ECC Platform Library


Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the briefing on the 25th UN Climate Change Conference

15 November, 2019

Madrid, urban, sunset

Madrid, urban, sunset
Madrid will host the UNFCCC COP 25 after Chile cancelled hosting the event due to internal political unrest | © Florian Wehde/Unsplash

At a briefing ahead of the COP25, foreign minister Heiko Maas called for higher ambition for the European Union, which should act as a role-model to encourage other states to boost their commitments to climate action. He further reiterated the importance of supporting multilateralism and an international climate regime that is able to withstand setbacks, such as the US withdrawal of the Paris Agreement.

"A small German town has 11,000 inhabitants on average. Now picture such a town, and no matter who you ask in this town, each individual warns you urgently against taking a “business as usual” approach in climate policy.

The opinion of so many people should make an impression, you might think.

Indeed, the appeal signed last week by 11,000 scientists from all over the world leaves no room for misunderstanding. If we humans fail to fundamentally change our behaviour, it says in the article, it will be impossible to avoid “untold suffering”.

Untold suffering! This is a more than remarkable choice of words for scientists. One that hopefully makes it impossible to ignore this warning.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Eleven thousand people. That’s about the number of people living in Nauru. The people of Nauru are among those most directly affected by the impact of climate change because their country is literally up to its neck in water.

In June, the then President of Nauru visited us here in Berlin. Nauru is part of a Group of Friends of 50 countries on the issue of climate and security that we founded at the UN in New York. This issue is one of our priorities for the period in which we are a member of the UN Security Council. At the time, the President raised the question of whether the UN should send blue helmets to shut down coal-fired power stations.

This was a clearly-worded plea, but one that was, above all, based on a bitter truth, namely that climate change has long since become a threat also to peace and security, in many places around the world. Climate policy has long since ceased being merely a question of environmental policy. Climate policy must inform our foreign policy, too, to a much greater extent – and not just ours!

It was therefore particularly important to Svenja Schulze and myself to attend this morning’s briefing with the German Climate Consortium. We hope that this will help to further develop what we are doing and prepare us for what lies ahead.

If we want to get on top of this task facing humanity as a whole, we must not only consistently perceive environmental, climate and foreign policy as being interlinked, but we must engage in a much closer dialogue with you, with the scientific community and also with civil society. You have not only been ringing the alarm bells loudly and effectively for a long time, but you have been talking about solutions and about how we can mitigate climate change and improve the way in which we deal with its impact.

I experienced this recently when touring the Canadian Arctic with experts from the Alfred-Wegener-Institut, the Max Planck Institute and the GIGA. Together with our Canadian partners, we have agreed to intensify our scientific cooperation in this field, and it is, above all, thanks to your work, the work of the scientific community and NGOs, that public awareness of climate change has never been greater than it is today.

But that’s not enough. Awareness must be followed up with action. Otherwise we’ll end up proving the old adage, namely “those who understand and don’t act haven’t really understood”. We are rightfully reminded of this each Friday when we’re told: don’t destroy our future! Instead, implement at long last what was promised in the Paris Agreement!

That’s why I’m most grateful, Ambassador, that Spain is making it possible to hold COP25 in Madrid in December at short notice. We know what a challenge this will be. I would like to thank you and all of our Spanish friends for bravely stepping into the breach!

I’m aware of the fact that this relocation has caused financial difficulties for some delegations. This is why we’re offering the UNFCCC Secretariat additional support in order to ensure that all delegations are able to attend, including those that have to contend with financial issues owing to this relocation.

And, Ambassador, we warmly welcome the fact that Chile will assume the COP25 Presidency as planned! COP25 is taking place at a decisive juncture. Next year, the Paris climate goals will be up for assessment for the first time – crunch time, also for us. COP25 must therefore send a clear signal for greater ambition, above all from the major emitters!

