in the fight against it – we will need international cooperation and strong international institutions. Here, at the Council on Foreign Relations, in the heart of the capital of the most powerful nation in the world, I do not have to stress the importance of international cooperation and strong international institutions. Everyone is aware of this. At least, almost everyone.

Let me put it this way:

The future does not belong to those who deny reality and isolate themselves. The future belongs to those who take action – together.

Thank you!