Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in an interview with taz
Question: Ms Baerbock, are you part of the last generation?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: If you mean the protest movement, then obviously not.
Question: You yourself have repeatedly stressed that you are a member of the last generation, namely the last generation that can change the course of climate change.
Foreign Minister Baerbock: Yes, of course.... Those who now have political responsibility, all of us as a society, will play a key part in determining how children the same ages as my daughters will grow up.
Question: What’s worse then, an island becoming uninhabitable or a painting being damaged?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: I really don’t think that comparisons of that kind are meaningful. I’ve just visited such an island in the island state of Palau, where people are worried they will lose their homes in the next ten years. There are not many things worse than that. But what does a painting have to do with it?
Question: The Last Generation group glues itself not only to picture frames but also to roads. When are you going to glue yourself to the road, Ms Baerbock?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: Are you seriously asking me that as the German Foreign Minister?
Question: If you weren’t a minister, would Annalena Baerbock – as an ordinary citizen who sees how dramatic climate change is – glue herself to the road?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: I’m a citizen of this country: no.
Question: Do these protests influence your climate policy?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: In 2018, Greta Thunberg sat in front of the Swedish Parliament with a cardboard sign for the first time. One year later, she spoke in the UN General Assembly and in several national parliaments. I think it’s incredible that a schoolgirl and the global Fridays for Future youth movement which subsequently emerged have driven change. When I travelled to the Paris Climate Conference as the climate policy spokesperson of the Green parliamentary group in 2015, those calling for the phasing out of coal were still being ridiculed. Today as German Foreign Minister, I can take Germany’s commitment to phase out coal by 2030 with me to COP27. That shows how important the change of government in Germany – and yes, also the climate movement – was and remains.
Question: But how credible is that if you come from a country where the Council of Experts on Climate Change has just stated that the target set for 2030 is unlikely to be reached?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: We cannot undo mistakes made in the past: that applies to climate policy just as much as to our policy on Russia. We’re paying a high price for the delay to the energy transition caused by the Grand Coalition: with our dependency on Russia and by falling even shorter of our climate targets. That’s why when the new government took charge just under a year ago we immediately changed course, accelerated the expansion of renewable energies on a massive scale and initiated a radical climate transition.
Question: Many climate activists at COP27 (and in Germany) have called out your use of the phrase “radical climate transition”. Is it radical enough considering the dramatic development of climate change?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: Greens didn’t just recently start saying that a radical climate policy is the new “realistic”. Fortunately, however, we need parliamentary majorities for this in a democracy. And we finally have it. We know that we don’t have a minute to lose. Robert Habeck is working every day on new laws and regulations to speed up the expansion of wind power. Cem Özdemir is doing the same for emissions in agriculture, while Steffi Lemke is focusing on moors, which are key to lowering CO2. Svenja Schulze as Development Minister and myself as Foreign Minister are concluding international climate partnerships to get the international community on the 1.5 degree track. We know that we have a long way to go before we reach our target.
Question: Is Germany on the 1.5 degree track?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: Not yet, and we will never get there if we only think in national terms. We’re therefore doing everything to get there as a European climate union as quickly as possible. Within the EU, we called for our own CO2 reduction targets for 2030 to be raised considerably in time for COP27, and we succeeded just in time. We’ve mapped out the right course for energy and electricity generation in Germany. But we will have to continue to import energy in future. One key component of climate diplomacy is therefore creating the conditions now which will enable us to also get on this track when it comes to imports.
Question: At the conference, on the other hand, you hear the fear expressed that Germany could once again make itself dependent on fossil fuels. How can it be, for example, that Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz supports Senegal’s plans for expanding gas infrastructure although nobody knows what the point is and how are these plans compatible with the Paris Agreement, which excludes new fossil fuel infrastructure?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: Gas is a stopgap, but every stopgap comes to an end. By the mid-2040s at the latest, it will only be permissible to transport green hydrogen. When it comes to new investments, therefore, the only aim can be to substitute Russian gas supplies for a short period of time.
