Shortly before the start of the next UN climate summit in Glasgow on November 1, the team at the Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel got together with the makers of Debate.Energy to organize an exciting mini-round table. The Tagesspiegel Debate.Energy Talk #1 on Tuesday afternoon spent a very packed and content dense hour and a half discussing the question of how we can achieve climate neutrality.
This is because, with plans ranging from phasing out coal and nuclear energy to installing renewable energy capacity and new infrastructures for organizing energy and industry on a climate-neutral footing, everybody involved has understood clearly for a long time that the financing of these plans plays a – if not the – key part in the fight against climate change. After all, experts have calculated that 2.5 trillion dollars are going to be needed every year up to 2030 in order to achieve the ambitious sustainability targets set by the United Nations.
Some exciting guests were involved in the discussion. Hildegard Bentele (CDU), MEP and member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, represented politics. Dr. Frank Possmeier, Executive Vice President Renewables at Uniper, was on the panel as a representative of the energy industry. The renowned climate-protection expert Dr. Felix Christian Matthes, Research Coordinator for Energy and Climate Policy at the Öko-Institut e.V., described where the science currently stands and explained how it is possible to harmonize this with economic and social aspects. Meanwhile, Dr. Henrik Pontzen, Head of Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance in Portfolio Management at Union Investment Institutional GmbH, represented the side of capital, which is hoping for investments that can be both sustainable and profitable at the same time. Finally, Nima Nader, Head of Climate Policy at WirtschaftsVereinigung Metalle e.V., described the present situation from the perspective of industry, meaning the companies that are being confronted urgently by all the changes that they face on the road to climate neutrality.
The Tagesspiegel Debate.Energy Talk #1 did not come up with the answer to everything, of course. However, the participants on this panel did demonstrate that everybody – literally everybody – has to pull together in the common effort to stop climate change. It is important here to think in a way that is open to different technologies, to carry others with you and to learn to put yourself in the position of companies and people who are directly affected – and every decision does not have to be the right fit for every player.
One example of this is nuclear power. Whereas Matthes from the Öko-Institut considered this issue to be “finished”, at least in Germany, and did not want to start any fresh debates on the matter as that would only hamper the journey to climate neutrality, the MEP Bentele pointed out that not all European Union countries see it like that. “The discussion about nuclear power is over in Germany, but not in Europe,” she said. Pontzen, the representative of investors, likewise sees no more future in nuclear power, and his sustainability funds have rejected things like French government bonds, because nuclear power plays a central part in the energy mix for the state-owned utility EDF. However, he too acknowledges that “there are many trade-offs – ideology does not help.” In his view, it is necessary to “make all sectors sustainable.”
Nader, the representative of industry, fears low-price competition from other countries that have less strict rules. “We are in incredibly fierce competition with other regions like China, which has an extremely bad carbon footprint,” he says, speaking for his nonferrous metals sector. He said that they were going along with steps to avoid carbon emissions but did not yet have the new technologies to deal with everything, and that compensation payments for orders to cease operating were inadequate. “Shutting companies down is not a business model,” he said. His member companies wanted to produce, he said.
Dr. Felix Matthes from the Öko-Institut believes that the road to climate neutrality is connected not only with the construction of infrastructures, ranging from the expansion of power lines to renewable energy facilities and storage systems, but also with their removal. “What part of the gas industry would pass the climate neutrality stress test,” he asked. Uniper renewables chief Dr. Frank Possmeier believes that this conversion is feasible “if we tackle the transformation together.” He said that it was necessary to become faster and better, and that a market-oriented approach should be preferred. "Climate change is overtaking approval practices in Germany," Possmeier said. The market-oriented approach should be preferred, he commented. "We need technology openness - with the expansion of renewables and the development of a hydrogen economy, we are already driving decarbonization. With the right framework conditions, it would happen much faster." One problem, he said, is still the "not in my backyard" mentality on the part of many. This slows down the expansion of power lines for renewables, for example. Natural gas could be a partner here in this transition. "If politicians, companies and society work together in a concerted effort, we can achieve the goal of climate neutrality," Possmeier said. Pontzen added, "We don't have an ambition problem, we have an implementation problem."
The MEP Bentele hopes people will eventually come closer together at EU level, too. “Climate neutrality was designed for the whole European Union, but not all member states have accepted it yet,” she warned. What was clear to all the participants in the discussion was that progress could be made only by acting together and that the energy sector, industry, policymakers, and financiers had to work hand in hand to achieve the common goal. The debate, skillfully moderated by Thomas Wendel, Editor-in-Chief of Tagesspiegel Background Sustainable Finance, could have gone on for hours longer, as Wendel himself commented at the end. It certainly will do so, too – not least at the next Tagesspiegel Debate.Energy Talk.
Click here to watch the full stream of the conference:https://berlin.debate.energy/de/event