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Environmental policy

Setting an example

by Eva-Maria Verfürth
In North America, Germany is seen to be leading the way in climate-conscious living and effective environmental policy. On a study trip to Germany, American and Canadian journalists had the opportunity to form their own impressions. In their articles, they praise the progress made in alternative energy production but criticise the federal government’s current political course. [ By Eva-Maria Verfürth ]

The new US administration has much to criticise about German politics, from their reluctance towards military action in crisis regions to the way they are handling the financial crisis. In environmental issues, however, Germany is the undisputed model.

In these times of political change, interest in energy issues is rising in North America. For the first time, after eight years of relative inaction, the USA has a president who does not deny climate change but wants to actively tackle it. In order to support this and to make people on both sides of the Atlantic more aware of climate-related issues, InWEnt (Capacity Building International, Germany) invited ten print, online and radio journalists to Germany last year on behalf of the Foreign Office to take a firsthand look at the German energy market.

Braving bad weather

“Germany is one of the cloudiest countries in the world, yet it continues to be a leader in solar,” writes Stephen Lacey in the online magazine RenewableEnergyWorld.com. The country has very poor geo­thermal resources, yet developers are digging kilometres beneath the earth to generate electricity and heat. “Wind resources throughout most of the country are mediocre, yet citizens like BWE’s Hermann Albers are becoming entrepreneurs and finding new ways to create wealth”, explains the journalist.

Various North American newspapers, including the Washington Post and the Toronto Star, published articles after the trip. Almost all the articles emphasise that Germany has worse climatic conditions for alternative energy production compared with many regions in North America – and yet is far more advanced in this regard than the USA and Canada.

The journalists asked politicians, climate researchers and engineers to explain how Germany has achieved this. At the Federal Environment Ministry, they learned how German environmental policy creates special incentives for alternative energy production through the Renewable Energy Act.

Researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research explained to them that it is still technically possible to check climate change – and how doing so could be financed. At the German Wind Energy Association, they were told about the practical challenges of wind power generation, from transporting the gigantic rotor blades to the challenge of carrying out maintenance at heights of 100 to 200 metres.
“Being away for a week to intensively study the subject of renewable energies and then boarding a huge gas-guzzling plane at the airport to take them back to the USA gave them cause for thought, and they mentioned that in some articles.” Siegfried Karwatzki of InWEnt is pleased with reactions from the educational trip and believes they already show the beginnings of a shift in awareness.

Merkel comes in for criticism

The articles do not only praise Germany’s commitment, however. They are also critical of the fact that the German government wants to put measures to tackle climate change on the back burner while dealing with the financial crisis.

“Merkel’s new stance helped to produce the uninspiring result at the United Nations climate-change conference in Poznan, Poland,” wrote Peter Gorrie in the Toronto Star. “That will be good news for the Canadian government – whose performance at Poznan was rated on par with the always-obstructionist Saudi Arabia – but not for anyone who wants a habitable planet.”

The journalists stress the responsibility Germany has as a leader in climate matters – and call for a shift in awareness, not only in their own country, but also in Germany. Peter Lindlahr from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research is quoted in RenewableEnergyWorld.com as saying: “Angela Merkel ... said that jobs come first and then climate – and this is the wrong message. It’s her responsibility to keep the jobs through progressive and innovative climate strategy.”

In cooperation with North America – which includes climate change initiatives – InWEnt wants to raise awareness for major global problems. Climate initiative projects, which include not only trips for journalists but also the further education of young managers and internship exchanges in the energy sector, have been receiving more and more inquiries from American partner organisations since the change of administration in the USA.