How climate protection should be considered in the exit strategy

The corona crisis leaves hardly anything untouched – not even the climate balance. Without the dramatic economic downturn that is currently taking place, the German goal would be to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 by 40 percent lower compared to 1990, clearly out of reach. Now it will probably be reached or surpassed, even if the economy starts to recover surprisingly quickly.

Good news? Only partially – many climate protectionists still have faint memories of the financial crisis. At that time, economic programs in China, but also in Europe, the scrappage premium, for example, quickly pushed not only the economy, but also the emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2, well above the pre-crisis level.

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Second, there are general lessons to be learned from the corona crisis for the climate crisis. The most important one: prevention is worthwhile, dangers really do come up at some point. Even if global warming can be measured in decades rather than days and weeks compared to the spread of the virus.

With “new generation contract” from the crisis

Nevertheless, it is no wonder that green think tanks, climate protectionists and environmental politicians are currently working on broad outline how to avoid the mistakes of a climate-damaging development program can. Minister of the Environment Svenja Schulze (SPD) – so far strikingly inconspicuous on this issue, one does not want to appear as a crisis winner – ventured over the Easter weekend in the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”.

The corona crisis is currently dampening emissions, “but of course economic downturns never replace a sensible climate protection strategy,” Schulze told the newspaper. Instead, it is now a matter of “combining climate protection and economic prosperity”. Claudia Kemfert from the DIW Berlin economic institute is calling for a “new generation contract” which must take shape when the pandemic is over.

Thintanks like the Forum Ecological-Social Market Economy (FÖS), SPD environmental politician in the Bundestag and Christoph Bals, political director of the Environmental organization Germanwatch. “Without the integration of the programs to boost investment and consumption with the climate targets, there are numerous investment decisions that will continue to fuel the climate crisis for decades,” he says.

And the idea also enjoys international blessings: As early as mid-March, the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), Fatih Birol, called for crises to be used to invest in renewable energies and climate protection. The IEA is completely unsuspicious of ambitious environmental protection.

Agora Energiewende calls for the “double booster”

The Agora Energiewende think tank has worked out the most detailed plan to date – it is available to the Tagesspiegel Background Energie & Klima specialist. Title: “The Double Booster”. Double, because the program should address climate protection and economic growth at the same time. First of all, immediate economic consequences would have to be mitigated (“relief”). Climate policy considerations can then play a role above all in the further steps, the “recovery” and the “reform”, because only from the recovery phase can “the economy accept and implement corresponding orders”, it says in the analysis.

It was important to set the course here “because almost all capital goods, the procurement of which stimulates an economic stimulus program, also have a climate impact – for decades”. At the same time, the impulses should have an effect quickly. A first major block is the reduction in the price of electricity (22 billion euros). For private households it should be around 20 percent, for businesses around 25 percent decrease. That would be a big leap, Germany would be in the middle of the European electricity costs instead of at the top. 15 Billions of euros are to be given to the chemical, steel and raw materials industries for future investments.

For the construction industry, the Agora plan 20 suggests billions of euros in state funds – it would be money for citizens who are ready to invest: For example, there could be five billion oil heating systems for a scrapping program that is primarily intended to gain traction through a one million heat pump program. Heat pumps use electricity to provide a multiple of thermal energy.

The serial energetic renovation by “renovation factories” could be funded with ten billion euros, another five billion euros in federal real estate flow. The energy industry is to be strengthened with 13 billion euros. Other beneficiaries of the program: Wind energy on land and at sea and solar energy.

New impulses for wind power

Photovoltaic and wind associations, but also the SPD in the federal government, have long been working to ensure that these sectors are cleared of large stones. In the case of solar energy, it is the so-called 52 gigawatt cover that limits government funding to a total output of this amount. And in the case of wind power, the discussion about distance rules for residential development paralyzes the willingness to invest. Hurdles gone – that would be the simplest and most effective investment program in the eyes of many. Further points in the Agora wish list: State support for the modernization of the power grid.

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The list is even longer. But can it be implemented at all? That could be more difficult than expected. The green stimulus package is not just for friends. The demand for the opposite is also loud, because who has money for climate protection during the crisis? Anyone who sees an ambitious environmental policy as a burden rather than an investment in the future will quickly come up with the opposite suggestion: reduce climate policy.

At the European level, where a new “Green Deal” is currently being prepared by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (CDU), cool headwind is coming especially from Eastern Europe. Polish government members have already called for the abolition of the core element of EU climate protection policy, the common emissions trading scheme for large power plants and industry.

There are also efforts in this direction in Germany, if not quite so radical. On the Easter weekend, the CDU's economic council spoke out in favor of “stretching” the climate policy requirements. And the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) has proposed to postpone the national CO2 pricing for smaller industrial companies by two years.

The first emergency and aid programs still differentiate the federal government is not between green and gray economy. It is by no means decided whether the corona crisis is the starting signal for more stringent climate protection – or whether the crisis is primarily about letting the chimneys smoke.