This is all the more important now that, unfortunately, the US officially announced its withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement ten days ago. This is a step that we deeply regret. And we hope – and are committed to ensuring – that this is only a temporary departure. However, ladies and gentlemen, we must not count on the disagreement in climate policy being resolved any time soon. No major climate policy impetus of note is likely to be expected from either the US Presidency of the G7 or Saudi Arabia’s G20 Presidency next year. In an international environment such as this, we must also subject our own climate policy approaches to scrutiny.

It goes without saying that the international climate regime is needed more than ever before. However, at a time when countries are taking unilateral action in climate policy, I believe that we must not rely on the COP process alone. We must get new partners on board, and this is why we’re seeking much more intensively to engage in dialogue with progressive forces at the respective state and municipal level. What is more, we’re pursuing complementary strategies – to put an end to the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, for instance, or to help major emitters to invest in renewable energies instead of coal-fired power stations.

Let me give you just two examples of what can be expected from a new climate diplomacy in this regard.

Firstly, India.

At the intergovernmental consultations in New Delhi at the beginning of the month, we agreed to work together, for example to expand the use of solar energy in the metro network. Germany is setting aside one billion euros for this as we know that if India, which is responsible for six percent of greenhouse gas emissions even today, does not manage to transform its transport sector, this will have serious consequences at the global level.

Secondly, Brazil, which is a slightly more difficult case.

It goes without saying that President Bolsonaro’s Government isn’t an easy partner in climate policy. But we need Brazil. The Amazon rainforest fires reminded us recently how vulnerable the rainforest, so crucial to our climate, actually is.

That’s why, after the new Government took office, I was the first European Foreign Minister to travel to Brasilia. Not everyone understood this decision. And contrary to some expectations, we managed to persuade the Brazilians to issue a firm commitment to protecting the climate and the Amazon in a joint declaration. This is, of course, only on paper for now. But it’s also a starting point for reminding Brazil of its responsibility and for taking the country to task in the future. And this is what we did at the meetings that we, Svenja Schulze, myself and others within the Federal Government, held with the Brazilian Foreign Minister and the Brazilian Environment Minister, for example.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In all the things that we’re doing at the international level, one thing is clear above all, which is that we will only be able to convince others if we, as a rich economy, do our homework.

And let me say quite candidly that our international credibility has suffered owing to the fact that we haven’t pursued our climate goals consistently enough in recent years. We must put an end to this!

I know that, for many of you, the climate protection law and the Climate Protection Programme 2030 that have just been adopted don’t go far enough. Since we launched these plans in Germany, however, they have been perceived internationally as a clear commitment by our country to change its climate policy and, at long last, to meet the goals it has set itself – to be a pioneer once again!

It’s very important in this regard that we regularly review and adjust our goals and the extent to which they are achieved. And the assessments of experts like you will be the yardstick for us here, not least in the public debate. Europe also has to lead the way, because only then will countries like China and India stay on track.

This means that the EU must step up its climate goals for 2030 and make them more ambitious next year. The European Green Deal must not remain an empty promise! Its implementation will therefore also be the focus of the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue in March, which we will be hosting here at the Federal Foreign Office. The new President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, will be in attendance and will be an important point of contact also in the future. And I would like to cordially invite you all to this event.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In 2007, Susan Solomon said the following with regard to the global climate: “It’s later than we think.” Twelve years down the line, today’s briefing bears the slogan “Time for Action”. This all sounds very familiar somehow and tells me one thing above all else, namely that words must be followed by actions. And I mean now!

So, with this in mind, welcome to the Federal Foreign Office! We’re looking forward to our discussions with you!"


[This speech originally appeared on]

ArticleClimate Diplomacy
Climate Diplomacy

Global Issues


Adaptation & Resilience

All countries will need to adapt to some of the environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable. Food security, livelihoods, water resource availability and public health are some affected areas. People living in poverty are more vulnerable, having a lower capacity to adapt. Thus, it is essential to promote resilience building. The adaptation and resilience aspects need to be mainstreamed into planning by policy makers and the private sector as well as integrated into development strategies.

Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

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Capacity Building

On the one hand, conflicts are caused by structural factors, such as economic and social inequality or environmental destruction. On the other hand, conflicts are fuelled by a lack of democratic structures, deficient mechanisms of non-violent conflict settlement, inadequate rule of law, the destruction of social and cultural identity and the disregard of human rights. Against this backdrop, development policies have been dedicated to a broad concept of security, which comprises political, economic, ecological and social stability. As a consequence, development cooperation agencies and actors have developed a broad spectrum of approaches for conflict prevention and transformation as well as for sustainable use of natural resources.

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Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

Climate Change

Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

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Climate Diplomacy

To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

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Climate action entails an array of economic, social, political and environmental co-benefits. It provides an opportunity for economic growth and new jobs. Many investments can take into account climate considerations without becoming more costly. Further important co-benefits include: improved energy security, less local air and water pollution, health benefits as well as ecosystem and biodiversity protection.

Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

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Climate change and development are inextricably linked. Climate change endangers the development agenda and has the potential to reverse development goals. Furthermore, successful mitigation of climate change heavily depends on development choices around the world. Therefore, development strategies need to be climate-compatible to provide long-term success, and there are viable policy options that support this compatibility. Many mitigation and adaptation activities can present development opportunities to developing countries and avoid the lock-in to environmentally damaging technologies.

Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

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The well-being of individuals, communities and nations depends on the availability of energy resources. The gap between energy supply and demand appears to be growing, making the world vulnerable to serious economic shocks. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels causing climate change is one of the vital challenges of international environmental policy. So far, only rudimentary approaches exist for shaping climate and energy security in a sustainable way. The components of a strategy that can contribute to reducing vulnerabilities related to climate change and energy policy include a greater role for renewable energies, the improvement of energy efficiency and a stronger decentralisation of energy supply.

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Environment & Migration

The economic, social and environmental consequences of climate change aggravate the breakdown of eco-system-dependent livelihoods and are likely to become dominant drivers of long-term migration. Natural disasters already cause massive shorter-term displacement and the number of temporarily displaced people is likely to further increase with climate change. For vulnerable populations in vulnerable regions, such as the Sahel zone or the Ganges delta, migration often becomes the sole survival strategy. In order to address climate-related displacement and migration successfully, knowledge of effective adaptation and an improved understanding of how environmental change affects human mobility is essential. 

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Climate finance, from all sources, plays a key role in supporting and enabling adaptation and mitigation action as well as climate and energy innovation. The Paris Agreement ensured that the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility are at the core of climate finance architecture as entities entrusted with the operation of the Financial Mechanism of the UNFCCC. Increasing climate finance from all relevant public and private sources is crucial. Furthermore, much needs to be done to redirect finance flows to sustainable paths, e.g. reducing fossil fuel subsidies, introducing maritime and air transportation taxes. The conditions for green investment in developing countries should also be improved.


Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Competition for forest resources triggers, exacerbates, or finances numerous crises and conflicts in tropical developing countries. Illegal logging and timber trade foster instability and sometimes violent conflict by strengthening illegal and armed groups, increasing corruption and exacerbating use and claim conflicts among local communities, the state and the business sector. Forests are a vital resource to poor people but they can also become areas of conflict. Sustainable management of forest resources is therefore key to preventing violent conflict over and within forests.

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Gender plays an important role as a category of conflict for many reasons. The interlinkages between gender, environment and conflicts are complex and much research is still needed. Existing insights suggest that conflicts may worsen gender inequalities that existed before the outbreak of violence. The unequal distribution of land property rights in many parts of the world serves as an example. Moreover, women (and children) are among those most affected by both violent conflict and natural disasters. At the same time, women carry much of the burden of trying to implement rehabilitation measures after crisis events.

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Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

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Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

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Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

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Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.


The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

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The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

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Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

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As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

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Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

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Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

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North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

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Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

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South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

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