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Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the opening of the conference Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue at the Federal Foreign Office

26.03.2015 - Speech

Ladies and gentlemen,
Colleagues,

Do you know what “Energiewende” is in Spanish? Or in Arabic? Or in Indonesian?

The answer will surprise you because it’s quite simple: “Energiewende”!

No matter which continent I have travelled to in recent months, German energy policy was always one of the key topics of my conversations. And the interest in this issue is so great that “Energiewende” has even become a standard term, no matter in which language.

I must say that I find this most gratifying. Just think about the other German words that have entered other languages around the world – “Schadenfreude”, “Kitsch” or – cropping up most frequently – “German Angst”...

“Energiewende”, by contrast, stands for a positive Germany and a forward‑looking and ambitious project.

It is, if you will, the German equivalent of the project to get the first man on the moon. Germany has resolved to phase out all of its nuclear power plants by 2022. That’s just seven years from now! At the same time, we intend to increase the share of renewable energies in electricity generation dramatically by 2050. The interim goals that we have reached so far suggest that we will also achieve this target.

This is an ambitious aim. And if I recall how we initiated the phase‑out of nuclear power in the SPD‑Green coalition government 15 years ago, then it is impressive to see just how far we have come since then. Over one quarter of German electricity production comes from renewable energies today. Achieving this transition in Germany alone is not enough, however.

As we understand it, “Energiewende” is also about greater international networking so that we can learn from each other. And so I am delighted that so many of you have come to Berlin to engage in this dialogue.

Transforming energy policy is an international task. This is why I have invited you here to the Federal Foreign Office together with Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Sigmar Gabriel. Because a sustainable energy supply is not only an essential economic topic, but also has consequences and repercussions for foreign policy in the 21st century.

I would like to elaborate on this by talking about three different aspects:

First, we are currently experiencing a host of crises in the world, which appear to be without precedent in their intensity and frequency. As paradoxical as it may sound, in a world which is growing ever more interconnected, its contrasts appear to be colliding ever more sharply. And I fear that this state of affairs will not change just overnight, but that we will have to deal with this to an increasing degree in the coming decades. It could be that crises will rather become the norm and that it will take a long time for us to return to a normal and peaceful state of affairs.

This also poses fresh challenges for energy policy. Many of the world’s countries are dependent on imports of raw materials for their energy supply. In crises, however, supply routes are more unstable and unpredictable; the energy supply is often among the first areas to be threatened.

The supply of raw materials can itself also become the object of the crisis, as we have experienced on multiple occasions in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine in recent years.

One response to these developments is to diversify the energy supply. We need a greater diversity of energy sources and energy suppliers. Contrary to commonly held opinion, we are not doing all that badly on this front in Germany: while around 39% of our gas imports come from Russia, about one third is imported from Norway and a quarter from the Netherlands. With this in mind, the degree of diversification that we have achieved is not all that bad.

In Europe especially, we must consider questions relating to the energy supply as a task for the wider European community. This is why the energy union project is so important. I would like to emphasise the foreign policy instruments in this regard:

It is right to establish strategic energy partnerships with increasingly important producing and transit countries. At the same time, we must reduce our dependence on imports with a decentralised and regenerative energy supply. Renewable energies are available everywhere in the world. They do not need to be imported, and therefore cannot be used as a political tool.

***

This brings me to my second point. If energy issues are already extremely relevant today in the analysis of current crises, then this will only increase in the future owing to a further development: climate change.

It is clear to me that all countries must work actively to reduce global emissions of carbon dioxide and to put the breaks on further global warming. Here, too, the silver bullet for lowering emissions is a more sustainable energy system.

Slowing down climate change is a clear foreign policy aim for me. If we fail to do this, not only the environment, but also the stability of countries and societies risk devastating consequences.

In fragile countries in particular, the impact of climate change threatens to intensify existing conflicts. The connections are plain to see: if people in low‑income countries have even more restricted access to food as a result of climate change, if food prices rise – then you don’t need much imagination to envision how this can further exacerbate tensions and escalate crises.

Germany has made the climate one of the core issues of our G7 Presidency. And when the G7 foreign ministers meet here in Germany in April, our focus will be precisely on these foreign policy aspects of climate change.

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Third, the energy supply is a fundamental part of sustainable economic development. This is why the Federal Government is supporting the United Nations’ goal to allow all people on this planet access to a sustainable energy supply by 2030.

A glance at the forecasts for the world’s energy needs shows that the path towards achieving this goal is anything but trivial: according to estimates by the International Energy Agency (IEA), our energy needs will rise by a third by 2040. The currently low oil price must not blind us to the fact that the energy supply of the future must be based on sustainable energy sources.

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Modern energy policy in foreign affairs means building networks and using synergies.

An example of where this is already working in practice is the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), whose work we have supported for many years and whose establishment we helped to get off the ground together with international partners. Today, six years after its foundation, the Agency has some 140 member states and has initiated ground‑breaking projects for the increased use of renewable energies. I am delighted that IRENA’s Director‑General Adnan Amin is able to be with us here today.

Let us be inspired to work for a stronger common energy policy that is economically efficient while at the same time doing justice to our responsibility for this planet and its inhabitants.

I wish us all a thought‑provoking discussion on the “Energiewende” – and in all languages of the conference.

Thank you.

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