Overline: Climate Opportunity 2019
Headline: Focusing on the Co-benefits of the Energy Transition

Ministerial representatives and experts from around the world met in Berlin over two days at the Climate Opportunity 2019 Conference to learn from each other about the co-benefits of transitions towards more sustainable energy systems. The conference also provided a space for the development of strategies to leverage the co-benefits of individual climate protection measures in the course of political decision-making processes.

Conference with a focus on the co-benefits of the energy turnaround
The two-day Climate Opportunity 2019 conference in Berlin brought together experts and political decision-makers from around 20 countries. IASS/Elma Riza

“The character of United Nations’ climate negotiations is changing. It is now a question of translating the objectives of the Paris Agreement into national realities and of constantly ramping up measures,” said Karsten Sach, Director General International and European Policy, Climate Policy, Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), in his opening remarks at Climate Opportunity 2019 in Berlin. “To achieve this, we need persuasive narratives. Good stories can help to convince people that ambitious climate protection measures and prosperity can go hand in hand. We need your co-benefits stories!”

Co-benefits are positive impacts accompanying the implementation of climate mitigation policies such as the transformation of the energy sector. These impacts are the focus of the global COBENEFITS research project at the IASS. The two-day conference in Berlin’s Futurium Museum showcased positive examples from a number of countries, including Vietnam, Mexico and Turkey. Sebastian Helgenberger, leader of the COBENEFITS research project at the IASS: “We have to highlight the visions for social change that transitions towards sustainability can deliver,” emphasised Helgenberger in his keynote. Likewise, Floriberto Vásquez Ruiz from Mexico, pointed to the creation of new employment opportunities in the context of energy transitions: “Job losses are frequently held up as an argument against climate action – Trump's statements to the press are just one example.” On the contrary, transitioning to an energy supply based on renewable resources creates numerous new job opportunities.

In six short presentations, representatives of various institutions, including the Climate Investment Fund and the Environmental Protection Agency, presented their findings on the benefits accompanying climate mitigation measures. These include improvements in air quality as a result of declining fossil fuel usage and emissions – currently 97 percent of cities in low and middle-income countries with more than 100,000 inhabitants fail to meet the WHO’s air quality guidelines. Switching to renewables reduces air pollutant emissions (including greenhouse gases), delivering health benefits, reducing the burden of disease and providing financial relief to national health systems. Other potential benefits include improved water quality and abundance – in Germany, for example, the coal industry consumes around 51 percent of the available potable water annually. With two thirds of the global population living in areas affected by water scarcity, this co-benefit harbours immense potential, explained David Jacobs of International Energy Transition.

Making the connection between social development and renewable energies

In several breakout sessions the conference participants from around 20 countries discussed strategies for activating the co-benefits of transitions to renewable energies. The discussions that followed highlighted the growing role of co-benefits as drivers of international diplomacy and the need to clearly communicate both their advantages and the compromises that may be required in order to unlock their potentials. “I find it very useful in debates to highlight the many co-benefits of climate action," confirmed Michaela Spaeth, Director for Energy and Climate Policy at the German Federal Foreign Office. According to the COBENEFITS project lead, Sebastian Helgenberger, communications around climate action should place greater emphasis on the gains in social development that transitions to renewable energies can deliver – just as proponents of fossil fuels once did. “Fossil fuels are still associated with gains in social development”, said Helgenberger – this has to change, he argues, by shifting the focus to the co-benefits of renewable energies.