Question: So when the Chancellor says we support the expansion of new gas fields in Senegal, this is only possible if this infrastructure can be converted to green infrastructure?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: This is the principle on which we agreed in the coalition agreement. The Chancellor therefore stressed at the Climate Change Conference that we are firmly committed to phasing out fossil fuels.
Question: In Germany, the mood of those actively championing climate change mitigation swings between desperation and lethargy. What is the mood during your visits to, for instance, the Niger or the South Seas?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: Climate action is the most important issue in the Niger, in the South Pacific as well as in Chile or, following the recent floods, in Pakistan. These countries are experiencing first-hand that the climate crisis poses a threat not only to their harvests or their livelihoods but also to their homes and their safety. Many people in Germany asked a year ago, somewhat puzzled, why we’re now pursuing climate diplomacy so actively. During almost all my talks as Foreign Minister, I sense relief that the German Government finally also sees the climate as a security issue. After all, it’s easier for terrorists to find recruits in regions where herders’ cattle dies and people have no income.
Question: Germany’s inadequate climate policy in the past is partly responsible for this sense of hopelessness.
Foreign Minister Baerbock: In those countries which are already suffering on a massive scale due to the climate crisis – in our 1.2 degree world – I often hear both the accusation “You got us into this mess” and the expectation “You have to focus on technological solutions to help our countries, too”. And this is a global opportunity: not to repeat the mistakes of the industrialised countries when it comes to economic development, but to opt from the outset for clean industries. In the Niger, I myself stood on rocks in 48 degrees without any shade surrounded by a dusty landscape where cotton used to be cultivated. The fight against the climate crisis is a matter of life and death there. However, I didn’t encounter desperation but, instead, was confronted with an urgent appeal to finally take action. They know there, too, that we actually have all the clean technologies at our disposal. We have to finally use them around the world. Not only for climate action but also to tackle the lack of electrification in many parts of Africa, trickle irrigation, as well as the desalination of soil to make it fertile again.
Question: At the UN Climate Change Conference, the issue of loss and damage, that’s to say compensation for climate damage in the countries of the Global South, was put on the agenda in the face of some resistance. Is this all talk or are we actually prepared to put this into practice and, in technical conference-speak, to establish the facility?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: Indeed, it wasn’t easy to get loss and damage on the Climate Change Conference agenda. The fact that those countries which suffer most from the impact of the climate crisis and have contributed least to it have been unable to play a prominent role in the negotiations at the Climate Change Conference and focus the world’s attention on their problems has always been an obstacle to the climate negotiations. That is why I, as the representative of an industrialised country, stated openly for the first time at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue held in Berlin last July that we must change our current attitude and put loss and damage on the agenda. We succeeded in doing that, which shows how important it is that the EU works with island states or countries such as Chile and Mexico which want to move forward together on financing and CO2 reduction.
Question: But in concrete terms, do you want this COP to decide in favour of setting up this facility?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: The agenda item is the door opener for everything else. The German Government has also delivered a first component that shows how this can be implemented in the shape of the Global Shield, an initiative of the G7 and the V20 – the alliance of the most vulnerable countries.
Question: So, no decisions will be taken at this conference even though the matter is so urgent?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: I won’t be so presumptuous as to predict the dynamics of a conference before I’ve even arrived, especially when it comes to an issue which has been so controversial for many years. That we were able to agree at the very start to put the issue on the agenda does at least show that multilateral negotiations are possible despite all the geopolitical tensions. If those industrialised countries which really are fully committed to doing everything they can to protect the climate join forces with the countries most affected by climate change, we can get results.
Question: Isn’t that a good example of all that has been going wrong in climate policy during the last 30 years? The fact that we’re happy when an issue is discussed but no decisions are made when we find ourselves in a situation where decisions are actually urgently needed.
Foreign Minister Baerbock: Of course, you can simply see every climate change conference as an opportunity to complain about how bad things are going and how long it takes to get things moving. We, and above all people in the Global South, see that every day: how much time we’ve wasted and how dramatic the situation is. But we can’t change the past. I believe my job is to do everything to ensure that we do better in future, and as quickly as possible – and that we do what we can at this COP to achieve that. To be honest, it’s not clear yet how that can be done at this COP. Because like it or not, the reality is that we have to reach an agreement with more than 190 countries if we want to get results. And if we’re not prepared to talk about it, we’ll never be able to adopt decisions.
