Interview with Christoph Bals

Interview with Christoph Bals

The German government must dare more climate action to force the ecological transition. The first 100 days with the new German government in office are over.

** This interview was held by Marion Busch and was firstly published here on 16th of March 2022 (in German)**

Which climate policy measures would you implement immediately as chancellor?

Christoph Bals: An immediate action programme to renovate buildings built between the Second World War and the Thermal Insulation Ordinance and Energy Savings Ordinance – that became effective in 1977 – as well as the already planned emergency programme for renewable energies. Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action Robert Habeck wants to reduce CO2 emissions by 65 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels and increase the share of electricity from renewable sources from the current 45 percent to 80 percent and some things have happened until now/yet. The first part of the emergency programme, especially for renewable energies is in specific preparation. Additional money was allocated in the budget for necessary climate investments. We can also see efforts in international climate policy, to bring along climate partnerships with Indonesia and Ethiopia. However, the government had to acknowledge that it will miss the climate targets in 2022 and 2023 due to the lack of action in recent years, especially in the transport and buildings sectors. In the transport sector, we do not see a trend towards smaller cars, but rather towards bigger ones.

In mid-February, a feasibility study on the carbon dividend was published, which was co-commissioned by Germanwatch and the DNR, among others. Therefore, these organisations, along with other things, demand to advance climate protection and justice together. In the coalition agreement, the government announced a per capita refund. Isn’t this enough to comply with social justice?

CB: The government has announced the per capita refund but without giving a concrete time frame or other details. To date, nothing has happened in this regard: The government has apparently not even begun to make preparations, let alone bring forward the per capita refund. This should be addressed urgently, given the high energy prices. A climate dividend is the most just instrument to support people with rising CO2 prices. It is however important that the revenues are mostly used for the climate dividend. They should not be used for a commuter allowance or other socially unjust measures. The mentioned study shows that this can be implemented quickly and unbureaucratically. Nothing stands in the way of a quick implementation for more social justice. However, a climate dividend in this form can only compensate for rising CO2 prices, not the general price increase for oil and gas. Further instruments may be needed here to ensure social justice. A fundamental ecological tax reform, for example, is long overdue. For socially just climate protection, the removal of climate-damaging subsidies is also necessary. Most of these subsidies mainly benefit wealthy people or companies, while the general public finances them through their taxes. The climate and social justice suffer in equal measure. The government urgently needs to take another look at this.

How should people receive the carbon dividend?

CB: The climate dividend will be integrated into existing payment channels, for example into the income tax refund or the payment of the basic income support, pension or child benefit. A digital climate dividend register should be set up at the Federal Central Tax Office for this purpose. Almost all persons can enter the register via their tax ID. For the few remaining persons there are special solutions that can be implemented easily.

Speaking of “Acceptance for necessary climate protection measures”: Which impulses must come from the responsible ministries and the Chancellor’s Office?

CB: One example: The expansion of renewable energies, which is necessary, must go hand in hand with an improvement in participation, involvement and social justice in the energy system. The citizens must be included in the right places: In infrastructure planning or land use planning, for example. Informal participation should be strengthened as well. Instruments such as energy sharing can enable financial participation for people with low incomes. The costs of the grid infrastructure should be distributed more fairly, since at the moment households in regions with a high level of renewable expansion are paying the most. This is a problem of the incentive itself.

Before the federal election German environmental organisations demanded that the new federal government should push forward the negotiations on the EU climate package “Fit for 55”. Has the coalition done its homework?

CB: We are in the decade of implementation. At the EU level, the “Fit for 55” package is the main implementation leverage for achieving the EU’s 2030 climate targets and a milestone for less dependence on energy  and commodity. Moreover, this is the national determined contribution (NDC) to the global 1.5-degree strategy that the EU should present at the next World Climate Conference (COP 27) in Egypt. The German government supports the commission’s proposals to this extent, and is particularly clear and encouraging in dossiers such as emissions trading for the power sector and industry as well as CO2 limits. However, many questions are still open for the coalition: How to proceed with the European Emissions Trading Scheme ETS2 for buildings and transport at EU level, which was strongly called for by the last coalition? Will Germany support a social climate fund? Does Germany support the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) and does it interlock with a just climate club that increases ambition? The German government is still reticent on important dossiers such as the Climate Change Regulation (CCR) for the transport, buildings, agriculture and waste management sectors. Germany should clearly advocate for strengthening the rules for national implementation (ESR governance). It is also important to set the course for the time after 2030 now, because there is still room for improvement in the Commission’s proposal. The council should reach a fundamental agreement on as many dossiers as possible before this summer so that implementation can get underway quickly. For this, the French government, which currently holds the Presidency of the Council, is dependent on clearer support from its German partner.

High investments are necessary for the implementation of the European Green Deal, according to the European Court of Auditors 520 billion euros annually across the EU. What do you expect from the German government to ensure that these investments are made?

CB: It is necessary to establish a European “green golden rule” that obliges member states to finance major transformation projects. In its current form, the Stability and Growth Pact will not lead to more stability, but even less stability in the long run. A Stability and Sustainability Pact should replace it. Containing the climate crisis is a prerequisite for stability; sufficient flexibility must be created for necessary investments. The French government, as the current EU Council Presidency, and the German government are particularly challenged in this regard.

Can we still achieve the 1.5-degree goal?

CB: Probably just yet. Central to this is that the major G20 emitters, after having anchored their long-term targets, need to triple the pace of the implementation of these targets. I hope that the war against the Ukraine will give an additional push in large parts of the world to phase out coal, oil and gas as soon as possible.

What encourages you personally regarding environmental and climate policy in the next four years?

CB: The climate and biodiversity crises are coming to a head quickly. Hope needs to be organised. My encouragers are those who are taking this into their own hands in politics, in the economy and above all in civil society.

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