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Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the opening of the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue: “Towards Climate Neutrality”

16.03.2021 - Speech

Five, ten or twenty years from now, when we look back on today and this global pandemic, what do you think we will remember? Will it be the current debates about vaccines being in scarce supply, incidence rates or high-risk areas? Probably not – as much as these things do shape our day-to-day lives. Memories fade, and the era we live in is too fast-paced.

Yet two things we experienced during this crisis will, I hope, remain.

First, there is the experience of what exponential growth actually means, and of the dramatic consequences this can have – in a pandemic and also in a climate crisis, namely the one that researchers have been telling and warning us about for decades, saying the most dangerous thing is exponential growth.

Second, during this crisis, we have learned that we are not powerless – if we act decisively and together, as one. We have learned that even global disasters can be managed with the help of science and reason. Effective vaccines were developed over only a few months. Also, through our behaviour, we have at times either accelerated infections or flattened the curve.

Ladies and gentlemen, this “yes, we can!” attitude is what we also need for the energy transition. Because John Kerry, who will be speaking to us this afternoon, is of course right when he says that the key to solving the climate crisis lies in energy policy.

And with this, I would like to warmly welcome you to the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue at the Federal Foreign Office!

Today, we are aiming to put the global energy transition on the right track. Over the last few months, I, too, have grown much more confident that we can succeed:

Because, today, voices from around the world are calling for climate protection louder than ever before.

Europe has set itself the goal of becoming the first climate-neutral continent by the year 2050. And, during our Presidency of the EU Council, we were able to significantly accelerate steps in this direction: We are aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent compared to 1990 levels by 2030.

Important partners around the world – including China, Japan, South Africa and South Korea – have joined the effort and have committed themselves to achieving climate neutrality.

The United States is back on board.

Also, interest in this event has never been greater. More than 50 Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Energy on all continents will take part in our virtual panel discussions. People around the world are following the conference on the internet. It is a pleasure to have you here with us!

I think we all agree that the 20s must become a decade of investment in sustainable technology. The EU Commission’s European Green Deal is a major driver behind this effort.  – Ursula von der Leyen will certainly give us more details on this shortly.

The Green Recovery and an energy transition that sees itself as the foundation for an economic upturn and social revitalisation are also what will guide us out of the coronavirus crisis. This includes comprehensive carbon pricing and ensuring a level playing field through a carbon border adjustment that conforms to WTO norms. We should work on this together in the coming months – not least with an eye to the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in a few months.

We are doomed to succeed, ladies and gentlemen; if we want to achieve the goal of climate neutrality, then we are doomed to succeed. Yet the path leading there will not be a straight line.

Climate neutrality is more than a question of windmills, electric vehicles and charging points. It is also about a global power shift, energy security, restructuring trade flows and securing access to water and food.

I’d like to illustrate this with a key example: hydrogen.  Alongside renewable sources of energy, hydrogen offers the best way out of the global climate disaster that fossil fuels got us into. Consequently, a tremendous future market is taking shape right now in this domain.

If oil was formerly the “black gold”, then hydrogen is the invisible gold of the future.

To date, fossil fuels have shaped the political and economic map of the world. Entire regions have benefitted from them. They have given rise to global corporations such as Standard Oil, Exxon, Chevron, BP and Shell, as well as cartels like OPEC. Trade routes such as the Straits of Hormuz or Malacca became critical locations for the global economy. Time and again, oil has triggered conflicts between states, of course particularly in the Middle East.

All this, ladies and gentlemen, is set to change. At the same time, new and more inclusive energy spaces will arise – and this will happen around the world, because hydrogen can be produced almost anywhere on the planet. Seizing this opportunity and at the same time minimising the risks of the global energy policy transformation – that is what we want to do with our foreign policy on hydrogen.

First and foremost, we must now build new partnerships. Even in 2050, Germany and the EU will need to import large quantities of energy, especially in the form of hydrogen. For this, we will need close cooperation with all regions of the world.

In Chile, Morocco and Australia, large pilot plants for the production of green hydrogen are already under construction, with the help of wind power and solar energy. We want to build on that. Germany will be investing two billion euro over the coming years to stimulate the formation of an international hydrogen energy market.

Second, we must support today’s exporters of fossil fuels if we want to avoid disruptions on the global political stage. The Federal Foreign Office will expand its dialogue with fossil fuel producers such as Russia, Saudi Arabia and others, to encourage them to also adapt their business models in time. As part of these efforts, we are currently working on establishing hydrogen offices with, among others, Moscow and Riyadh.

Third, a future global hydrogen market must be open to everyone. That will only happen, however, through binding international agreements. This means looking at, for example, how we want to define “green hydrogen” – and examining issues such as market access and connectivity.

We have been engaged for some time now in respective discussions with the International Renewable Energy Agency, the International Energy Agency and the G20. Together with the European Commission, we are drafting international standards to pave the way for green hydrogen, along with respective funding instruments and certification models.

Ladies and gentlemen,
A deadline of just under 30 years for achieving climate neutrality does not leave much time for the tremendous technological, political, economic and social transformations this will require. But let us recall the great strength we summoned to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

We are not only the first generation in the history of the world that can beat back such a pandemic in the space of only a few months. We are also the last generation that can prevent climate collapse. And, most importantly, we are anything but powerless.

Therein, ladies and gentlemen, lies the opportunity of this century.

It’s our opportunity.

Thank you very much!

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