Climate Change – From talk to action

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Corporate Responsibility News

29 September 2015

Climate Change – From talk to action

POC21 has successfully come to an end on September 20 with the final exhibition of the 12 projects which were presented to the public. Together with the results they will be showcased ahead and during the Conference on Climate Change (Conference of Parties – COP21) in Paris in December. After having taken part at the camp Ernst Rauch welcomes that thanks to POC21 climate change no longer remains just a subject of the negotiation table but gets one of workbenches all over the world. He and his team analyses loss trends of natural catastrophes and supports weather and energy business developments within Munich Re.

It is expected that the year 2015, like 2014, will again break a temperature record: after eight months of above-average global temperatures, it is now on its way to becoming the hottest year on record. As before, more or less earnest discussions were conducted during the heat waves of the past summer in Europe as to whether people are perspiring particularly strongly due to climate change, or whether it is just "normally hot". For most people this depends on their personal experience. Which simply means that for some people it is too cold and for others too warm. This has little in common with a serious appraisal of "anthropogenic climate change" – in other words, human-induced changes in the Earth's climate. To gain a better understanding of the climate, we need to be aware of more than just the current weather situation, because climate means the "average weather" experienced over a period of at least 30 years.

So there is no way around it: if we want to talk about the climate and not just the weather, we must examine the weather conditions over a long period of time and observe and identify parameters such as temperature, rainfall and wind speed. Simply said, this means finding out the hard facts. For many decades now, Munich Re has been analysing these facts in depth and is convinced that they speak for themselves. In its reports, the IPCC Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gives these facts a highly respected voice. It confirms that the global mean temperature of the atmosphere and the ocean has risen by almost one degree Celsius over the last 100 years. The total surface area of the polar ice masses in the Arctic and Antarctic seas combined has decreased by 1.5-2.5 per cent per decade since the beginning of satellite observations in the 1980s. The sea level is now some 20 cm higher than it was a century ago.  Due to the elevated water levels, the impacts of storm surges are even stronger than before, land near to the coasts is becoming salinated. All over the world, many millions of people in low-lying coastal areas are affected by these developments, and many of the largest cities are located on coastlines. The IPCC warns that if warming continues uncurbed, in some regions extreme storms will likely occur with greater frequency and intensity than previously, and that some of the wet regions of the world are likely to become even wetter and the already arid areas even drier. Just think of the consequences for crops and people's food supplies. Climate change will hit the people in developing countries the hardest.

We know that climate change and its consequences are one of the greatest long-term challenges facing humanity. The scientific observations are the central starting point for all efforts being undertaken to at least mitigate these developments and tackle adaptation to the consequences. Politicians of almost all persuasions and nations have been endeavouring for over 20 years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in negotiations with the international community under the umbrella of the United Nations (UN). CO2 above all is responsible for most of  the global warming observed in the last decades. Sadly, the actual balance is disappointing: in the course of the more than 20-year negotiation period, the CO2 emissions have risen by more than 30 per cent worldwide.

In December 2015, the 21st "Conference of the Parties" (COP21) will take place and once again many people have high expectations of the negotiations. They are hoping for globally binding measures to reduce CO2 emissions to prevent the Earth warming by more than two degrees above pre-industrial temperature levels. Many stakeholder groups use the influence of important voices and scientific facts to strengthen the negotiations in advance. However, no few groups are acting exactly to the contrary: they want to continue with "business as usual" in the use of fossil fuels. The outcome of the negotiations in Paris once more remains to be seen: will the international community be able to find the right political responses to a global challenge?

The POC21 initiators and participants do not want to simply sit back and wait. They are pursuing an independent and, in my opinion, very sensible approach towards finding solutions for environmental problems and climate protection: they spur on alternative approaches with their technological innovations based on an "open source" concept. They make their findings freely available to other people and organisations. In their projects they create alternative possibilities in areas such as energy, drinking water, food. Through their ideas and products they want to make a more sustainable life, or at least access to energy and food in sufficient quantities, possible for a growing world population. For them, climate change is not just a subject for the negotiation table but for the workbenches all over the world.

All projects contribute to the climate targets, whether through the use of wind and solar power as an energy source, the prevention of waste or the reuse of water. I would like to name just a few examples: SunZilla is an energy package that can produce electricity in remote areas by means of solar panels mounted on portable, easy-to-use technology. Faircap is a low-cost activated-carbon water filter that can be screwed onto any commercially available plastic bottle to obtain directly consumable drinking water for everyone. Drinking water is one of the most challenging issues for many regions threatened by pollution and drought. The Bicitractor protects the environment with its zero-emission muscle-powered drive and, due to its low weight, also the soil, which can be used more efficiently and quickly, especially in the organic cultivations of small farms. This is to be ensured by means of lower purchase or production prices. The inventor of the Showerloop has not only enormously reduced the water consumption but also the power consumption of showering. This is kind both on resources and budgets alike.

The findings of the POC21 Camp will influence further innovation projects in the field of environment and climate across the world in an exemplary manner, even though they perhaps cannot be read about in all the media, and perhaps precisely because the products are not available in every supermarket in high-gloss format. The teams from Millemont are making use of one advantage they have over the negotiators in Paris with great efficiency: true to their fundamental approach, they have designed all projects as "open source" concepts. In this way, these creative idealists make practical solutions available for global and alternative use free of charge. "Shared economy" allows the decentralised and individual dissemination of pragmatic measures against further global warming to all stakeholders worldwide. Innovators, developers, users, producers and buyers do not need to come together in one place to do this. This also saves a lot of emissions and accelerates the transition towards a more climate-friendly world enormously.

Why does Munich Re participate in this POC21 project? Climate change for us is one of the central business-related risks of change. For over 40 years, Munich Re has been working on this subject. Over the past two decades, our staff were involved in all the (20) COPs in different capacities. We not only are familiar with the state of science and understand the seriousness of the consequences; we also know about the changes in the damage statistics of natural disasters and make them transparent for all stakeholders in freely accessible reports and statistics. Unfortunately, we also are aware of the results or rather the lack of results from the UN negotiating sessions. In our view, there is therefore without any doubt a need for action:

We perceive a great deal of value in trying to find different approaches not only to reduce CO2 emissions but also to adapt to the no longer avoidable consequences. Even outside the scope of our business activities, we want to help make this happen. POC21 does not claim to have a comprehensive approach. However, for Munich Re it is precisely the diversity of the projects that provides an opportunity to discuss new approaches to problem solving with young innovators, creators and out-of-the box thinkers, and to test concrete technology concepts. The camp members implement in practical form what they believe in. We learn from the exchange with them, from their critical feedback. We see that their co-working promotes innovative work. They teach us to appreciate the power of ideals: through their conviction that by exchanging knowledge for the benefit – also economic – of all stakeholders, goals can be achieved with small initiatives. Even climate goals. That is what we like to learn about the most.

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