In the latest edition of our magazine, Japan’s path towards sustainable development was assessed with concluding lessons other states could learn from the country in the Far East. In this article another contender for rigorous green transformation appears: Germany. Can the Energy Transformation campaign prove that prowess and willpower can overcome the current political impotence?
Indeed, Germany is taking a head start in sustainable energy with the new campaign appropriately named ‘die Energiewende’, or Energy Transformation. With the ambitious goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by a staggering 80% by 2050 and a complete shutdown of all nuclear reactors after the Fukushima-disaster, Germany is ahead of most states worldwide as far as green industry is concerned. Moreover, since Germany is on track to overshoot the 2020 targets set by the European Union, Germany shows itself able to significantly reform energy policy in a short time. Relatively short that is, for when Germany was reunited in 1990, it was left with an ecological disaster in the industrial former East.
There are several reasons for Germany to be so ecologically progressive. Firstly, in the post-war period Germany established a tradition of direct action and protests by environmentalists and populist groups which emerged in the 1950’s and 1960’s, who granted high value to environmentalism along with other issues such as social equality and multiculturalism. Take for example the massive protest against nuclear energy in 1975, when 30.000 Germans occupied a nuclear power plant. In 1980, when the Green Party was established, environmental issues became a part of the national discourse. A recent survey has shown that 84% of the Germans believe that the German economy should run on renewable resources as soon as possible, an astounding amount for a western capitalist state.
In 1980 the Green Party was established, environmental issues became part of the national discourse.
How does the German government go about this transformation then? Ultimately, it boils down to a twofold plan: micro and macro. The micro-part entails that by heavily subsidizing solar panels and wind turbines, the government endorses widespread use of renewable resources. Excess energy can be sold, which entitles you to high feed-in tariffs, thus creating supply and demand. There already is an explosion of farmers who invest in wind turbines on their land and business owners covering the roofs of their buildings with solar panels, so much even, that investments in renewable resources grew ten times faster than the OECD average. Indeed, the micro-part of the Energy Transformation has worked exceptionally well so far. The second part of the campaign is the macro pat, which is harder to implement. This part entails that the micro-system of renewable resources has to be put in a comprehensive system of reliable and affordable energy. To ensure completion of the macro-part, the German government is not only obliged to find a solution to the problem of the intermittent nature of renewable resources, but also keep a close eye on the market in order to establish price-stability. No wonder Merkel has already called the Energy Transformation a “Herculean task”.
In any case, the German pragmatic and ambitious campaign is something to be applauded. Even though there still are hurdles yet to be overcome, the proactive stance Germany takes regarding sustainable development is commendable, and shows that with consistent support for environmental issues by both the government and the citizens significant progress can be made.