Question: What use is an agenda to the countries affected, to the world, if action is needed but isn’t being taken?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: I learned something important during my visit to Palau: if the industrialised countries finally state that we bear some of the responsibility for this crisis and we believe we have an obligation to make available funds to re-settle villages in small island states, then we can also talk about making these new villages climate neutral – no more diesel generators but renewable energies instead. We can finally combine the funding issue with reduction targets. Time and again, we’ve seen points on an agenda being transformed into very concrete projects. That’s the point of international conferences. That’s why, parallel to the negotiations on the actual text, we have come together with states which say in quite concrete terms: we’re starting with these projects now rather than waiting until all of more than 190 states have formally drafted a new text.
Question: Other countries in the Global South are demanding debt forgiveness. Do you support this idea?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: The G7 Foreign Ministers have just spoken for the first time with financial players about how we can deal with the massive debt levels. These debts are one of the factors preventing countries from investing in climate action projects for the future or in education. The debt issue will therefore also play a role at the Climate Change Conference. Here, too, however, it won’t be easy to find a fair solution. We must not forget that since the last major debt relief new creditors have appeared on the scene in the form of China, private funds and banks.
Question: Is debt forgiveness even conceivable in the current economic climate? After all, it would push up inflation even higher.
Foreign Minister Baerbock: We need trillions for the global climate transformation. In the current situation, we therefore have to do various things. Firstly, we have to finally make available the annual 100 billion dollars pledged back in 2009 for concrete climate projects. However, the pandemic and Russia’s war have massively aggravated the situation. We therefore also have to do something about global financial relations. There are many, many options between a hard cut and measures to reschedule or restructure debts. Many countries have become indebted to China in order to finance their infrastructure. We can no longer ignore the fact that certain countries are now no longer able to function properly due to their debt burden. We have to try and do everything we can to help them.
Question: It’s difficult to admit this but the 100 billion dollars we’re talking about are not much more than peanuts. If the world is to come anyway close to a 1.5 degree track, then we have to shift the trillion. We have to fundamentally change the financial flows. The Prime Minister of Barbados is calling for the entire Bretton Woods System, the entire financial system including the World Bank, to be reviewed.
Foreign Minister Baerbock: The global financial system must be urgently restructured so that global financial flows are channelled into climate-friendly investments. One instrument for this could be climate credits from the World Bank with better conditions. The World Bank is already offering governments budget support tied to the implementation of political reforms. Why shouldn’t there be something similar for the implementation of national climate strategies?
Question: In this connection, would you like to see the back of David Malpass, the President of the World Bank, who recently called human-induced climate change into question again?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: Our focus is on working together to reform the World Bank as a whole. As a country which, unfortunately, needed too long to finally commit wholeheartedly to the 1.5 degree track, we shouldn’t make criticising other people our priority. We should put our own house in order first. It’s crucial that we don’t ignore the reality. That includes human-induced climate change.
Question: But with a climate denier as the President of the World Bank?
Question: Ok, we give up.
You see climate policy as the new geopolitics. There’s not much cooperation left in geopolitics at the moment. At last year’s COP in Glasgow, there was a move to keep the climate issue out of global tensions. Do you think this idea has a chance?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: It’s precisely because of the global tensions that we need more climate diplomacy. Anything else would be suicide for each of the 190 countries. After all, the climate crisis won’t stall because of Russia’s brutal war of aggression. Countries such as Ethiopia and Somalia are now suffering more than twice as much due to failed harvests. Following four years with no rain, they now also have to cope with inflation and food shortages due to Russia’s grain war.
Question: Would you also negotiate with Russia about the climate?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: As President of the G7, I’ve advocated that during the G20 Summit in Indonesia we, along with our Indonesian, Mexican and South Korean partners, make it clear to the Russian Foreign Minister, who will also be sitting round the table, the deadly consequences of Russia’s war of aggression for the entire world. That also applies to climate issues. This year’s dramatic events will perhaps even increase the chances of reaching an agreement because they have highlighted every country’s vulnerabilities. It has become abundantly clear that we cannot resolve global problems on our own. And if entire regions become dysfunctional due to climate damage in future, supply chains can break down and the entire global economy can be plunged into chaos. The same applies when regions of this world become uninhabitable. Then the flows of migrants will have a massive impact on other countries.
