Germany’s Clean Energy Leadership
In the midst of severe economic and financial
constraints worldwide, and in particular in the European Union, Germany has
embarked on a courageous endeavour: Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Government has decided
to transform this industrialised nation of 82 million people from nuclear and
fossil fuel energy to renewable power within the next 40 years.
BY KLAUS-PETER KLAIBER in Canberra Times
17 Aug, 2011
midst of severe economic and financial constraints worldwide, and in particular
in the European Union, Germany has embarked on a courageous endeavour:
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Government has decided to transform this
industrialised nation of 82 million people from nuclear and fossil fuel energy
to renewable power within the next 40 years.
The Germans have been aware of the scarcity
of resources and the problems connected with nuclear energy for a long time. It
all started with the Yom-Kippur war in the Middle East in 1974 when the price of
oil rose from $US3 to $US12 a barrel.
Reacting to this sudden scare, the German
government decided with immediate effect that cars with number plates ending
with even numbers could only drive on even dates of the month; cars with number
plates ending with uneven numbers were only allowed on uneven dates. On four
Sundays in November 1974, the government imposed a complete ban on car travel.
development led to the emergence of new political movements and parties in a
number of German cities. These ”Alternative Lists” or ”Greens” stood for a
cleaner environment, car-free zones in city centres and against nuclear power.
This new political momentum quickly gathered
strength. In 1979, a ”Green List” successfully participated in elections to the
state parliament of Bremen.
1980, a federal party of ”the Greens” was founded in West Germany. Only three
years later, at the federal elections of 1983, they obtained more than 5 per
cent of the votes. Since then, the Greens have established themselves as a
respected party in Germany.
In the mid-1980s, another international event
strengthened the Green Party enormously. This was the nuclear reactor explosion
in Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986. It confirmed the Greens’ view that nuclear
energy was a dangerous energy option. Ever since, big demonstrations and
sit-ins take place in Germany whenever a container of nuclear waste is being
transported from France to Gorleben in Germany, where the waste is being
stored. At the 1998 general elections, the coalition government of
Conservatives (CDU) and Liberals (FDP) lost its majority. The Social Democrats
(SPD) formed the new government with the Greens. The leader of the Greens,
Joschka Fischer, became deputy chancellor and foreign minister for the next
seven years. During that time, the government decided to phase out Germany’s
2005, Germany’s government is again led by the Conservative CDU. However, at
the last general elections in 2009, the Greens recorded their best result,
polling 10.7 per cent of votes. Out of the 622 parliamentarians of the
Bundestag, the Greens hold 68 mandates. The party today has 56,000 members.
They stand for an ”ecological market economy”.
the Conservative Government decided in 2010 to extend the life span of the 17
nuclear reactors in Germany for between eight and 17 years, the tsunami in
Japan and the reactor catastrophe in Fukushima had a dramatic impact on German
perceptions of nuclear energy. Only a few days after the events in Japan,
Merkel’s Government decided to suspend the operation of the seven oldest
reactors. It set up an expert commission for global environmental changes. This
commission submitted its report last June.
One of its key sentences reads: ”The German
economic model is ethically unacceptable. We need a transformation towards
climate acceptability. The decarbonisation of world economy has to be
implemented quickly without nuclear energy and without coal.” Some observers
cynically noted that Germany seemed to be moving towards an eco-dictatorship.
It is not a minority of people demanding these changes, but a majority, led by
the Government. This change of perception is also exemplified by the result of
a state election in Baden Wrttemberg a short time after the nuclear reactor
disaster in Japan.
While the Conservatives retained the majority
of seats in parliament, the Green Party obtained 24.2 per cent of the votes and
was able to form a new government in coalition with the Social Democrats. The
third largest state in Germany with a population of 10.7million inhabitants and
a GDP of 330million euros a year, now has a Green leader.
In July of this year, Merkel’s Federal
Government took the following far-reaching decisions:
•Seven nuclear reactors will close with
immediate effect. The remaining 10 reactors will be closed in stages, the last
one in 2022;
•The share of renewable energy will double
from 17 to 35 per cent of Germany’s energy consumption in the next nine years;
it will reach 50 per cent in 2030, 65 per cent in 2040 and 80 per cent in 2050.
At the same time, CO2 emissions will be cut;
•New legislation on renewable energy puts the
main emphasis on the development of wind energy on land and offshore. Planning
and implementation of new wind farms will be accelerated;
•Legislation was put into place to strengthen
and enlarge the grids for the transport of renewable energy;
•Some new coal and gas power stations will be
built to fill the potential energy gap before renewables can take over;
•The Government will provide 1.5billion euros
for the ecological upgrading of buildings which are responsible in Germany for
around 40 per cent of the annual energy consumption, and;
•Two billion euros have been put aside for
research and development of electric cars.
What is most surprising is the fact the
Germans support this policy. They are prepared to pay higher energy prices to
make their country safer for future generations. The Germans now move far
beyond the targets set by the European Union which were already more ambitious
than targets set in most other countries.
Merkel has certainly taken the lead in Europe
and probably worldwide to reduce Germany’s dependence on nuclear and coal
generated energy. The future will tell whether this ambitious project can
succeed. If yes, she will be the first leader of an industrialised nation which
replaces nuclear and fossil fuel energy with renewable power.
•Dr Klaus-Peter Klaiber, a former German
ambassador to Australia, is a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for European