Speech by Minister of State Erler at the conference “Local Renewables Freiburg 2009”

27.04.2009 - Speech

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“(Local) Renewables as a contribution to (global) security”

Dr. Salomon,

Dr. Oliphant,

Mr. Behringer,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

let me welcome you to Germany and to the “Local Renewables Freiburg 2009” conference.

The participants in this conference come from very different parts of the world, from developed and developing nations and from every continent. This is a truly global conference, although it focuses on a local issue: local renewables. But maybe I shouldn't say “although” – indeed I think this is a global conference exactly because it deals with an important local issue.

Today I would like to convince you of the following three theses:

Firstly: energy and climate are global problems, which are not only of economic and ecologic nature, but have a foreign and security policy dimension

Secondly: Local activities are part of the problem and part of the solution

Thirdly: There may be resistance to local solutions of the energy / climate problem. We have no alternative than to overcome such resistance.

Ladies and gentlemen,

on the global problems of energy and climate:

Remember what happened in summer last year. The oil price spiked at more than 140 dollars a barrel. Maybe this seems far-fetched, now oil prices have fallen from their record spike last summer. But we must not forget that this recent reduction in oil price is due mostly to the financial and economic crisis. As soon as it is over, prices will soar again. The underlying scarcity of fossile fuels has not vanished. Experts predict that global demand for energy is going to double by 2050. A growing world population and higher per capita consumption of energy because of successful development in emerging countries, not only China and India, are the main drivers of this predicted rise in demand. It is difficult to predict what happens if oil prices surpass the levels we saw in summer 2008. But I believe that in this case domestic pressure on the governments of oil-exporting countries to restrict exports and ease the pain of high prices at home is going to be tough. If policies like this are adopted in important exporting countries, prices in the rest of the world are set to rise even more. At this point, the consequences of an originally economic problem for global politics and security will become even more apparent.

Of course it has been said before, but I believe it is important to emphasize the message time and again: climate change, closely linked to the usage of fossile fuels, is a huge security threat. We discussed this issue at a conference organized in cooperation with the Federal Foreign Office here in Freiburg last November. By business as usual, climate change will lead to massive migration and conflicts centered around drinking water, arable land and food resources. Any strategically-oriented foreign policy will have to find answers to this local and global challenge.

Let me explain this with one example.

Last year, Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier started the German Water Initiative in Central Asia. Central Asia is one of the regions most affected by climate change, but also affected by man-made environmental mismanagement in the form of inefficient and wasteful irrigation schemes. The pictures of the dying Aral Sea are a clear signal for action. The whole region suffers from a severe reduction of water resources. People in Central Asia depend on safe drinking water, proper wastewater management, irrigation and energy supply, which in some countries can only be guaranteed by hydropower. In order to defuse already existing tensions and prevent possible conflicts in the future, the international conference “Water unites – new perspectives for cooperation and security” was held in April last year. The conference served as a starting point for an intensive dialogue with all five Central Asian countries. As a result, a large programme package of up to 20 mio Euros could be offered.

This example illustrates how the German Federal Foreign office responds to the challenge of climate change and its repercussions on water resources in order to avoid possible conflicts in a region of strategic importance. It also shows how local and global perspectives are interlinked.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

before addressing local renewable energy as part of the solution, I would also like to emphasize that many problems arise on a local level. People all over the world need energy to live their daily lives. Here in Germany we need energy to heat our homes during the long winters. In warmer countries power is needed for air conditioning. Everywhere people need energy to cook meals, use household appliances, get from A to B. These are local needs, but in sum they contribute a significant share to the world’s global energy demand – and its greenhouse gas emissions. It is thus also clear that the global phenomenon of climate change is in fact also the result of countless individual local decisions.

Let me look at one specific example: local transportation. In the nineteen sixties in Germany, city planners used to dream of cities “tailor-made for the car”. Let us imagine such a city, with no public transportation, where everybody drives to work with a so-called “sport utility vehicle”, or all-terrain four-wheel-drive vehicle. It is obvious that not only future oil prices will spell doom for this town, but also emission levels will get ever more unacceptable. There are still plenty of towns like this, as you all know. In the world's deserts you can see the ruins of proud cities which flourished until drinking water suddenly became scarce. Let us do everything possible to ensure our towns do not meet the same fate because oil becomes scarcer and scarcer.

