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by Felix Petruschke, Euro am Sonntag
B.and Economics Minister Peter Altmaier recently admitted that when it comes to climate policy, “mistakes have been made in recent years and action has been taken too late”. The current news of heat records in the Arctic, of drought in Europe and of burning steppes in Siberia fit this (late) insight. However, Corona has temporarily pushed these problems into the background.
Professor Claudia Kemfert is one of the leading German climate experts and has been pleading for more environmental protection and sustainable energy generation for years. She explains which weaknesses the Corona crisis shows, how the change to a green economy can succeed and what she thinks of Angela Merkel’s environmental policy. In the video interview, she gets straight to the point, sometimes speaks without periods and above all, shows one thing: a lot of commitment.
uro on Sunday: Ms. Kemfert, at the beginning of the Corona crisis, the government declared the lockdown, accompanied by experts from science. Would you like to see the same approach in climate policy?
Claudia Kemfert: There is no shortage of scientific expertise in climate policy. For decades, all scientific findings have been brought together in a global compendium for all governments. This has resulted in global agreements for climate protection and sustainability. But the global mills are slow to grind, and massive business interests have prevented faster action.
Fatih Birol, the Director of the International Energy Agency, describes the reconstruction after Corona as “an opportunity that only exists once in a lifetime”. Are we just letting this chance slip by?
Yes and no. At least there are indications that we are not leaving them entirely unused. The German economic stimulus package, for example, turned out to be less damaging to the climate than feared, as new scrapping premiums for diesel and gasoline vehicles were dispensed with. At EU level, the Green New Deal is rightly being promoted. Unfortunately, there is also the opposite: The USA, Australia and Brazil are continuing to invest heavily in fossil fuel industries. You also do not learn from the Corona crisis.
For many experts, the corona infection process is an expression of a failed climate policy. For you too?
At least it is indirectly the result of an unsustainable economy. An effective climate protection policy also includes environmentally friendly agriculture and local environmental protection. At the same time, the resilience of the economy and of society as a whole is strengthened.
What is particularly noticeable in the current crisis policy are the enormous management and control possibilities of the state.
That’s the way it is. There are no longer any excuses for politicians if they pass the responsibility on to others and do not become active in climate policy.
Nevertheless, there is currently no pressure from the street. The Fridays for Future movement, for example, was massively slowed down by Corona
She was still active in the network. The movement has neither dissolved nor has the global warming. This is also shown by surveys: 80 percent of Germans consider climate change – as before – to be an urgent problem. Anyone who does not recognize this is confusing his regulars’ table with modern, virtually discussed politics.
Surveys are one thing, political implementation is another. This shows the deadlocked discussion about a speed limit on motorways. The majority of Germans have been in favor for years, but still nothing is happening.
Yes, unfortunately. The industry is successfully lobbying: the mantra “Free Ride for Free Citizens” is still very strong. The people here are much smarter than the government.
Nevertheless, many Germans recently switched back to their cars for fear of a corona infection.
Because for many people it is in front of the door and public transport is not adequately equipped for a pandemic situation. In the long term, the path should lead from a car-friendly city to a human-friendly city.
How do you imagine a humane city?
People, regardless of whether they are on a bike or on foot, need to be given more space – also for reasons of safety. And then of course local public transport must offer a real alternative to the car. Many sit in the car because they have to. But traffic jams and noise have long stopped being fun: every car is idle for around 23 hours a day. What could you do with the parking lots!
Critics of more environmental protection like to argue with rising costs for consumers: Keyword EEG surcharge.
This is wrongly constructed: If more affordable electricity from renewable energies is fed into the system, the electricity price on the stock exchange drops – the difference is paid by consumers. This is of course absurd, but politically wanted in order to stigmatize renewables as electricity price drivers.
Nevertheless, the bottom line is that consumers have less in their wallets, which in turn hits the most socially disadvantaged people the hardest.
The injustice is even greater. After all, it is not the polluters who pay for the environment and climate damage, but the taxpayers. That is why we finally need true cost transparency: the rich have a much higher carbon footprint than the poor. It would be more than fair if, for example, a CO2 tax was used to ask high-income households in particular to pay and at the same time to pay a climate premium to everyone. In this way, climate protection and social justice can be reconciled. The ideas have long been on the table, the only thing missing is implementation.
This also applies to other areas: Germany, for example, still subsidizes climate-damaging products with a lot of money.
