Germany’s new economy and climate protection minister has called for the nation to pull together to realise the “gigantic task” of creating a climate neutral country, saying it posed a considerable social and financial challenge as well as a big opportunity.
Introducing a broad outline of his ambitious plans to the public for the first time since entering government as part of a three-way coalition last month, the Green party’s Robert Habeck called for a threefold increase in the speed with which carbon dioxide emissions are reduced, arguing Germany faced a race against time and required a “massive national debate” to achieve the goals set out by his ministry. He said the government faced an uphill task to win many people over to the idea of a transition.
“It is a large political task, but one that of course also offers an enormous chance,” he said, adding that it was “mightily ambitious” and would require the entire country to engage in “fresh thinking”.
Asked if he believed he could succeed and whether he was in danger of destroying the reputation of the Greens if he failed, Habeck, who has a reputation for turning to literature for inspiration, quoted the German poet Friedrich Hölderlin, stating: “Where there is danger so the power to save grows accordingly.”
Habeck warned Germany was currently “dramatically behind” in its aim to achieve a goal for 80% of energy to come from renewable sources by 2030, as well as for a 65% reduction in greenhouse gases compared with 1990 levels, and to become climate neutral by 2045. Currently about 42% of energy in Germany comes from renewables.
Habeck said a radical overhaul of planning and building processes would be required as well as changes to industry and a slimming down of bureaucracy. Announcing a mandate for solar panels to be put on all new builds, he repeated his party’s pre-election manifesto that 2% of the entire surface of the country should make way for the mechanisms required for renewable energy, such as windfarms, solar panels and hydrogen technology.
He urged people to embrace the technology and said this would help free Germany from dependence on unstable global markets. So far only two out of 16 states, Schleswig-Holstein and Hesse, are anywhere near the 2% target. A more relaxed and flexible approach towards rules governing the building of turbines was required, he said, expressing his frustration over a recent ruling in the southern state of Bavaria, according to which turbines cannot be erected closer to homes than a distance equivalent to 10 times their height.
Habeck said he was planning to announce a first tranche of climate protection measures by Easter, and a second by the end of the summer, to come into force by 2023. The government’s plans have been fiercely criticised by Fridays for Future climate activists, who say they are too little, too late and are a betrayal of the Greens’ own principles.
“We can no longer follow the policy of ‘we’ll do what we can’, rather we must have a policy according to the principle of ‘we’ll do what is necessary right now’. That is unfortunately not the case right now,” Hannah Pirot of Fridays for Future Berlin told the broadcaster InfoRadio.
Habeck rejected the claims. He said: “I don’t recognise the charge of betrayal.” He added the goals of his government had to remain realistic and the effort had to be a collective one.
Habeck said large-scale immigration would be necessary to realise the energy transition, which would require a considerable number of engineers, craftspeople and carers. “We have 300,000 job openings today and we expect that to rise to a million and more. If we don’t close that gap, we will face real productivity problems,” he said.
He said while the pandemic had led to a reduction in CO2 emissions, these had risen again last year. “The trend is going in the wrong direction and that is of concern,” he said.
Caution towards his plans came from within the government itself, with the pro-business FDP’s Reinhard Houben welcoming them, but urging Habeck to “not lose sight” of issues such as affordable energy and concerns over energy security. The government has said it will provide subsidies to enable lower income families to better shoulder increases in energy costs.
The chair of the German Association of Towns and Municipalities, Gerd Landsberg, warned of the contradiction Habeck would face between people expressing their support for a rollout of renewable energy at the same time as resisting anything that might be built close to their own homes. “People are in favour of alternative energy as long as they don’t have to see or hear the facilities behind them,” he told German television.