I am firmly convinced that we need both the global and the local perspective to address the challenge of energy and climate change effectively. We need global carbon trading, but we also need local communities that care about the problem and look for sustainable solutions.

Freiburg is one of these communities. It sets an example in this area, which is why I am happy to welcome you here and not elsewhere – also as the directly elected member of the German Parliament for Freiburg. It is a city with a long tradition of thinking about and acting for the environment. Freiburg is home, for example, to the Öko-Institut, to ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, as well as to the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems and the Center for Renewable Energies. This city is highly committed to a sustainable future for our communities. We need more communities like this all over the world, cities keen to emulate this model. We are here to spread the word that the policies of local communities can make a difference and that local communities will have to play their part if we want to change fundamentally the way we produce and consume energy.

But please, do not misunderstand me: greening our communities, promoting renewables and fostering innovation at local level is not just something we ought to do. It is something we in fact have to do if we want our communities and citizens to be ready and able to meet the challenges of the future. But the good news is that we do not have to remain in the vicious cycle of economic crisis and energy crisis. The way out has been clearly signposted and that is the route local communities should take. We need to get away from consuming mostly oil, gas and coal – also at home. We need to turn our attention to alternative modes of transport, of heating and cooling, of producing power instead. We need to defy the sceptics and focus strongly on promoting renewable energy technologies in our cities, as well as modern local public transportation systems. In just the same way I believe a host of individual local decisions now and in the years to come will bring about a revolution in our energy systems. In Germany this process is well under way. Many of our towns and cities are competing to become the greenest, cleanest city, become a solar town, put in place the newest and best technologies. I would like to mention here just one of many initiatives in this area: the “Solarbundesliga”, in which local communities up and down Germany compete for the title of national solar champion just as football clubs compete in our national football championships. Last year Freiburg ranked third, by the way, in the league of cities with over 100,000 inhabitants – so as you see, even Freiburg has room for improvement!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

the way forward, including local solutions, will not be easy. There will be resistance in many forms. As one example, Germany has been for decades a successful producer and exporter of conventional power plants for electricity generation. Some of those companies, of course, will consider local renewable energy production as a potential competitor, and will react accordingly. But also on the very local level, not everybody will be happy with local renewables. When it comes to building local renewable power stations, we also have to fight the “not in my backyard” phenomenon. In Germany, many communities are facing strong local opposition when a new windfarm, a new biogas plant or even a large assembly of solar cells is planned. Especially windfarms are unpopular with many Germans because they are highly visible in our landscape. They are even occasionally depicted as a threat to wildlife.

Nevertheless, I believe that many people would reconsider their stance on windfarms if they saw how oil extraction or coal mining can change the face of the earth – even more when also considering the details of how such fuels are sometimes produced at the detriment of the tropical environment, or putting coal workers’ lives at risk. Local renewables can go a long way towards making the world’s energy supply cleaner and more sustainable, but this is not self-evident. People have to be informed about the advantages and disadvantages of each energy technology. Therefore it is most important that local leaders argue the case for renewable energy in their respective communities. In the end I am sure people will see that having safe and clean energy on your doorstep is better than paying for dirty, polluting and unsustainable power stations far away.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

to summarize briefly: the traditional energy sources remain usable only in the short or medium term. We have to accept that burning more and more coal and oil threatens our climate and may alter our human environment beyond recognition. Not only from a foreign-policy perspective, it is clear that we need a shift to safe and clean energies as soon as possible in order to avert the grave threats to international security posed by climate change and scarcity of resources.

Local communities have the potential to speed this shift. Their cooperation, as well as their competition, are crucial for the breakthrough of renewable energy technologies. A 100% renewable energy supply is still viewed by many as completely out of reach. But at this conference we want to talk about what we can do to assist this process. We want to talk about what politicians can do, what scientists can do, what companies can do.

Let me thank you all for participating in this conference. I want to thank the speakers for sharing their views with us on this important issue. My special thanks, of course, go to Freiburg's Mayor, Dr Dieter Salomon, who is our host today and an ardent spokesman for renewable energies.

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