Question: Many countries involved in the negotiations at the Climate Change Conference are not flawless democracies. What dirty deals do we have do in order to protect the climate?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: What does flawless mean? Democracy is never perfect because societies are always changing. That’s why I don’t think much of such bold labels. But, of course, we know that the world doesn’t only consist of democracies. The task of foreign policy is to define how we shape our bilateral partnerships responsibly. That’s almost never black and white, but nor is it ever a “dirty deal”. We have to weigh everything up responsibly. Despite all the problems, most countries share a common foundation on which we can and must talk: recognition of international law, a commitment to global cooperation and, in the case of the climate negotiations, above all the clear interest of every country in saving its natural resources. The vast majority of those attending COP are not interested in horse-trading.
Question: However, a large share of solar panels around the world come from China. A large share of the world’s rain forests are in regions where governance is not of the highest calibre. Egypt is a country which rides roughshod over human rights. To what extent do we perhaps have to make concessions on human rights in order to make progress on the climate?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: You can’t wave a magic wand and make the world a better place. Some situations underline the differences between our values and create dilemmas which cannot be resolved. However, that doesn’t mean that I automatically have to make concessions when it comes to human rights. When making every individual decision, we have to be frank and ask ourselves: will this serve to cover up or increase human rights violations? At any rate, the COP in Egypt hasn’t prevented me from clearly addressing the human rights situation in all my talks with President Sisi. On the contrary, I called for the release of political prisoners, including Alaa Abdel Fattah, on the fringes of the Petersberg Climate Dialogue in Berlin. And we have made our COP pavilion available to Egyptian human rights groups which would otherwise scarcely have an opportunity to address the public.
Question: Isn’t climate policy incompatible with the human rights-based foreign policy you are pursuing? For example China and the solar panels?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: Would less climate action lead to greater protection of human rights in China or Egypt? I don’t think so. I set out plans for intensive cooperation on renewable energies during my recent visits to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. I made it clear everywhere that for us long-term investment hinges on adherence to rules, and that includes the protection of personal liberties. In this way, climate action could help strengthen civil and human rights. However, we also have to define our own rules and not, as in the past, simply hope that the human rights situation will somehow improve – and we certainly shouldn’t ignore any deterioration in human rights. The EU is therefore planning an import ban on products resulting from forced labour – logically, that also applies to solar panels, should they have been manufactured using forced labour.
Question: What has to be achieved at COP27 before you feel you can say: this Climate Change Conference was not a failure?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: We have to be honest and admit that this COP alone won’t get us on the 1.5 degree track. All countries would have to immediately and drastically step up their climate plans. That won’t happen before 19 November. We have to be realistic and admit that. Nevertheless, every national climate target raised at Sharm el-Sheikh counts, every new climate project, every solar farm, every major forest initiative, every country which like Kenya states that – with German support – it intends to switch to renewables to generate 100% of its electricity. After all, every ton of CO2 saved helps us to get away from the current 2.7 track and move towards the 2 and 1.5 degree track. To achieve this, we need a massive technology transfer as well as leaps forward in technology in the coming years. That will enable us to phase out fossil fuel even quicker. The geopolitical situation won’t make that any easier. However, we have to prevent 2022 from becoming a lost year for climate negotiations as a result of Russia’s war.
Question: You’ve been to many Climate Change Conferences. But this is the first time that you’ll be representing the Government and will not be attending as a member of the opposition. How does that feel?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: I was in Paris in 2015 with my six-month-old daughter. At the time, I thought: in 2050 when she’s as old as I was then – 35 – we’ll see whether we’ve achieved the decarbonisation of the industrialised countries. And it matters very much to me personally that I’m now involved in the negotiations as a minister.
Interview: Barbara Junge and Bernhard Pötter