…not least as an economic factor. That was the conclusion drawn at an event titled “Climate protection as an innovation driver for the economy” organized recently by Svenja Schulze, Germany’s Federal Minister for the Environment. The realization should be reason enough to finally take the foot off the brakes in terms of climate protection and to fully commit to the goals of Paris. This applies to businesses, politicians and consumers alike.
Because caring about the climate means ensuring innovation and renewal. For example, research and development into solar energy is still a very viable sector in Germany, and one which creates jobs. Companies such as the chemical manufacturer Werner & Mertz are pioneering the use of recycled packaging materials while at the same time creating a competitive advantage for themselves. Numerous tradespeople and craftsmen benefit from a wealth of decentralized projects relating to the supply of renewable energies.
Exports also profit: In its latest report, “Economic Opportunities through Climate Protection”, the Federal Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt, UBA) has put a focus on sales abroad. According to the report, the greatest proportion among climate protection technology goods is taken up by goods for renewable energy systems as well as measurement and control technology. German exporters, in terms of their share of deliveries of imports by other countries, have a particularly strong market position in terms of air pollution control goods (16.6 per cent) and measurement and control technology (16.8 per cent). From 2009 to 2013, exports rose by 36.5 percent.
In his speech, Dr Dirk Röttgers, a political analyst with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), concluded that an ambitious climate policy through, among other things, new investments would lead to a net increase of the gross domestic product (GDP) by 4.6 percent − including the value of the damage mitigated as a result of climate protection measures.
GERMANY PLACES THIRD FOR CLIMATE PATENTS
The fact that the economy has long been on the way, was illustrated by figures from the Federal Environmental Agency that were presented by Dr Andreas Burger. Patent applications in Germany for technologies related to climate protection increased more than twice as fast as the overall number of patent applications, he explained. The focus, he said, was on innovations in the field of renewable energies. On a global scale, Germany is in third place behind Japan and the US in terms of patent applications for climate protection technologies. Burger added that a total of 1,514,000 jobs had been created in Germany in 2017 as a result of increasing climate protection efforts. They include jobs in energy-efficient building renovation, renewable energies, services and production.
How and by whom this development can be pushed further was a main topic both in the contributions by the speakers as well as in numerous discussions on the sidelines of the event. One of the most important factors are political decisions. For example, Dr Andreas Burger demanded more planning security to be enshrined in the forthcoming Climate Protection Act, which, according to Minister Schulze, will be passed before the end of this year. Burger also called for increased funding for innovative climate protection solutions and for a reduction of distortions in competition at the expense of climate protection technologies. He also pleaded for the integration of climate protection aspects into education and training and for the building-up of climate-compatible infrastructures.
A GREENER FINANCIAL INDUSTRY?
In addition, the lecture of political analyst Röttgers made clear that steering progress in climate protection isn’t just up to politicians. He argued that the financial sector also has a role to play. According to Röttgers, it has to create tailor-made financing options for climate protection innovations while at the same time helping to streamline public and private interests in terms of infrastructure financing. It also must consider climate aspects in investment decisions and integrate them into strategy planning. Climate-related risks and opportunities must be made transparent.
However, Röttgers acknowledged that the discussions surrounding this sector served as proof that the financial sector still isn’t certain what “green” means for the industry. After all, insurance companies were the first ones to assess climate impacts in the 1970s and to integrate them into their products where necessary. The results often include higher premiums, caps on damage sums or the introduction of deductibles. So climate change already comes at a direct cost to many consumers. If experts such as the ones present at the event expect climate protection measures to have a positive impact on innovation and growth, then any reservations against the urgently needed steps should be invalidated.
The “Fridays for Future” movement and the results of the European elections at the end of May are the most recent reminders of the fact that people in many countries, not just on this continent but around the world, feel an urgent need for action. Consequently, I call on decision makers to show more courage.