Renewable energies: More than climate protection

In the fight against cli­mate change, it’s vital that devel­op­ing and emerg­ing nations also aban­don their fos­sil fuels, which are a major source of green­house gas emis­sions. The co-ben­e­fits of renew­able ener­gy poli­cies can become a deci­sive argu­ment for struc­tur­al change.

On March 5, Tagesspiegel Back­ground report­ed on a study of invest­ment and jobs in the Ger­man ener­gy sec­tor. In this con­text, Green MP Julia Ver­lin­den crit­i­cised the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment for its fail­ure to acknowl­edge the con­tri­bu­tion of renew­ables to eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment and job cre­ation. The stance of our gov­ern­ment in this regard is indeed baf­fling. After all, in many oth­er coun­tries it’s the social and eco­nom­ic co-ben­e­fits of the new ener­gy world which are dri­ving impor­tant struc­tur­al transformation.

Devel­op­ing and emerg­ing nations in par­tic­u­lar are rely­ing on renew­able ener­gies to solve acute social and eco­nom­ic prob­lems. At the IASS in Pots­dam, researchers involved in the inter­na­tion­al COBENEFITS project are work­ing togeth­er with the Ger­man Envi­ron­ment Min­istry and inter­na­tion­al part­ners in coun­tries like South Africa and India to help our part­ner coun­tries seize upon the oppor­tu­ni­ties of the glob­al ener­gy tran­si­tion. The gov­ern­ments of these coun­tries expect this to have pos­i­tive effects on employ­ment, air qual­i­ty and region­al development.

Little talk of social and economic opportunities

Since it first got going in the 1970s, Germany’s ener­gy tran­si­tion has been a cit­i­zen-led struc­tur­al trans­for­ma­tion, dri­ven by local envi­ron­men­tal ini­tia­tives and, increas­ing­ly, by the finan­cial gains of the many peo­ple involved in com­mu­ni­ty-owned ener­gy projects.

By inte­grat­ing so many dif­fer­ent actors into this trans­for­ma­tion while main­tain­ing secu­ri­ty of sup­ply, Germany’s new ener­gy path has gained inter­na­tion­al recog­ni­tion. In coun­tries like South Africa, Turkey and the US – when one fac­tors out Trump – inter­est remains high in Germany’s expe­ri­ences of com­mu­ni­ty-owned, cit­i­zen-led, and clean ener­gy gen­er­a­tion and val­ue cre­ation based on renew­ables. So it’s quite sur­pris­ing that there is rel­a­tive­ly lit­tle dis­cus­sion of the many social and eco­nom­ic co-ben­e­fits of the new ener­gy world in Ger­many itself.

As a con­se­quence, the fur­ther imple­men­ta­tion of the ener­gy tran­si­tion can eas­i­ly become a pawn in the dif­fer­ent envi­ron­men­tal and cli­mate agen­das of the Ger­man polit­i­cal par­ties. The fact that sus­tain­able social and eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment is in everybody’s best inter­est is often overlooked.

Impor­tant socio-eco­nom­ic analy­ses like the afore­men­tioned study on the pos­i­tive effects of renew­ables on employ­ment lev­els in Ger­many can stim­u­late much-need­ed debate. And our pro­pos­al for an “Energiewende: Co-Ben­e­fits“ syn­the­sis report could lay the foun­da­tions for a Ger­man dis­cus­sion of the ener­gy tran­si­tion cen­tred on opportunities.

Of course, one can­not overem­pha­sise just how essen­tial ambi­tious and effec­tive cli­mate pro­tec­tion mea­sures tak­en today are for peace­ful and free coex­is­tence in the future. And the ener­gy tran­si­tion has an impor­tant role to play here – in Ger­many and at inter­na­tion­al lev­el. It will only suc­ceed when deci­sion-mak­ers across the globe take swift action and cap­i­talise on the oppor­tu­ni­ties it presents. Ger­many still has a lot of ground to cov­er, but the co-ben­e­fits of renew­able ener­gies could become the deci­sive argu­ment for cli­mate-friend­ly ener­gy poli­cies in this coun­try too.

The Ger­man ver­sion of this arti­cle was first pub­lished on 14 March 2018 in Tagesspiegel Back­ground Energie und Kli­ma. The author would like to thank Lau­ra Nagel and Mar­vin Strauß for their help with this article.