Yes unbelievable. The environmentally harmful subsidies start with the lack of kerosene tax and diesel tax relief and stop with the commuter allowance. Simply removing such subsidies, i.e. creating fair market opportunities for everyone, would help new technologies such as electromobility to finally reach the mass market. We would save money and promote climate protection. Instead, we’re wasting billions on obsolete technologies that destroy the climate.
Also the Financial markets want to become greener: Nonetheless, billions of euros continue to flow worldwide into promoting fossil fuel industries.
That is why we need a clear taxonomy – that is, uniform criteria as to what exactly green investments are. Consumers must be able to rely on the fact that a “green fund” really only contains companies that operate sustainably in accordance with strict socio-ecological criteria. Fortunately, that’s already in the works.
Keyword Green Deal of the EU: What do you hope for from the German EU Council Presidency?
Two things are important: The targets for reducing CO2 emissions must be increased to 60 percent by 2030. With the current 40 percent compared to 1990, we cannot achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. But that would be fatal because we would then finally lose control.
We have to strive for a full supply from renewable energies in all areas. The Green Deal must create targeted incentives for companies to finally tackle this transformation.
What could such incentives for companies look like?
The state could help with start-up financing, i.e. when switching to more climate-friendly technologies, through investment alliances. For many companies, such as heavy industry, this is associated with considerable costs. In the long term, however, these investments pay off; they protect jobs and make Germany as a location more crisis-proof.
And how could citizens be involved in this development?
For example, we have to strengthen the so-called citizen energies, such as home storage and solar systems. This is also possible at the municipal level through cooperative projects. Studies show that approval for more climate protection increases when local people can participate in solutions.
Would you rather produce the energy on site than in huge offshore wind farms?
We need both. Parallel to the expansion of local energy generation, we also need major projects to ensure security of supply. With the large-scale projects, we could also create the excess capacities that we need to generate green hydrogen.
But that’s a lot of the future, isn’t it?
not at all. We have been dreaming of a hydrogen society for 40 years, albeit with the help of atomic energy. Today we have increasingly surplus electricity from renewable sources; from this we can – important: green! – Produce hydrogen, which we then use as fuel for heavy industry and as storage.
The world of work is also facing massive change: What will the ideal green workplace of the future look like?
Unlike today, work in the future will be decentralized and more flexible. Climate and environmental protection are the drivers for a sustainable economy and future-oriented jobs, be it in the field of environmental protection goods production, renewable energies, mobility services or the production of climate-friendly steel.
How many new jobs are we talking about here?
Renewable energies are significantly more employment-intensive than traditional industries. The DIW anticipates around 800,000 new jobs in the next ten years – provided the government is now boldly investing in future technologies. Up until now there has been a consistent reorientation of the economy towards sustainability and digitalization unfortunately failed to come. Effective climate protection is a huge economic opportunity.
Do we also need new key figures for success for ecological change? Has GDP had its day?
Absolutely! The GDP (gross domestic product, editor’s note) is based on the primacy of the economy and says absolutely nothing about overall economic and social well-being. And certainly nothing about ecological well-being.
What would the alternative be?
Indicators of a healthy economy are complex. Let us start with the indicators of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to which we Germans have committed ourselves together with almost all countries in the world. These include, for example, clean air, water, energy and health. And we show these indicators on television shortly before eight instead of the stock market news.
Assuming you were the new environment minister, which project would be your priority?
Only one? I have at least three issues that need to be addressed right away
The most important thing is a faster expansion of renewable energies. The pace must be doubled, for example by simplifying the existing regulations and removing barriers. At the same time, we must finally make our transport infrastructure greener – that is to say: away from the fully parked streets towards more bicycle and electric traffic. And thirdly, our industry must become more energy-efficient and climate-friendly by being able to use less energy overall.
The term of office of Angela Merkel nearing its end. What do you think of the much used description of “Climate Chancellor”?
Phew She started out as climate chancellor, but then made many backward-looking decisions. So a year ago I would have said that there is no way she deserves this title. But now there are positive signals that it is taking climate protection more seriously again. If Merkel manages to lay down stricter climate rules at the European level in the coming months, then she could at least register an entitlement to the title.
Claudia Kemfert heads the Energy, Transport and Environment department at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) in Berlin. She is also professor for energy economics and sustainability at the Hertie School of Governance. In 2016, the 51-year-old was appointed to the Advisory Board for Environmental Issues and received, among other things, the Adam Smith Prize for market-based environmental policy.
Image sources: Reiner Zenssen