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BY Peter Schmitt
German/Environmental Science, Policy, and Management
University of Minnesota - Twin Cities '11

Today I was presented with the opportunity to experience exactly what it is that I came to Cancun to find: different, positive reactions to global climate change. Certainly, I expected to hear the perspectives of different countries by attending the side events and listening to the statements made by official delegates at the negotiations, but today I was fortunate to have an opportunity to interview one of the delegates from Germany. Germany is one of the global leaders in climate change legislation, renewable energy, and climate mitigation efforts, largely thanks to a coalition government including the Green Party. For me, this interview held added merit because it allowed me to make use of my German language skills developed at the University and hear the perspectives of a place that is near to my heart and has been, during my time studying abroad, my home. 

My interview was with a delegate from the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung; BMZ), Klaus Wardenbach, and a colleague that he invited to join us, Sibyl Steuwer from the German Council for Sustainable Development (Rat für Nachhaltige Entwicklung; RNE). They agreed to video interviews and were incredibly thorough and passionate in their responses. 

The most interesting point for me from these interviews came while I was speaking with Ms. Steuwer. She had a unique role at the conference as somebody who works for a council that does not really do business on an international scale. She came to COP 16 as a member of the German delegation to observe and gain a feeling for the international mood or sentiment related to sustainability. What was interesting, though, was that she seemed unconcerned about whether an agreement was reached or not. This is not to say that she did not care, but rather that Germany will be moving forward with environmental and sustainability initiatives regardless of a binding international agreement. Germany has already dedicated itself to a mission of sustainable development, foreign aid for sustainable projects, and combating world hunger. This mission is part of a decade-long mission to promote global sustainability that began with the 2001 foundation of the council for sustainability. Its members, who Ms. Steuwer works for, were all selected by Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, to represent a diverse set of interests and backgrounds to combine for comprehensive environmental and sustainability legislation. 

The interviews today gave me an interesting perspective of what the world could be like if we moved beyond a basic acceptance of whether global climate change is happening or not.  Where we are still bickering in the United States about the realities of climate change, countries like Germany have moved on to the next level of policy implementation and long-term strategies. I do not mean to say that Germany is perfect, but I found it inspiring talking with Mr. Wardenbach and Ms. Steuwer about the steps that are being taken in Germany and the calm, collected approach that was being taken with the COP 16 negotiations. It is paramount that international legislation comes about from these COP meetings, be it COP 16 or COP 17 or some other future meeting. It is, however, reassuring to know that in the interim of developing global climate policy, national climate policy has already taken important steps forward and will continue to move forward.  I still wonder, though, why can't we follow Germany's example?

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  of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.