Part one in a series of reports looking at Germany’s energy and climate policies, and how they might serve as a model for the U.S. and internationally
I spent last week in Germany as a guest of the German Foreign Ministry. Part of an international group of 12 other writers, television broadcasters, journalists, and bloggers, invited to participate in a “thematic trip” entitled Climate Protection – International Cooperation on Climate and Energy.
In subsequent posts, I will review what I saw and learned as we explored the public policy and industrial innovation that puts Germany at the head of international efforts to adapt to a low carbon society based on efficiency and renewable energy.
Organized and implemented by the Ecologic Institute, a not-for-profit environmental research think tank, our agenda was “dense” (as the Germans characterized it) providing for us a thorough overview of the agencies, policies, and industries working to achieve the ambitious goals of the country. Here’s a brief look:
- Foreign Ministry – Discussion of energy diplomacy and international climate policy
- Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety – A look at international engagement in a post-Kyoto climate agreement beyond 2012; creating a global carbon market
- German Emissions Trading Authority – an overview of German emissions trading
- Clearing Agency for the Renewable Energy Sources Act – how feed-in tariffs are administered and disputes resolved
- A breakfast meeting with Hans Josef Fell, member of the German Parliament (The Greens)
- Federal Environment Agency – ecological design and efficiency in the built environment
- Q. Cells (the largest global manufacturer of mono and multi-crystalline solar cells) – an overview of the business and tour of the production line
- Schwarze Pumpe – the first coal (lignate) fired plant capturing its own carbon using the Oxyfuel process
- The Secretariat for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – A look at the challenges and issues for the upcoming talks in Copenhagen this December
- Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development – the relationship between the developed and developing world in addressing energy and climate issues
Overview – a head start
More than twenty years ago Germany made the decision to abandon nuclear energy, committing to build no new plants and, through the Nuclear Exit Law, decommissioning all existing nuclear power facilities by 2025 (there are currently 17 plants still in operation generating one quarter of the country’s electricity – though that percentage was disputed by Hans Josef Fell, claiming a much lower percentage from nuclear power).
Germany saw ahead two distinct paths for its future and chose the one leading away from nuclear and fossil energy, looking instead to renewable energy sources as the sustainable, safe, and secure choice. By the mid-nineties, the need for climate protection through a reduction in carbon emissions was accepted by the public and supported by the full political spectrum of government – long before Al Gore released his movie in the United States.
Germany has a varied, active, and multi-tiered administrative bureaucracy to implement the societal assumption and acceptance that global warming is real and the only sustainable path available is creating a low carbon energy economy – one that has already created hundreds of thousands of new jobs.
It is these efforts over the past two decades that bring Germany to a position of international leadership in climate protection and progressive renewable energy policy.
Germany’s efforts are not perfect, they have yet to achieve anywhere near the full scaling of renewable energy as the primary source of power and eliminating the import, extraction, and burning of fossil fuels. But Germany has a head start and stands as a model from which other nations learn, follow, and adapt to their own particular situation.