“From ambition to action” – speech by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the opening of the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue

29.03.2022 - Speech

Droughts in the Sahel, devastating forest fires in South America, heatwaves and rising sea levels in South Asia, flooding disasters in Germany – that all happened last year, and the highly esteemed Secretary-General of the United Nations, who will shortly be giving an address here, summed this up when he said that “our planet is broken”.

The climate crisis is the biggest international challenge of the 21st century facing our international community. Climate protection and the energy transition are not only about the future of our planet, of our families and our children. Rather – and we’re witnessing this at the moment in the most brutal way – this is about tangible security interests and geopolitics in the 21st century. President Putin’s brutal war against Ukraine in contravention of international law, alongside the horrific suffering it is causing to millions of people, also drives home that we have to become completely independent from Russian fossil fuel imports.

As Europeans, we actually knew this at the latest since 2014. We commissioned a strategy for diversifying our energy imports. We didn’t follow through on it though, and now this failure is coming back to haunt us – in the scariest of scenarios. But what’s done is done. It’s therefore all the more important for us to become completely independent from Russian fossil fuel imports. Allow me to say this quite clearly right now – also for those here today who aren’t from Europe – because we’re holding a big discussion in the EU about an embargo on fossil fuels. Some people call it that – we take issue with this term, because when we talk about embargoes, we expect, as with all other sanctions, that all other countries will sing from the same song sheet. There are many here today, many among you, who are equally dependent on fossil fuels. And if we now have to do everything we can in Germany, in Europe, to become independent from fossil fuels without delay, then we must not export our energy crisis to other countries. That is also our global responsibility in these incredibly difficult times.

Nevertheless, so as not to be misunderstood, let me say clearly here that Germany wants to fully phase out its dependence on fossil fuel-based Russian energy. If others call it an embargo, you can also call it a national, gradual, de facto embargo on oil, primarily, which the Economic Affairs Minister is currently preparing. And Robert Habeck has already made it clear in recent days that Germany has already halved its imports in recent weeks, especially in the area of black coal. And we will not only halve imports in all other areas, but we will also completely phase out fossil fuels from Russia.

That means – and this is part of being honest – that for a short interim period (because we now have to do everything at the same time – the energy transition at the same time as switching from fossil imports from Russia to other fossil imports) we will have to continue to import gas and oil from other countries. But at the same time, we – like all other countries – will prepare ourselves in the medium and long term to transition completely to renewable energies – and above all to energy efficiency: We will finally resolutely implement this concept that we have been paying lip service to for 15 years.

As the Federal Republic of Germany, as the new Federal Government, we already enshrined this in our new coalition agreement before this terrible war. And even if it sounds technical, I recommend that you perhaps take another look at this, because we made it very, very clear in the agreement that gas, regardless of where it comes from, can only be a bridge fuel. But no bridge can last forever. And that’s why we have to set its decommissioning date and enshrine it in law. That’s what we did as a global community with the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015 – with the 1.5 degree limit and a commitment by the industrialised nations to phase out fossil fuels by the middle of the century. And we made it clear in our coalition agreement that we as Germans, as Europeans, believe that it is our responsibility to do this already by the mid-40s.

That’s why, even before this terrible war, we made it clear that we would massively accelerate the expansion of renewable energies, of wind turbines, of solar panels on every roof, not only with incentives, but also with clear regulatory and planning legislation. After all, this is not just an environmental and climate policy issue, but also the most pressing economic and industrial policy issue of our time. Investments in renewable energies are investments in security and in our freedom.

It’s clear that all of this can only be done together. Nations going it alone on renewables won’t succeed – and that’s why our energy transition is enshrined in the European Green Deal, which not only strengthens clean energy in Europe, but also the strategic sovereignty of the European Union. Our goal was and is to be the first continent to become climate neutral and thus achieve and preserve energy sovereignty for the European Union.

And that can only be done with all 27 countries in the European Union, and also only with all other neighbouring countries of the EU. That’s why I was in Kosovo a few days ago and, together with Kosovo’s Energy Minister Artane Rizvanolli, whom I would also like to welcome here today, opened Kosovo’s largest wind farm at an altitude of 1800 metres at -12 degrees with snow all around us. Artane, I’m delighted that you are with us here today. This investment is the largest foreign investment in the history of your country – and it’s clean and green. The wind farm provides electricity for 100,000 households and meets up to 10 percent of Kosovo’s electricity needs. And at the same time – in the situation of the Russian war of aggression – it makes Kosovo less dependent on fossil fuel imports from other countries. To be honest, given their sheer size and the number of wind turbines – because this is not easy to do here in Germany – I was a bit concerned to know how long the planning period actually was. I was almost relieved when they said seven years – because that’s also how long we need in Germany. I was worried that Kosovo had overtaken us here. So planning times remain a huge challenge for all of us. Not only do we have to build more wind turbines, but we also have to work together to speed up planning law, concrete construction, and cooperation in the region between those who have good ideas and those who then implement them together.

And I would like to invite everyone here to speed up, especially with regard to planning, but above all with regard to cooperation. The small country of Moldova clearly illustrates what’s at stake. Its new President, who only recently took office, has done everything right. She clearly said that we must invest in energy efficiency, that we must invest in renewable energies, that we cannot continue to be completely dependent on Russian energy supplies, that we want to be linked up to the European grid. And now this terrible war has come and made it clear that we don’t have two more years, but this actually has to happen now. That is why we are holding a joint support conference for Moldova here on 5 April. With a view to security, with a view to refugees – but, above all, with a view to energy supply. And since there are many experts here who are building solar plants and wind turbines, I would like to extend a cordial invitation to join us and see how we can support Moldova not only in terms of energy supply, but also in terms of security in this critical situation.

