Sustainability Blog

The A.B.C. Murmurs: a New Climate Protection Club

By Apurva Gosalia - Aug 31, 2021

“The A.B.C. Murders” is a work of fiction by British writer Agatha Christie, featuring her character Hercule Poirot as he investigates a series of killings by a mysterious assassin known only as “A.B.C.” They are committed in alphabetical order: Alice Ascher, killed in Andover; Betty Barnard, killed in Bexhill; and Carmichael Clarke, killed in Churston.

“The A.B.C. Murmurs” is what I call the work of fact calling for an international climate club, presented as joint key-issues paper last week to the German Federal Cabinet by Finance Minister Olaf Scholz. The initiative is based on three characteristics – A for “ambitious”, B for “bold” and C for “cooperative.”

From now on, A.B.C. is how the German federal government will spell climate protection in English. That’s exactly what it says in the key points that the German Cabinet approved in one of its last meetings before the Bundestag elections on August 25.

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The cornerstone of the club is that admission must be open at all times upon the introduction of appropriate climate protection targets and measures. The United States and China in particular should join, but so should other industrialized countries.

The German government wants to join forces with other industrialized nations to fight global warming. The goal is to give the implementation of the Paris Agreement additional impetus at the international level. At the heart of this initiative is the cooperation between countries that want to press ahead with the social and economic transformation needed to tackle climate change. The German government believes that such an open, collaborative climate club should be a partnership in which the participating countries commit to ambitious climate goals and to the measures needed to reach them.

The idea itself is not new. In 2015, U.S. economist and Nobel laureate William Nordhaus proposed such a club to counter free-riding in international climate protection. The concern being that individual countries are not doing much to combat global warming and are leaving climate-friendly restructuring to others. This ultimately puts climate protection at a competitive disadvantage for those who are serious about it.

Club members should therefore agree on a common carbon dioxide price and demand punitive tariffs from those who are not in the club.

In March, the Scientific Advisory Council of the German Ministry of Economics took up this idea, recommending that the European Union establish such an organization.

Then Scholz discovered the project. In May, the Social Democratic Party candidate for chancellor presented the idea at a meeting of finance ministers of the G20, and then he pushed the key points for the club in the federal cabinet.

“Climate change cannot be tackled nationally, nor can it be tackled at the European level,” said Scholz, adding that’s why the club is now to be founded, “for all those who are moving forward with ambitious goals.”

Members are to commit to “increased efforts” to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. They are also to aim for climate neutrality by 2050, or earlier if possible. Together, they are to work to transform industries. A so-called border adjustment, which would make CO₂-heavy imports from non-members more expensive, is only considered a “possibility” in the key points.

At the end of Christie’s novel, Poirot catches the murderer by claiming that he found the perpetrator’s fingerprints. This, it turns out, was a bluff.

Whether the push for an international climate club under the auspices of Germany a month before the election will leave its fingerprint even after the election or turn out to be just a bluff – some A.B.C. murmurs – is another question.

The next occasion to recruit members for the club is at the G20 summit in Rome. But that won’t happen until the end of October, when the German government will only be in office as an executive. Meanwhile, the industry is already scoffing at the idea of finding any members at all. Germany’s Chemical Industry Association, for example, says the idea is a good one. But at the moment, only the EU is on the board and Germany is the treasurer.

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