Because this war makes so dramatically clear that energy and security are closely bound up with each other. Climate policy is the geopolitical challenge of our time. Today, the rise of renewable energies is not just a reality and an absolute necessity. It will also – this is my perspective as Foreign Minister – shift the international balance of power. That’s why, in my view, three points are particularly important, in addition to the energy policy issues that the Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Action will address in a moment.

Firstly, the importance of technology. Secondly, the risk of new dependencies. And thirdly – to conclude on a positive note – the opportunities for new cooperation.

On my first point, if you want energy security, you need the best technology. And that’s why – and I think we can be so honest when talking about economic policy – the technology race of the 21st century is currently on for cheap green hydrogen, for the most efficient transport and storage of electricity, and also for clean cars. We have enormous potential here, from Norway to the United Arab Emirates. However, we must not join this race as opponents, but together: with international research, with partnerships and a robust foreign trade policy, which the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Federal Foreign Office will continue to emphasise in the coming years. And not as a national interest, but as a joint international task.

One example of what has already been done is Siemens Gamesa, which has now installed four gigawatts of wind energy in Africa from Tunisia to South Africa. That accounts for almost 50 percent of the total wind energy generated in Africa. On the one hand, that’s something to be proud of. But, on the other, it highlights what we still have to do. After all, in 2015, the international community, the industrialised nations, not only promised to keep to the 1.5 degree limit, but also promised to electrify Africa. And we have to do a lot better than this.

It’s clear that the aim is to strengthen the countries where we’re expanding renewable energies. We have to ensure that our energy supplies are clean, and we also have to help millions of people around the world escape from energy poverty. This brings me to my second point, namely dependencies. The construction of wind turbines, power lines and batteries requires more than just nickel, cobalt and lithium. We also need to cooperate with countries that are not democracies through and through or where there are authoritarian tendencies. That’s why it’s important that, as with oil and gas, we also make it clear time and again that, when it comes to green hydrogen and renewable energies, interests and values are not mutually exclusive but are closely bound up with each other.

As a country that created the energy transition and invented the Renewable Energy Sources Act many years ago, we didn’t pay close enough attention at the beginning when we said we’d first invest in renewable energies – and we’d take care of the social issue later. One thing is clear, however, namely that renewable energies and social justice can only go hand in hand. If we build renewable energy plants, then it goes without saying that not only labour laws apply, but that we also need strong trade unions. And that’s why our mantra – and I’m delighted that a number of young representatives of Fridays for Future are also here today – is a “Just Transition”. This is also the headline of our European energy and foreign policy. We must not buy clean energy with dirty deals. Instead, we must always bear in mind the fact that we’re pursuing a values-driven foreign and energy policy, despite all the trade-offs and dilemmas we will face.

After all – and this is my third point – there is no end to history in the energy policy arena, but the energy transition opens up new opportunities for international cooperation – if we do the right thing. We can overcome old dichotomies: between energy and economic interests, between climate protection and greater prosperity. Right now, we’re seeing that we can only tackle this major challenge together, because CO2 – like the pandemic – doesn’t stop at national borders.

If, as the Secretary-General said, our planet is broken, then we must now join together and use all the tools we have to repair this damage as best we can while at the same time building national prosperity together.

And the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue and the Federal Government’s new climate diplomacy serve precisely this goal: using all tools that we have for greater climate protection and sustainable development for all countries on this planet. That is precisely our aim for the next climate conference in Egypt at the end of the year. And, to this end, we here at the Federal Foreign Office – together with the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action – have got a new State Secretary and Special Envoy for International Climate Action on board. I think many people in this room already know her. Jennifer Morgan will do what we said earlier on, namely she will turn the 226 german missions that we have around the world into 226 climate embassies. After all, it’s important to us that the energy independence that we’re now tackling in Europe, that we’re now working flat out to resolve in Germany in the face of the war, is something we tackle not against other countries, but together with other countries. In addition to the many projects we have in Africa with a view to expanding renewable energy, we’re focusing on hydrogen, which Mr Habeck will go into further detail on. We have already opened our first hydrogen offices in Nigeria and Angola, and more will follow in the coming months and years.

After all, it’s vital for us to approach this energy transition together as security policy, and, first and foremost, as an approach to sustainable development. And that also means putting our money where our mouth is. This energy transition, this rapid energy transition, won’t be free and gratis. And that’s why the industrialised countries must now, at long last, make good on the promise they made in 2015, namely to provide 100 billion US dollars every year for poorer countries. This applies to mitigation; it applies to adaptation, and it also applies to loss and damage.

It’s up to us – together. We will not be able to turn back the clock with regard to the climate crisis. But together we can do everything in our power to limit climate damage. We can cooperate on moving sustainable development forward – not only in the interests of a clean environment but also for our prosperity. And we can join forces in helping all countries and regions in the world to reduce their dependency and thereby boost their security.

That is what German climate diplomacy stands for – and that is what this conference stands for.

I bid a very warm welcome to each and every one of you. Thank you very much.


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